Project Management – How to write a Business Case in 10 steps
Following our blogs What is Project Management?, Words used in Project Management, Agile Project Management and The Iron Triangle of Project Management, our blog series on project management comes to a conclusion with How to write a Business Case in 10 steps.
What is a business case document?
This is an essential document that sets out the benefits of the project and how it will be delivered. It also outlines the cost and timescale of the project.
Why is it important to create a business case document?
As well as consolidating the ideas and processes involved in a project, a business case document provides information for managers and directors to assist them in making a decision about whether to go ahead with a project.
Writing a business case document will help you to think through the project, from the benefits it will bring to the cost and timeline. Once completed, it will become a document you can refer to when the project is underway, to check that you are on course to manage and complete the project successfully.
Finally, it provides clarity for everyone involved about what is to be achieved and their role in delivering the project.
Before you start…
Consider how to get stakeholders involved through consultation before or during the writing of the business case. There are likely to be several drafts and these can be updated depending on feedback.
How detailed your document is will depend on how complex the project is, how much funding is required, how long it is likely to take and how far along the project already is.
Before you start, find out if your organisation has procedures already in place for how funding is distributed to projects. Following these processes and guidelines will help your chances of success in being awarded the funds to go ahead. It can also be useful to know which senior manager(s) will be assessing your business case and what criteria they use.
What should go into a business case document?
Your document can be split into 10 sections, as follows:
- Management summary – this should set out the main points on one page. You might find it helpful to write this once you’ve finished the rest of the document, but it should appear at the start.
- Project background – an outline of the issues, opportunities and business strategy needs that the project will cover. It should include:
- Other potential solutions that were rejected in the early planning stages
- The potential consequences if the project does not go ahead
- Details on who has helped to come up with the project idea and what work has already been completed
- Objectives – using SMART goals or a similar system, show how you will monitor the progress and achieve the objectives of the project.
- Scope – set out the scope of the project, from processes and people to equipment and systems. Include what the end point of the project will be.
- Dependencies – does your project depend on any other projects or work being carried out elsewhere? And do other projects rely on what your project will deliver?
- Key risks – what elements could put the project at risk and how will you deal with them? How likely is each risk and what would happen if you are unable to prevent them?
- Costs, funding & resources – give detail on the budget, including funding and resources (e.g. equipment, staff, working space) that will be required. Consider all potential less obvious costs, such as staff travel expenses or IT support.
- Benefits – detail the qualitative and quantitative benefits of the project.
- Timeline – set out thestart date, important milestones and end date, along with whether any of the dates have a particular relevance, eg if the start date is missed, will it have an impact on team members’ availability?
- Evaluation – this may be measured by Internal Rate of Return, Net Present Value, or another kind of evaluation, depending on your organisation. Your finance department should be able to help you with any internal rules for evaluating a project financially.
The business case document is important for several reasons, from helping to secure funding and a green light for the project to setting the expectations for what the project will deliver, how much it will cost and when it will take place.
Creating a strong business case document will help your project to get off the ground, as well as providing a framework as your project progresses.