This post explores the nuances of writing a business case. It dives into the elements of a business case:
- identifying a problem or opportunity
- analyzing ways to solve the problem or seize the opportunity
- choosing the best option (or choosing to walk away)
- developing an implementation approach
It proves a solid template and associated resources for building a business case and initial plan.
What Is a Business Case Plan Template?
A ‘Business Case’ provides justification for the initiation of a project. It should include four basic elements:
- Business Problem – Description of a problem or opportunity that the organization would like to consider addressing.
- Available Options – Vetted short list of action-oriented solutions to address the problem or opportunity.
- Recommended Option – Analysis along multiple dimensions of the benefits and costs of each option, leading to one.
- Implementation Approach – Actions to be taken to move the chosen option forward.
A Business Case is done in collaboration between a Sponsor and Senior Management. It is critical to know who is driving the interest in the project, and to build initial stakeholder relationships between them and senior management.
The business case should be specific enough where it provides metrics to compare to other project business cases and prioritize projects in the portfolio. The business case supports development of the Project Charter.
You can learn and leverage more out of the box with the Flevy 32-slide Business Case Development Framework slide deck and Excel file (paid link).
Step 1: What Is the Business Problem?
A Business Problem can be defined by performing analysis of the context and specifics of the problem to be solved. That breaks down to two forms of analysis:
Analysis of the Environment:
- Business environment – What is the current state of the business environment context? What is the history, and how did it get here? What is likely to evolve in the near, medium, and longer term?
- Organizational strategy – What is the current direction for the organization? What is its vision, strategy, or objectives? What types of initiatives are needed to move the organization in that direction?
- Competitive analysis – Who are the competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What new initiatives are they undertaking, especially in the area of interest?
- Technology trends – What is evolving, and what opportunities might that provide? Similarly, what is moving toward extinction?
- Other trends – What other trends – i.e. operational, cultural, ways of working – are happening or anticipated?
- Regulatory environment – What regulations are in place, and what is the trend? Is there likely to be more or less regulation, specifically what, and what effect will that have on the subject initiative?
A SWOT analysis can be very helpful as input to this. It is important to provide factual data to support any assertions.
Analysis of the Problem:
- Description of the problem to be solved
- What is the core problem at a high level?
- Why does the problem exist?
- What is the breakdown of the problem’s elements?
- Who is this problem impacting?
- What is the impact of the problem on those effected?
- What timing is important for solving this problem?
- Description of the opportunity
- Describe the opportunity at a high level.
- Cite facts to support assertions.
- Outline the timeframe for the opportunity.
- Describe – and quantify – the potential for positive impact on the organization.
It is most important to be as clear as possible about the problem or opportunity, and the potential impact of solving it.
These PM templates include a great Business Case planning template (paid link):
Step 2: What Are the Available Options?
There are actually a nearly infinite number of options available, but your job is to narrow the field down to two or three. There should be some high level assumptions and analysis that bring you to the conclusion as to the options you are putting on the table. Be clear about how you came to the select few options.
Once you have the select few options identified, the next step is to evaluate each along several dimensions:
- Description – Summary describing each option.
- Benefits – Identify benefits with an order of magnitude estimate for each benefit. Identify areas of benefit, such as financial, operational, market, customer, and staff.
- Costs – Describe tangible and intangible costs of implementing the solutions, considering such areas as people, physical, marketing, and organizational costs. Distinguish capital expenditures vs operational costs.
- Feasibility – Rate the ability to execute is key areas, such as technology, people, processes, and assets. More complex projects may require a focused Feasiblity Study.
- Risks – Identify as many risks as possible; play devil’s advocate. Think broadly, considering areas such as strategy, environment, financial, operations, technical, competitive, and customer. For each risk, assess and rate (H/M/L or more detailed) the likelihood and impact, and describe mitigating actions.
- Issues – Different from Risks, these are hurdles that must be overcome in order to produce the required deliverables. They may present ‘blockers’ to the project, at least for a time.
- Assumptions – List clearly the major assumptions. They may intersect with the Risks and Issues.
With all of this information in hand, you are ready to evaluate and recommend or choose one.
Step 3: What Is the Recommended Option?
It will then be helpful to organize it so that you can view the options side by side. This may require weighting each consideration as to importance, color coding or assigning a rating to each, or some other means of comparing.
