~ By Simon Buehring
A project brief describes what needs to be done. The project plan explains how you are going to do it. The business case gives the reasons why.
In PRINCE2 terminology, the business case is the "driver" of the project. Senior management review the business case before authorising the initiation, and at each subsequent stage of the project. The business case is used as a yardstick to measure project progress. Before allowing any change to the project plan, the executive must consider the impact that this change will have on the business case.
In other words, without a business case, no project would ever get off the ground.
The business case justifies the investment of time, money and resources into a project by outlining the benefits that the project will bring. It is made up of eight key sections:
Why is the project necessary?
The reasons you give must conform to corporate/programme strategy. You'd have a hard job convincing a clothing manufacturer that an advertising campaign persuading people to recycle last year's clothes instead of buying new ones would be an appropriate project to undertake. Another way of thinking about the reasons for a project is to consider what need the project will address. Is customer satisfaction low? Do your profit margins need a boost? Are you still using the same, snail-paced computers you acquired in 1983?
What different options are available for addressing the identified need? Why is the option you have chosen (the project) the best of the bunch?
Showing that you have seriously considered all the possibilities will strengthen your business case. Providing senior management with all the available information will also maximise the chances for somebody to suggest an improvement. It is much better to change your project plan now than to watch it all collapse halfway through.
This is where you persuade your audience that your project is worthwhile. Every possible benefit can be considered, tangible and intangible. Just make sure that you justify the benefits that you project.
If your project will increase profit, then present detailed figures as evidence. If the primary benefit is improved customer care or staff efficiency, then explain how this will happen and what the effects will be.
What are the main risks to project success? Be frank. Transparency will gain the confidence of senior managers and will demonstrate your foresight, realism and capability.
The senior project managers need to know the total projected cost before they can authorise the project. Justify each area of expenditure, so that nobody is in any doubt that the budget you have forecast is as accurate as possible.
How long will the project take? Detail the activities and goals of each stage, and explain why the specified length of time is needed.
This is where you pit the cost and benefits against one another in order to demonstrate once and for all that your project is a worthwhile investment. Before senior management can authorise your project, they need to know what they are getting for their money.
The investment appraisal, by detailing the costs and benefits over a fixed period of time, is the most direct way of quantifying "value for money."
Consider your own business case in an objective light. What are the strongest and surest benefits that you have promised? Why are they necessary? Why is your project the best way of achieving them?
Simon Buehring is a project manager, consultant and trainer. He works for KnowledgeTrain which offers training in PRINCE2 project management and PRINCE2 training in the UK and overseas. Simon has extensive experience within the IT industry. Contact him via the KnowledgeTrain project management training website