Every organization has finite resources at its disposal, particularly when it comes to finances.
Even the most financially lucrative businesses can’t afford to simply bankroll every proposed project that comes their way – that’s where business cases come in.
Business cases help managers decide if company resources should be spent on a project or not. This way, they ensure that the limited funds they have are only awarded to the most lucrative projects. To this end, it’s the job of the project proposer to put forward their case in the best possible light. They need to convince the decision-makers that their project is one worth the investment of time, money, and resources.
What is a business case?
A business case is an instrument used to justify a proposed project that requires some type of capital expenditure. It details the allocation of capital and resources to execute the project plan, as well as the benefits of initiating the project or task. Once the business case receives management approval, it’s maintained as a working document that will be used during and after the project management process.
A well-crafted business case identifies multiple options to address the needs or opportunities of an organization and provides critical data to enable informed decisions by executives.
Business cases can be a comprehensive analysis or a simple, informal presentation. In the following section, we’ll detail the elements of a more highly structured document.
Why you need a business case
Every organization has goals, needs, problems, and opportunities. You may need to solve specific problems, address certain needs, and exploit different opportunities. The solution may require a new initiative, the expansion of an existing operation, or the correction of poor execution. And as previously mentioned, every organization has finite resources, including a budget.
A business case identifies the reason for initiating a project or initiative, including its value, benefit, and the business problem it’s designed to solve. It’s designed to ensure that resources are prioritized for the operations and projects that most directly impact the corporation’s greatest priorities.
During this prioritization process, the key element is recognizing the projects that deliver the agreed-upon benefits.
PRINCE2™ is an internationally recognized project management methodology that supports the delivery of benefits. It identifies these key elements of a project:
- The output, which is any of the project’s technical deliverables (both tangible or intangible)
- The outcome, which is the result of the change derived from using the project’s deliverables
- The benefit, which is a measurable improvement resulting from an outcome that’s perceived as an advantage by one or more stakeholders
The purpose of a business case is to both outline the benefits of proposed projects and provide a means for continually assessing and evaluating the progress of the initiative. Therefore, it will become a living document to use before, during, and after the project.
Initially, the business case establishes the rationale for the project and details its benefits.
Throughout the execution, the business case measures the progress and overall environment of the initiative, in order to determine if course corrections are required. At the conclusion of the project, a post-mortem provides valuable feedback about future executions. This is an essential component of strong business process management.
Specifically, a post-mortem will determine if the project has met these envisaged benefits:
- Revenue growth
- Productivity gains
- Cost containment
- New users / improved user experience
It will also identify these slippages:
- Failure to meet time frames
- Cost overruns
Whenever resources are going to be expended, they should support a well-defined business need, with projected benefits that’ll deliver value to the enterprise. The supporting business case may take the form of a comprehensive document, a presentation, or a verbal agreement.
Three business case examples
Business case templates can cover a wide range of project types, including everything from creative projects to HR initiatives.
To learn more about the cases that your business should be seeing, here are three of the most commonly used business case examples, alongside detailed business case templates.
This Customer Relationship Management (CRM) business case template comes from Demand Metrics. It’s designed to help managers decide whether or not to invest in a client management solution. Its key sections include an executive summary, an opportunity overview, key success factors, risks, contingency plans, and a business impact analysis.
This human resources business case outline, created by sage, is designed to create the most convincing argument in favor of a human resources initiative. To achieve this aim, it covers key points including defining the business’s needs, outlining how the HR vision fits in with the business strategy, and identifying the key benefits of the investment (from a wellbeing and employee retention perspective).
This simple marketing business plan from TemplateLAB offers a template that covers all bases. It’s designed to help users create the most convincing business case for their proposed marketing projects, by ensuring that they create a carefully constructed argument, clearly aligning the campaign with the overall business objective.
The four key elements a business case should contain
Whatever project or idea your business case is for, it should always cover these four key elements. From the perspective of a manager, these factors are a fundamental part of the decision-making process.
So, you want to be one step ahead, and provide a convincing argument that covers these points before the manager even has to ask the questions.
