Project Management

Business case basics (part 1)

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Categories: business case

A business case

One of the things that project managers get involved with from time to time is preparing business cases. Even if you don’t have to write the business case from scratch, there is a possibility that you will be asked to put some of the data together, or to review the final version. And, of course, at the end of the project you’ll have to go back and compare the project results to what the business case said, so it is a useful document to understand. You can keep a copy with your project files.

Here is some more information about this important project document.

Why bother with a business case?

There are three main reasons why you should make sure that your project has a business case (even if it isn’t written by you). They are:

  1. To identify the business need (problem) for the project and fully describe it
  2. To justify why it is worth spending the money and time on this problem
  3. To provide enough information about costs and benefits to allow the work to be prioritised along with everything else that the team or company is doing.

Essentially, a business case answers the following questions:

What? What are we doing? What problem are we trying to solve?

Why? Why is this a particular issue right now? Why should we bother working on it?

How? How will we fix the problem? How will the work be carried out?

Who reads the business case?

It’s important to think through who is the target audience for a business case if you are writing one or providing information to go into one. The business case will end up being used by a number of different people or groups, so it should include information at different levels to suit their varying needs.

Think about who will read it:

  • The project manager and project team will read it in order to find out what they are expected to do. It will provide key information to help with project planning such as when the benefits are expected to be realised, any fixed dates etc. It can also be used in project communication such as sharing the vision with others.
  • The senior management team at the company or in that department will read it. They will be using it to help prioritise the work and to check that it fits with the current strategy. The project sponsor may fall into this group. They may be influential in deciding whether or not the project should be approved, but equally they may just be reacting to the third audience….
  • The decision makers. This could be a strategy group, the board of directors, a Portfolio director or some other group that gets together to discuss upcoming projects and makes a final decision about whether something should go ahead.
  • Future project team members may read the document if they go back through historical records because they are working on something similar. They will need the document to be well-written and clear because they won’t have the immediate business context that goes with it and all the day-to-day information that you have now.

What format does the business case take?

Typically project business cases are documents. Even today, when so much of our project work is done online and via a range of different tools that support project planning and document sharing, the business case is still a document that is formally put together in its own right, outside any project collaboration software. You can still upload the business case to your document store, if the project goes ahead, but at this point you are probably looking at putting together a document.

The document is likely to include links to or an embedded spreadsheet, or this could be included as an appendix. The spreadsheet elements cover things like more detailed assessments of costs and benefits, and maybe a resource plan. You could also include screenshots from project planning software if your business case includes high level milestones or any scheduling information. This can be useful so that decision makers can see the overall length of time that the project is planned to run for, and make their decision based on how long resources will be occupied working on the project.

Next time I’ll be looking at the major elements that go in to the document itself. In the meantime, who reads the business cases on your projects? Let us know in the comments.


About the author: Elizabeth Harrin is Director of a project communications company, The Otobos Group. Find her on and Facebook.

Posted on: May 04, 2013 03:50 AM | Permalink

Comments (1)

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In our environment, the business cases are read by a project selection committee. the level of this committee depends on the value of the project.
I think a challenge we have is striking the right level of detail in the business case document - enough info to convince the committee it's worth doing, but don't plan the whole project, go into detailed analysis or bore them to death - the document is about getting to a decision. Clarity clarity clarity in the details and even in the project name. If they can't get from the name what the project is about, you've lost them already.
We use document templates submitted online.

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