A beginner’s guide to writing an effective business case

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Almost every project needs approval – whether it’s getting the green light from the team or convincing stakeholders at the management level. You may know how to use a project plan or a project charter to present a new initiative and get the project approved. But if the project involves a significant business investment, you may need to develop a business case.

To develop a business case and present your build-operate-transfer project, Alcor provides resources and planning to help you get the resources and support you need to manage a successful project.

What is a business case?

A business case is a document that explains the value or benefits to your business of pursuing a significant business investment or initiative. The initiative could be anything from communication activities for the launch of a new product or functionality, a proposal to increase investment for an ongoing initiative, or a significant investment with a new agency or subcontractor, to name just a few.

Business case vs. business plan

A business case is a proposal for a new strategy or major initiative. It should describe the business need and benefits of your company.

A business plan is an outline for a brand-new business. In the business plan, you define your business strategy, mission, and vision, and how you plan to get there. It is also possible to create a business plan for an existing business, but only if you want to change the direction of the business.

Free template for a business strategy

Business case vs summary

An executive summary is an overview of an important document that contains facts and details that project stakeholders need to know if they have not had time to read the entire document. The final step in writing a business case is to prepare a summary with the most important, overarching information your stakeholders need to know about.

Business case vs project charter

If you need to create a pitch for your project but don’t need the full business case model, you can use a project charter. Similar to a business case, a project charter outlines the key details of an initiative. There are three main parts to a project charter: project objectives, project scope, and key stakeholders. The management team will then use the project charter to approve further project development.

Do I require a business case?

It is not mandatory to write a business case, or even a project charter, for all projects. A business case is only necessary for initiatives or investments that require significant resources. If you are working on a smaller initiative, consider creating a project charter instead to present your idea to relevant stakeholders.

Even if you don’t need to present your project to any stakeholders, you should be able to answer some basic questions about your project proposal, such as:

  • What is the purpose of the project?
  • Why should we work on the project?
  • To what extent does the project support the aims and objectives of the organization?
  • What metrics will be used to gauge the successful completion of the project?
  • Who is working on the project?
  • When will the project be completed?

5 steps to create and present a business case

Your business case should not be limited to key facts and figures. It must also be able to convey why a particular investment or initiative is good for your business. If you are unsure, avoid overly technical language and be concise, but always be sure to communicate the value of the project. If this is your first time writing a business case, don’t worry. Just follow these five steps to success!

1. Gather information

Instead, get team members and stakeholders to contribute to the different sections. For example, the IT team should be involved in all decisions related to tools and timelines, while the finance team reviews all budget and risk management issues. If you are creating a business case for a new initiative, product line, or customer profile, be sure to consult with experts in each area.

2. Plan to write your business case in the wrong order

Some of the sections that come first in your business case – such as the executive summary – are usually written last, once you have gathered all the resources and information you need to make a well-founded proposal. In the executive summary, you will present all the findings and make a recommendation based on a variety of factors. By first gathering all the important information, such as the project’s purpose, funding, and risks, you can ensure that the executive summary contains what is relevant.

3. Build your business case step by step

Similarly, you invest a lot of your time in writing a business case. Not every initiative is right for your particular business, so make sure you regularly let stakeholders check your work as you write. No one wants to spend hours and weeks drafting a document only to have it rejected outright by management.

Consider a “soft launch” by presenting an outline of your business case to your project sponsor or a stakeholder in a senior position with whom you have a good relationship, to confirm that the initiative is something to invest in. Then, as you create the various elements of your business case, you should regularly have key stakeholders check the content to confirm that there are no barriers to the initiative.

4. Fine-tune the document

As you write the different parts of your business case, you may need to go back and fine-tune certain sections. For example, once you have completed a cost-benefit analysis with the finance team, make sure to update any budget-related project risks.

Before presenting your business case, do a final read-through with key stakeholders to identify sections that may need further refinement. At this stage, you should also write the executive summary, which is the first part of the document. It is usually one to two pages long, depending on the length of your business case.

5. Present your business case

The last step is actually the presentation of your business case. Start with a quick pitch of your proposal, answering the questions of what, why, and how. Think of this presentation as an excellent opportunity to explain the business need, how your proposal meets the need, and what the benefits are. Be sure to also address any risks or concerns that you think your audience would want to know about.

Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes a learning specialist, designs and delivers learning initiatives (both in-class and online) for a global and internal audience. He is responsible for the ongoing development, delivery, and maintenance of training. He has the ability to manage competing priorities to execute time-sensitive deliverables within a changing environment. He contributes to continually improving the team's processes and standards and works as a member of the team to assist with team initiatives.

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