The executive summary is a condensed version of the business case, which is succinctly summarized in a couple of paragraphs. It typically comes at the start of the business case document. It should cover the problem, need, or opportunity that this initiative is reacting to, the proposed solution, the resources required, the planned action, plus a risk assessment, a brief outline of the expected benefits, and the predicted ROI.
This section will break down all of the finances of the proposed project. It should clearly outline the project costs, what financial funding is required, and where it will be spent. Remember, it’s designed to convince the managers that this is a project worth investing in, so it should also include a strong cost-benefit analysis, building on a risk assessment. The more detailed and accurate this section is, the better.
At this stage in the business case, you will need to provide more detail about the project scope, including the nature of the project, what it will look like, the elements that it includes, and the solutions that it will provide. It should be clear what gap the project intends to fill and the benefits that it will bring to the organization. In short, how will this project contribute to your overall business objective?
In this section, you will need to outline how, if approved, you intend to organize the project development. This should include a timescale, key deadlines, naming the project manager and the project team members who will be involved in this project, and what roles they will be assigned. For the manager reviewing the business case, it should be clear what steps will be taken immediately following their approval.
How to write a simple business case
Now that you know all of the key things to include, and how to present your case in the most convincing way possible, it’s time to get started. In this section, we’ll be outlining how to write a simple business case, which covers all of the key points, without forcing you to spend weeks putting it together.
But, before you jump straight into writing it, there are some important steps that you need to take first.
Before you start writing your business case, a good starting point is to think about how to frame your case and identify some key points that will lay the foundation for your convincing argument.
The best way to do this is by:
Researching market competitors
Find out who else is currently offering a similar concept, and identify any strengths or weaknesses in their version of it.
Find out what alternative solutions, products, or strategies currently exist, then weigh your suggestion against these.
Analyzing your findings
Evaluate the current field for this idea, and identify where your version of it stands in the marketplace. Does it do more than your competitors? Or, does it fulfill a particular niche that the others don’t? Or better yet, is there no one else that currently offers this useful initiative?
Compile your data
Set it up in a convincing plan outline.
Based on this research, what would be the best direction in which to take your idea?
Once you have completed these steps, you can start writing your business case. We would recommend that you follow the structure below, in order to create a logically structured and well-thought-out case.
1. Executive summary
As we mentioned above, this section is the introduction to your business case. It’s designed to open the case with a strong, succinct summary of what your project is, how you intend to undertake it, and the benefits that it will bring. That way, the reader can continue evaluating the rest of the case with a clear knowledge of your proposition.
This high-level, condensed version of the business case includes:
- The problem, need, or opportunity
- The options that were considered
- The required resources
- The benefits and values to be derived
- A risk analysis
- The project scope and predicted project outcome
- The recommended action
- An investment appraisal, including the predicted return on investment (Although this section leads the business case, it also needs to be reviewed after all the data has been interpreted.)
2. Financial component
This section outlines all of the finances of the project, including the predicted cost of the project, plus a more detailed breakdown of how exactly the budget will be spent.
In essence, a financial appraisal is designed to evaluate a proposed investment, in terms of its financial viability. It assesses the return of investment that it will bring to the investor. Typically, this details the project costs, then covers data like profitability index, a risk analysis, and a ratio analysis, while detailing the scope for financial rewards that the project offers.
This can be done in a number of ways, depending on the nature of the project. For instance, if it’s a marketing project, then this section of the business case should outline how the investment will be returned, and, possibly, even returned with interest. This new marketing strategy may tap into a new market, increase traffic to the website, or create a higher rate of customer retention, for example.
This section specifically targets the decision-makers that will approve the funding. It includes a comparison of projected costs (including associated costs) against the benefits that it will bring.
The analysis will need to include an objective evaluation of the following:
- The cost of installation
- The cost of operator training
- Incremental energy costs, as opposed to the projected benefits
- Increased capacity, efficiencies, additional revenue, margin improvement, and cost avoidance.
In addition to this, a sensitivity analysis will cover potential risks when implementing the plan, and allows the project accountant to look at alternative outcomes, if there is uncertainty.
