The Standardized Business Case: A Template for Project Approval

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Image of page in dictionary with the word decision highlighted, showing the need for a business case template to provide for sound decision making.

The project Business Case is the first major process deliverable of the project management process, utilized to present and propose "project concepts" in a standardized format designed to focus on business value and viability.  It's the means by which you can advocate and "make the case" for your idea to go from "concept" to "project".  It's an important deliverable, and it must be done right.  Read on for more.

The project business case is an “originating” deliverable, produced at a time when a need has been realized, and a potential solution determined, but the delivering project has not yet been approved or initiated. The primary purpose of the business case is to present the need and the solution, and to obtain approval, funding and commitment for the proposed project.  (Also Read: Practices for Project Selection)

Make the Case for Your Project....

A well conceived business case will convey sufficient information to convince decision makers that the proposed project should be approved. Approval is not a given. In fact, not every proposed project can or should be approved. Considering cost, time and resource constraints, choices have to be made, and sometimes, even good ideas have to be set aside or postponed. Projects are never proposed with 100% certainty, and in fact, business case approval does not guarantee that a given project will actually see completion. Business case presentation and approval is but the first step in the overall process.

As such, at a minimum, every business case deliverable must answer one key question -- Is this proposal sufficiently sound, important and relevant to warrant further expenditures for planning and analysis?

An effective business case will get you to the next appropriate step. In certain cases, the approved business case will lead to the initiation of actual project tasks. In other cases, the approved business case will lead to more intensive study and planning. It’s all about moving forward to make informed decisions.

Every Business Case Has A Mission....

While length and complexity will vary, every project business case must be created to serve a specific "mission" and purpose within the project management process.  This is expressed in the six point list below:

  1. The business case mission is to make a sufficiently compelling case for approval.
  2. The business case must explain what is to be done and why it is necessary.
  3. The business case must convince the decision makers that the idea is well thought out and considered.
  4. The business case must convince the decision makers that the project proposal is realistic and that the plan is credible and executable.
  5. The business case must lay out all key elements of the project in terms of results, costs, benefits and risks, both for action and inaction.
  6. The business case must justify the investment in time, funds and resources.

Producing Business Case Deliverables

The business case deliverable must sell the project, and it’s a “sale” you want to make. And it takes planning and strategy to get the job done. Your first step is to match business case “effort and content” to the “size and scope” of the proposed project. Projects vary by multiple factors, including type, cost, duration, complexity, visibility, priority, risk and value. Just as with any other process deliverable, the business case must reflect the overall “scale” of the project being proposed. Process overkill can damage a small project in the same way that insufficiency can doom a large scale project.

It is important to be appropriate, but consistent.  (Also Read:  Understanding Project and Process Deliverables)

To that end, the project business case must present both “the need” and the “proposed solution” expressed in terms of goals, objectives, needs, anticipated benefits, status quo analysis, risks, constraints, performing organization capabilities, cost/benefit analysis and related matters.  And, as it is prepared, it must travel a road to ensure proper feedback and approval:

  1. All of the business case "stakeholders" should be identified and selected according to interest in the project proposal and ability to contribute to business case production.
  2. The "business case" production process should be planned, with established deadlines, due dates, task assignments and an organized production scheduled.
  3. Business case production work should not begin until all required data has been collected and organized (to minimize time wasted).
  4. The business should first be prepared as a "draft", subject to vigorous review, input and revision as needed.  Version control is essential to track changes and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
  5. Formal procedures should be established for submission of the final business case for review by the decision making stakeholders (which can include a PMO or project steering committee).

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Once the business case deliverable is produced, it should be evaluated using standardized criteria to measure concept viability and to determine whether the case has been made to go from "concept" to "project".  If a given business case is approved, the next step is project definition (to make the project ready for action and stakeholder acceptance).


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