Here are considerations for developing a rating system:
- Benefits – Includes such items as increased revenue, reduced expenditures, improved efficiency, more aligned processes, updated technology, and enhanced quality.
- Costs – Cost areas of most interest may relate to people, facilities and equipment, real estate, marketing, acquisition, legal and consulting fees, and other organizational costs.
- Feasibility – This may include regulatory hurdles, technology, legal, people-related constraints, process and asset requirements.
- Risks – Closely related to assumptions, there may be challenges to manage in resources, technology, expertise, regulatory, market disruption, and legal.
You will need to provide ratings or the breakdowns within each of these groupings. For example, you may need to have separate ratings for enhanced quality under Benefits, or people under Costs. It all depends on their relevance to the particular project.
Ratings will also most likely need to be weighted. For one project you might weight increase revenue of improved efficiency high. By contrast, on another project you might weight project costs or reduced regulatory risks the highest.
With this information at hand, you can discuss the pros and cons of the options thoroughly, and even make adjustments to certain ratings based on collaboration and input.
After thoroughly reviewing, you will likely move toward a consensus as to the best option.
Step 4: What Will Be the Implementation Approach?
This is where you begin to formulize how you will approach the management of the project.
How will you implement it? The most logical approach is to break it down into the common project management phases, depending on type of project, such as:
- Initiation – Outline what it takes to establish the project, such as appointing a project manager, defining the project, assembling the team, and accessing or establishing the processes supporting the management of the project.
- Planning – Develop a plan for managing the project through predictable phases, including activities, tasks, and coordination.
- Execution – Identify the activities, stage gates, milestones, and order of precedence required to build the product of the project.
- Closure – List and describe the process of releasing final deliverables, supporting the establishment of sustainment activities, and closing down the project operations.
You will also need to address at a high level how you will manage:
- Change control
- Acquisition or procurement
- Team and stakeholder communications
- Stage gates and acceptance
In addition to a great Business Case planning template, there are numerous well-organized templates supporting all aspects of implementation (paid link):
Strategy and Project Management Impact – and ChatGPT Input
Strategy and project management have been all through this post, so I will look alternatively for Artificial Intelligence (AI) guidance. I asked ChatGPT the following question:
“What is a Business Case Plan Template?”
Here is the reply:
“A Business Case Plan Template is a structured document that outlines the rationale, feasibility, and potential benefits of a proposed business project or initiative. It typically includes a description of the problem or opportunity that the project aims to address, an analysis of the current situation, and an overview of the proposed solution, including its scope, timeline, and resource requirements.
A Business Case Plan Template generally consists of the following sections:
- Executive Summary: A brief overview of the business case, including the key objectives, benefits, and risks.
- Problem Statement: A clear statement of the problem or opportunity that the project aims to address, along with any relevant background information.
- Objectives: A description of the goals and objectives of the project, along with any related benefits or outcomes.
- Solution: A detailed description of the proposed solution, including any alternative options that were considered and why they were rejected.
- Analysis: An analysis of the feasibility, risks, costs, and benefits of the proposed solution, including any assumptions or constraints.
- Implementation Plan: A detailed plan for implementing the proposed solution, including timelines, resource requirements, and any potential challenges.
- Evaluation Plan: A plan for evaluating the success of the project, including any key performance indicators or metrics that will be used.
- Conclusion: A summary of the key points of the business case, including any recommendations or next steps.
By using a Business Case Plan Template, project stakeholders can ensure that all relevant information is included and that the proposed project is thoroughly evaluated before making a decision to move forward with implementation.”
While this was definitely a good answer and provides some structure for moving forward. But the ‘template’ has some differences, primarily, omissions, from what I outlined above. Specifically, it does include a very limited mention of benefits and analysis of alternative or other possible solutions. It also does not provide a simple step-by-step process to follow. This should be at the core of any business case.
Maybe the results would be different with a more specifically phrased question.
Conclusion and Further Resources
This post has provided an outline of the process of developing a business case to support a potential project.
What is your experience with developing business cases?
FlevyPro offers a recommended 105-silde PowerPoint presentation, “How to Develop a Business Case” (paid link).
For a concise 5-min overview video of business case analysis, see this video by Jennifer Bridges for projectmanager.com at