3. Project definition
The project definition represents the largest section in the business case document. At this point, you should cover the majority of the details about your project proposal, answering all of the questions that the investor is likely to ask.
Open with an introduction of the project, which explains how the idea was first devised. You should briefly outline the circumstances, opportunity, or problem identified, which made you begin to create a solution (i.e. the project).
For example, you may have noticed that your business Instagram page has a significant number of followers, but has a very small level of post engagement, or click-through rate. As a result, you identified that the company is not sufficiently utilizing this potential marketing channel. So, you have devised a project that will increase these key metrics and so open up a new opportunity for B2C marketing.
In this section, you will need to explain why you think that the project is worth doing. In short, explain the objective in a way that can highlight its benefits as much as possible.
To do this, answer these key questions in the section:
- What do you intend to achieve by initiating your solution, both quantitatively and qualitatively?
- What are the project’s goals? Be specific about this, break down the benefits, goals, targets, and objectives in as much objective detail as possible.
- What will you need in order to achieve this goal?
- How can the proposed project advance the business as a whole?
- Will your course of action support the corporate strategy, goals, and culture?
Benefits and constraints
As with any project, there will be both benefits and constraints that may be brought about. So, in order to decide whether it’s worth investing in the idea, these will need to be weighed against each other.
Rather than waiting for the manager to identify the risks for themselves, it’s far better to identify them here — that way, you get the chance to explain why they are outweighed by the benefits.
The benefits that you list in this section should cover both financial and non-financial points. These could include (depending on the nature of the project):
- Saving costs
- Increasing revenue
- Improving customer service
- Achieving a higher quality service
- Improving your position in the marketplace
- Matching (or beating) the service of your competitors
- Achieving better communication with your target market
As we mentioned earlier, there will have been a number of alternative options that you could have potentially taken to meet these objectives. So, in this section, you will need to identify, analyze, and evaluate those alternatives.
State the alternative options that you identified, detail what they would have included, then evaluate how successful they would be in your particular business context. Specify their strengths and weaknesses, then conclude by explaining why the project you have chosen is the one that promises the best results.
This list will, most likely, include a long list of options, some of which were quickly rejected. Then, it should end on a handful of strong options, which require a more detailed explanation of their rejection.
Note: these concepts may be complex and difficult to understand. If this is the case (for example, if you’re proposing the introduction of a new piece of technology) then it may be worth including a glossary, to ensure the reader understands all of the terminologies that you use here.
In a similar fashion to the section above, you will then need to explain how your project would position your business amongst your competitors.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do any of your competitors offer this? If so, how is your version of the project better than what they offer?
- What advantages will this project provide to your company that your competitors do not have?
- How will this project make your business stand out in the marketplace?
- Will the project make your customers more likely to choose you over a competitor?
- Will it make your services unique?
- Does it tap into key consumer requirements, or provide a better customer experience?
This outline summarizes the plan that you will follow if the business case is successfully accepted.
As such, it will need to list a number of key actionable details, to show the manager that you have thought the whole project through, and are ready to get things moving.
This section should include details surrounding the following:
- The planned activities
- Detailed timelines
- A breakdown of the work that’s required
- The departments that will be involved
- The individuals that will perform each task
- A timescale of the entire project
- The key stages that the project will go through
- The project’s main deliverables
This section provides a thorough assessment of the environment that your business operates. It should evidence your business’s current place within the market, detail any significant shifts within the market, and outline how the work of this proposal will unlock a better market position for your company.
To achieve this, ask yourself these questions:
- How is the market trending?
- Is your market share expanding or contracting?
- Have there been any major market disruptions?
- How has the competition changed?
- Is there new technology being introduced to the market?
- Are there new competitors?
- Do you anticipate any drastic changes to operating margins, due to increases in the costs of materials or transportation?
In short, include all of the factors that are currently influencing your business today, and any new factors that you predict will impact your company over the period covered by your proposed projects.
This section summarizes the risks and opportunities that are inherent to the action.
