High impact business cases

Producing a poor business case is like shooting a good idea in the foot

Producing a poor business case is like shooting a good idea in the foot

By Serena Ghale, Handpicked Society member

All too often, I’ve seen an excellent idea dropped due to a poor business case. The success of a business case is heavily dependent on evidence in order to justify the investment proposal. This often means lots of work with stakeholders for support to drive it. The result of a good business case can have such transformational advantages to an organisation when adopted in terms of increased engagement of people, improved bottom line and external societal benefits too. Here’s the steps I go through, based on a mixture of experiences to date.

Step 0 – Set expectations

Understand your deadline/timeframe and plan back realistically at a high level - this will keep you on track. Learn about the strategy of the company so that you can relate your solutions back - this is imperative as it will likely not get support if it doesn’t fit with the future vision of the company.

Step 1 – Evidence gathering

Get key data upfront. By key data I mean things like headcount, salaries, facilities, technology, marketing costs - the daily running costs of the area you are working to support the change for. This base data will support your evidence-based conclusions and importantly drive return on investment modelling. Without it, doesn’t necessarily mean failure - you can use your own industry knowledge or online sources to get baseline figures. Though the power is always in the 'actuals' as your 'investors' will resonate much better if they can live and breathe it..

The joy of a well received business case

Step 2 – Stakeholder manage

While data is being worked through, it's important to use this time as an opportunity Stakeholder engagement and buy in. Be clear what they want out of the business case and what has worked/not in their experience. Remember this is a transformational piece of work and they may/may not be familiar with the approach, the efforts or the accountability that comes with it, so it's important to assume nothing at this stage.

Step 3 – Investment modelling

Cost modelling is critical to a business case as you are justifying your recommendations with a current vs future view of where savings can be made to support your proposal. Plan for A, B, C scenarios, typically these are low, mid, high investment points with rational workings that can be manipulated depending on the client need, as they will have been sourced from their baseline data. The easiest way would be to create a simple spreadsheet and plug the output graphs into your business case.

Step 4 – Document structure

Break down your initial time plan against the client expectation i.e. if you have a 50 page document and 2 hours to discuss, it's unlikely you'll have time to go through it all and you need to provide a snapshot. Each stakeholder is different - I've used a mix of extremely high level one page infographics to the Board to get the main investment vs benefit model across, alongside a pack of supporting evidence to show the journey. Where others like traditional longer documents with an appendices to support. Draft it, don't stress it, as you can load it up with info and then tidy it after. Regardless you'll usually need an Executive summary, evidence summary, recommended investment options summary and appendices. Contact me separately if you want some support on structure specific to your assignment.

Step 5 – Independent review

Validation - it's a good idea to get someone totally independent to the work to read through it first. Then get a colleague with some awareness of the work to validate it after. Particularly focus on figures being modelled as there could be some basic errors as you've been so embroiled in it, so it's a good test before the real thing is submitted.

Step 6 – Presenting it

The positioning and presentation - relax and have confidence in your efforts, it's likely to face challenge particularly as you are talking money. So regardless if it’s for £1,000 or £1 million, stakeholders want to know they are getting value and can see the investment will deliver results in a logical way.


Business cases are no mean feat but the power of a great business case - though more effort/work upfront, it adds huge value not only for you but the area you are supporting. Getting it right reduces rework and regardless of how awesome your solutions are, poor business cases and dozens of revisions after the main event don’t benefit anyone and all too often it loses any impact it initially had. Hence, the right first time principle should be adopted even if it is hard work, it will maximise your chances of success and future support from the stakeholder community thereafter.

Serena Ghale, Handpicked Society member, celebrating the approval of another successful business case.

Serena Ghale, Handpicked Society member, celebrating the approval of another successful business case.

Serena Ghale, Handpicked Society member

Serena is an expert in Operating Model design, transition methodology, diversity and innovation as well as business case creation. She recently reviewed one of the largest recruitment processes in Europe, as part of a Handpicked Society team. We partnered Serena with experts in recruitment and selection, candidate experience and process management, to create the ideal team for the client’s requirements. All of which was completed in under six weeks, to the delight of the client. Needless to say the resulting business case has been approved.

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