|In this video I discuss the three reasons why you should write a business case for your project, even if you work in an organisation that doesn't normally pay much heed to that kind of paperwork.|
Have you ever sat in a meeting that has started late and wondered how much money it has cost the company to have all those subject matter experts sitting around doing nothing? If you haven’t, maybe you should. It would certainly encourage you to be more efficient in meetings!
Whether you do timesheets or not, or cross-charge your client or not, your time on a project has a financial cost. Let’s look at what that is made up of.
Recruitment costs related to hiring you in the first place: placing an ad, holding interviews, preparing materials
Direct costs are the tangible ones that related to your pay and benefits. They include:
All pretty clear so far.
These are costs of turning up to work and are incurred by all employees. They are quite hard to work out and you might find some financial whizz in the business has done it but normally you wouldn’t know about these.
Still with me?
Then there are other costs that don’t appear on any balance sheet. These are the hidden costs of being an employee.
How do you prove your worth?
OK, we can’t put a financial figure on the total of all of these but you can see that on any given day it could run to a substantial amount. On days where you work really hard and effectively from your home office (and therefore pay for your own heating, lighting and tea) and sort out a lingering personnel problem on the project team you would cost your company less than a day where all your meetings started late so there was a lot of sitting around in the office.
Regardless of the figure – and it really doesn’t matter what it is – the point is that your time on a project is worth something. How do you prove this to your manager?
No one is going to ask you at the end of the year whether you have contributed adequately to cover your ‘worth’. Your employment is not a profit and loss account. But it is a good idea to have some ideas prepared to make it clear to them that you are a valuable employee. That could be anything from taking part in external conferences to raise the company’s profile locally to gaining a credential to increase your confidence to delivering a project that generates millions of dollars of revenue.
I can’t tell you what the answer is but I do know that subconsciously employers do think about these things and do know who is a valuable employee and who is less of an asset to the team. They might not use pure financial terms to quantify your contribution, but they will be aware of what contribution you make and how that compares to others in the department.
Can you justify your contribution if asked?
I’d be interested to hear if you have ever worked out the cost of a slow-to-start meeting or if you have calculated your contribution in financial terms. Why not let us know what happened in the comments?
Last time I looked at 4 soft benefits that go into project business cases and are a factor in project selection. They were:
Today I’ll look at another 4. You may be able to include these in your next project proposal alongside the financial measures and with any luck they will help get your project approved.
1. Increased user satisfaction
Customers are one thing, but it also pays to improve the experience for internal users. So if you are designing software for use in-house or for clients, improving their satisfaction with the product will be a significant project benefit.
Project selection should take this into account as (generally) happier users are more productive and are more likely to stick to the processes. If the products they are using are not easy to navigate, they will find ways around the processes in order to make their lives easier. This negates any benefits the software or process is designed to offer. In my experience, going outside the process means that data isn’t collected in a standard way so any measures are incorrect. Many user satisfaction improvements could be done to systems to improve data collection and make it less obtrusive for users – a better experience for them and a better standard of management information for others, so everyone benefits.
2. Improved corporate image
Improving brand awareness is one thing, but what if everyone thinks your brand doesn’t represent value for money? Or that it is not socially responsible? Some projects are designed to improve the image of your brand and while these won’t directly impact the bottom line they could result in more sales or a brand that is ‘worth’ more.
3. Increased safety
Safety measures at work normally cost money, so health and safety projects can find it difficult to justify the investment. But how do you put a price on the health and safety of workers? Projects that implement new measures or better processes that will help avoid accidents are essential in some cases.
And they do indirectly contribute financially: lower insurance premiums, fewer sick days so better staff productivity, better staff morale from knowing they are with a responsible employer and fewer court cases, one would hope. But putting a financial measure on this can be difficult: your finance department may have some models that will help, but otherwise it’s probably best to leave this as an intangible project benefit unless you can categorically link it to a financial figure.
4. Meeting regulation
As I mentioned in a footnote last time, sometimes projects are done for no financial benefit at all because change is required to meet new regulations. There isn’t much decision making involved in project selection when it comes to regulatory projects because you have to do them. You could make the link to financial benefits such as reduced risk of being fined by your industry watchdog, but in reality you are going to do the project anyway, so there isn’t any need to spend hours working out the financial figures – just get to work on the project!
Project selection processes differ from company to company depending on what your business considers important. For some it will be to make tactical changes, for others project choice will be limited by the resources available or by corporate strategy or by the technology available to support projects. All project selection should consider the chance that the project will be successful: there really is no point kicking off a piece of work that has very little chance to succeed as this is simply a waste of resources and time.
Selecting projects effectively, even if the business case is made up of ‘soft’ benefits, will ultimately benefit the firm financially as it means project teams will not be tied up working on initiatives that are wasteful, not a good fit for business strategy and that won’t contribute to the company. Pick your projects with care and use your project time wisely!
When we select what projects to do, return on investment is one of the major decision-making factors for many companies. Financial measures like cash flow and ROI are essential: after all, who wants to work on a project that isn’t going to contribute to the bottom line? What’s the point?*
The financial justification of a project is normally worked out by whether the financial benefits outweigh the project’s total lifecycle costs, by how much and when this happens. Your finance team or portfolio office will probably have a selection of measures that they use to calculate the important sums behind project selection.
However, financial benefits aren’t everything.