There will, inevitably, be risks involved with the project. The goal here is not to minimize or deny them (because the reviewer will certainly be aware of them), but to outline either how you will overcome them, or how the rewards make the risks worth taking.
In this section, you will need to thoughtfully answer key risk management questions:
- What risks or potential consequences are involved?
- What opportunities does the project promise? How do these outweigh the risks?
- How will the risks be managed?
Then, to close the section, quantify the impact of the risks as much as possible.
In this section, you will need to outline how you intend to complete the project.
Detail the methods that you will use to complete the work, adhere to the project’s timeframe, consistently meet the key deliverables, and deliver the project to the highest possible standard.
For example, is your project going to be completed entirely in-house? If so, what team members will be involved at which step?
Or, if you’re enlisting the help of any external contractors or freelancers, detail the stages at which they will be involved, and how you intend to ensure a successful collaborative effort.
A great point to include in this section would be, for example, how you propose to use an online collaboration software like Filestage to help all collaborators seamlessly work together.
In a business case, it’s vital that you cover every single detail about its finances.
So, an important point to cover is how exactly the work will be financed. This section will need to outline whether the company will be buying a new tool, whether it will need to fund the leasing of the tool (and if so, how long for), or if the organization will be outsourcing parts of the project to another company.
If any of the above applies, then details will need to be provided regarding the costs of these. Furthermore, if you intend to use a procurement process for these elements, outline the steps that this will involve.
4. Project organization
This is the final section of the business case document. In it, the proposer of the project provides a highly detailed breakdown of how the project will be organized within the company’s specific context.
As with any good project, you will need to enlist project managers and governors to oversee its progress, ensure everything is running on time, and provide reviews at key stages.
In this section, you will outline the specifics of the project governance, including:
- What the decision-making process will look like
- Who the reviewers will be
- Who will be given the authority to request changes or grant approval
- When reviews will be undertaken
- The frequency of check-ins
- The roles and responsibilities of your creative team
This section will clearly specify which of the company’s senior managers will be involved in the project development process, and what exactly is required of them.
Tip: Filestage streamlines the review and approval process of any file type. Just upload your files, invite your reviewers, and get clear feedback to ensure all your content meets compliance regulations.
Building on the details provided above, this section sets up formal progress updates at regular intervals.
To ensure that these progress updates achieve the best possible benefits for the project, you will need to specify the points that each review will need to cover.
These could be asking, for example:
- Did you meet the agreed-upon benefits?
- Did the benefits deliver the promised value to the organization?
- If these values have not been achieved yet, why not?
- Moving forward, what can be done to ensure better project execution?
These learnings inform future projects and provide for continuous improvements while executing strategies.
Furthermore, reporting also encompasses a retrospective post mortem to determine the project’s effectiveness. This way, you can minimize the likelihood of repeating any mistakes later on.
Examples of a business case template
Now, this may all sound like an awful lot of work, but don’t fret! With the help of a business case template, you can massively cut down the time spent on this task, while ensuring your proposition hits all the right notes.
Find our picks for the best project management tools to assist with business case development below.
Business case template by Filestage
Do you want to write your own business case but aren’t sure about the business case format? You don’t need to start from scratch. We’ve created the following simple business case template for you. If you want to use the Google Doc or Word version, all you need to do is fill out this form:
Get the free business case template
Business case workbook – PDF
This handy business case workbook, created by CFDG, is available for download through the Academia website. The free business case template PDF provides a breakdown of each step in the business case creation process, for users to work their way through. It’s a great resource for anyone that’s new to the process.
Financial analysis templates – Excel
This financial analysis template comes in Microsoft Excel format, and it’s available for download via the Engineering Management website. The business case template provides all of the entry points that you need to input key data and create a clear financial summary to support your business case document.
Business case planning templates – Excel
Vertex42 has created a detailed business case planning template, which is available to download as either a Microsoft Word or Excel document, providing a good starting point to write a business case. The business case template has a number of features, including editable sample questions, tables to present data, and a customizable table of contents. With this easily editable template, users can create a comprehensive business case plan, which achieves complete clarity and a high level of professionalism.
