Building a Business Case

The first time I had an idea that I thought would revolutionize our business (I’d been out of college for about 2 months), my boss said “cool, write a business case.”

I started by Googling “business case,” and then began thinking about all of the things I would work on to make this project a success. I plugged them into a trusty Word doc and formatted it with some off-brand versions of our DyKnow blue and a font that wasn’t Times New Roman. Then I presented it.

I remember realizing about 3 minutes into the meeting I scheduled that I completely missed the boat. I wasn’t sure why or how yet, but I could feel it. My boss was patient and heard me out, and I never followed up because I knew it wasn’t worth it. Like any ambitious, naiive perfectionist, I was annoyed with myself that I didn’t get it right the first time.

Since then, I’ve learned a little bit about how to build a business case, which typically means justifying why the company, a team or a project should designate resources. Part of my role requires I think critically and react to team leads requesting more time, people and/or money. It’s a challenge, and yes, just as glamorous as it sounds. #sarcasm

If you’re trying to get your way at work, consider these ideas:

  1. State the problem: be concise and crystal clear
    • Ask “why” 5-8 times to keep refining your problem statement
  2. Assess who is affected
    • A subset of customers? An entire internal team? Existing processes?
  3. Consider the implications of doing nothing: inaction is always an option
    • Maybe you get to it later – or never
  4. Provide well-researched, creative options
    • More ideas are better than one! Consider flipping your choices upside down and doing the opposite: what would happen?
  5. Evaluate the pros and cons of each viable option
    • Revert back to Mrs. Freer’s 2nd grade class: Venn Diagrams and T Charts really are handy!
  6. Outline how the best option could be implemented
    • What are the implications of this choice? What are we missing? What are we gaining or giving up?
  7. Suggest who might be responsible for the implementation
    • If you’ve got it, flaunt it
  8. Open your heart and mind to feedback

Here’s my shameless, self-service plug: Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. At every organization, it’s someone’s job to hold everyone else accountable, and justify that decisions are being made after considering all facts and possible options. If you don’t have at least one of these people, good luck to you. Don’t hate the player.

Whether you’re trying to justify a promotion, convince the marketing department to create new collateral, or get a kegerator for your break room … it’s always in your best interest to show why your recommendation is in the organization’s best interest, how it adds value, and how it aligns with existing strategic initiatives. Go get that beer!

Written by: Abbey Sullivan

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