What else needs to be considered?
You’ll probably have worked on projects that don’t have huge financial benefits but contribute to the company strategically or tactically in other ways. Here are 4 additional ‘soft’ benefits that can (and should) be taken into account during project selection:
1. Increased customer satisfaction
Happy customers generate return business and it’s a commonly held belief that it costs less to keep a customer than it does to attract a new one. So it really does pay to get your customers on side and keep them happy. How do you measure customer satisfaction? Whether it is through surveys, an Exceed customer satisfaction review, focus groups or amount of ‘likes’ on social media sites, you’ll need to take a baseline first before your project implements anything so that you can do a comparison later on.
While customer satisfaction is often considered a soft benefit, customers do spend money so there are financial implications of keeping customers happy. Normally though, this is really hard to work out in terms of adding numbers into a business case, so unless you’ve got some complicated models it gets lumped under the ‘soft’ benefits category. Pair it with increased revenue as a hard financial measure.
2. Improved brand awareness
While brand management and PR agencies would probably say that there are tangible financial measures relating to brand awareness, it is hard to measure and in my experience isn’t worked out for project business cases. If you are opening a new store, for example, this will increase brand awareness of your business in the area where the store is, but how do you measure this? It’s tricky. And even if you can measure it reliably, can you link it to a financial measure? Just because people know about the company doesn’t mean they will spend money with you.
3. Better staff morale
Lots of internal projects are done to improve staff morale, whether that’s decorating the staff canteen or implementing a suggestion scheme. Staff morale is something that can be measured and many companies run internal staff surveys to track how employees feel about the company. Compare these results year on year and you’ll be able to see how morale changes, but there are many factors at play so tying these results to one particular project is difficult.
I’ve read research that shows happier staff are more productive, so if you equate productivity with revenue, you can see that there is a financial link. However, it’s one of those that is again tricky to prove or to calculate without some complex models. Still, go for it if you feel you can!
4. Improved processes
OK, some processes do link directly to cash. If it takes a couple of hours less to complete a process you can work out the salary savings of the people involved. But normally with this sort of project you don’t move those staff on to a contract that says they work fewer hours per week. They will fill the time with other things, so the gain is in productivity and the ability to complete more work rather than in direct salary savings.
Even so, improved processes are a good thing, so whether your tangibly calculate the saving or report it as a soft benefit, it’s definitely something to record in the business case for project selection.
Of course, not all business cases will include all these elements, and many will include other soft benefits as well as all the financial measures. Next time I’ll be looking at 4 more soft benefits that could be a deciding factor in project selection so stay tuned!
* The point might be to meet regulation or for other compliance reasons, so I am aware that there are some projects that have to be done, regardless of whether the company is going to make any money.
Earlier this month I looked at what Michel Thiry says is important for a preliminary program business case, according to his book, Program Management (Gower, 2010). Today I want to look at the things you would include in a full program business case.
Let’s say that your preliminary business case has been approved by the powers that be. Now you have to put together a full business case for the program. This may be subject to further approval. Here is what he says needs to be included in the document at this stage.
Carry out a full stakeholder analysis and include it in the document. You should also put in a stakeholder engagement plan – this shows how you will work with and communicate with all the different stakeholders that have been identified as part of the analysis. What’s different about a program business case is that this piece of stakeholder work should also include which benefits relate to which stakeholders. In other words, who is gaining what from the program. Your program marketing strategy can also go in here, although Thiry says that at this point it only needs to be a high level marketing plan.
Review the scope again and make sure that the final version is accurately reflected in this document.
Your preliminary business case would have included some costs, but this is the place to document the program’s baseline budget. You should also specify where the money is coming from. If you can’t plan the budget for the whole program, do it in stages and only include the detail for the first stage.
By this point you should have some idea of who you need on the team, so this is the place to put in an organisational chart. Thiry recommends showing the decision makers and communication channels here too. This is also a good place to list the roles and responsibilities of the people involved in the program. You can link this to show who is responsible for benefits and delivering to the critical success factors or key performance indicators.
Document all the links to other programs, projects within programs, other business activities, and (although Thiry doesn’t specify it) things happening outside the company such as regulatory changes.
This is specific to a program as you probably wouldn’t need one of these on a project. This specifies the work required to properly integrate the outcomes of the projects into the program and embed the new capabilities in the business.
This is a fancy word for timescales. This should show when the benefits are likely to be achieved and the key program milestones, taking into account when resources are available.
Write down the governance structures that the program will abide by. This could include reporting schedules, dates for audits, approach for peer reviews and what criteria will be used to assess whether the program is performing effectively. Change management also fits in here. I would have thought that you could simply reference existing company change management processes but if you have to put together something specific for this program, this is the section to spell it out.
Here is where you list the activities and projects that make up the work to do for the next stage. It doesn’t matter if you can’t predict all the projects and tasks required going forward, but you should at least know what’s coming up in the next stage. Thiry says this is the point where you identify (and, I suppose, seek approval for) the projects that make up that stage and prepare the relevant project charters.
That’s it. That still seems quite a lot, but if you don’t know all this information, then you can’t really move forward effectively with the program. It seems to me that this gives you more than just the business justification – in effect, it also covers a lot of what you would expect at charter stage, if we compare this to managing projects.
Have you ever worked on a program? What documentation was in place before it started or moved to the next stage?