Risk management templates – Excel
The Engineering Management website has also created a risk management template document. This simple business case template is available to download in an Excel format, making it easy to use for business case writers of any experience level. It contains spaces for risk identification, a qualitative analysis, and the chance to include a risk-response strategy, plus monitoring and control strategies, in your business case.
Four important tips to create a convincing business case
The secret to a successful business case all lies in how convincing it is. Remember, the purpose of this document is not only to detail the required information in a clear way but also to present it in a flattering light, which emphasizes all the remarkable benefits that it can unlock for the company.
To write a business case that gets your business case projects noticed, make sure you follow these four tips for compelling case writing.
Be brief and include only essential information
Although detail is important, there’s no need to go overboard. If your business case is too long, then it’s highly unlikely that your manager will have the time to read it all. In fact, if anything, they’ll probably be deterred from reading it at all. So, make sure that everything that you include is relevant and has a clear purpose — that way, every single sentence will give extra weight to your case.
Outline data clearly and concisely
If you have strong data to back up your case, don’t be afraid to let it do the talking.
Make sure that your data is clearly laid out and that it’s easy to follow, as this will play a huge role in convincing the reader to support your proposal. Using tables, bullet points, or even graphs are all great ways to emphasize the trends shown in the data.
Highlight values and benefits
When you write a business case, highlighting the values and benefits is the best way to convince the manager to grant their support to the new project.
These could be project yields, an improvement to the customer service, financial benefits, or personal benefits that are unlocked for the team — either way, make sure that they don’t go unnoticed!
Align the project with organizational goals
Show the reader that you have considered how the project fits within the goals of the organization as a whole. For instance, if one of your business objectives is to reach a new target audience aged between 18-25, then clearly state how your project will help this business objective to be met. This is a great way to convince the reader of your project’s value.
Business case FAQs
Do you still have some questions? Don’t worry, they will most likely be answered in our business case FAQ section.
Who needs a business case?
Business cases are used by companies across a huge variety of sectors. They can be used in a wide variety of ways, and so, they are valued by people across all areas of your company.
These include the project manager, sponsors, stakeholders, and even members of the public. In essence, anyone who would be affected by a business change or new project may ask for a business case before they would be happy to approve the change.
Who is responsible for creating a business case?
Typically, the project manager, project executive, or business analyst would be responsible for writing a business case. This is because they would be the ones most heavily involved in the project’s development, but do not have the authority to grant its funding.
What is a standard business case template?
Standard business case templates are fantastic project management tools that allow users to write a business case without having to start from scratch. They can use different business case templates and then fill in the details for their specific project, to put forward a proposed business change quickly and yet thoroughly.
Get the free business case template
How long is a good business case?
This depends on the nature of the new project. It will need to be long enough to answer all of the key fields, but the creator shouldn’t be padding out the document with unnecessary descriptions that make the document longer than it needs to be.
Who approves a business case?
A business case is approved by either an investor or a sponsor. Who this is, depends on the nature of the company. In some cases, a business case will be approved by a senior member of the company, such as the CEO or CFO.
What makes a good business case?
To write a business case effectively, you will need to:
- Use a business case template
- Include a detailed project plan
- Clearly list the expected benefits
- Write a detailed and clear project description
- Make the project schedule realistic and context-specific
- Thoroughly complete relevant research
- Specify any major risks
- Realize benefits, including project yields and financial benefits
- Effectively manage any of the risks, and write this alongside a cost-benefit analysis
- Ensure the project aligns with company objectives
The development of a business case is both a process and a skill. Keeping these components in mind, you can create a compelling case for almost any business initiative. You can practice by developing business cases for smaller issues, so you can gain expertise and hone your creative skills.
The above templates and examples are designed to inspire business cases for your projects. You always need to consider the specific informational requirements of your decision-makers. Use this template, adapt the elements as necessary, and make it yours.
Remember that the keys to project success are setting deadlines, staying within the budget, and producing the projected benefits. Focus on the value your benefits deliver to the organization. Ensure that the expended time and resources are warranted by the value creation.