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Business Cases

One way to make your job more fun and boost your career is to come up with a new or better idea and just "make it happen". All good, but then when you want to "do something" in a business context you have to explain it in terms that the organization understands to get the the official go ahead. You have to explain what it is and why it's a good thing for the organization. so our focus here is on the basics for what you need to describe your idea and get it approved.

Explain what it is

Never overlook the obvious! You don't know who is going to read your proposal, or what they may have been told or even whether or not the care a great deal either way. You need to sell the idea and that starts with a bit of a story.

Typical business stories are direct and to the point. Don't use long winding paragraphs, stay away from breathless over hyped promises and irrelevant chatter as these bring down your credibility. Make sure to cover the basics (it helps to actually make these things sub titles to make it clear).

  • Current or existing situation ("status quo" if you want to appeal to the more official types)

  • What you propose to change. Install something, change a process, stop something, train someone, or whatever. Keep it short - a paragraph at most.

  • What will be the benefits.

Remember this is just to summarize the big picture and set the stage for the details to follow. Use simple words, bullet points are quite useful here because they're short and draw attention. Make sure to say that the details follow in the rest of the document (never overlook the obvious!).

Explain why is it good for the organization

Organizations are "teams", lots of people working together towards a common purpose. These teams all have their own cultures and values and just certain ways of thinking about things. Even when you want to drive change you need to explain why it fits with where the team wants to go. You want to hear "yes", so show the team, in their terms, that your idea is consistent to make it easy for them to say yes.

If your organization already has goals for the year or longer term strategic objectives already published then copy the ones relevant to your proposal and say how those goals are supported.

As with the previous section this is typically a summary statement. The first few times you do this it can feel a bit strange because it just seems so obvious. It actually should be obvious but taking the time to set this out shows that you "get it" about working with a team and so can be trusted to deliver and not mess up. Build your creds carefully.

What are the costs/benefits

This is the heart and soul of the analysis, here is where you go into detail and pull it all together. Start out with a narrative (words) and only then add the numbers. Like with a resume, adding statistics to everything has a way of "proving the point" more than just words. Also, money is what makes things happen so you need to clearly set out dollars as well.

Describing the benefits is always the fun and exciting part, the part where you get worked up about how much good is going to happen. Be positive and energetic but keep it real and one way to keep it real is to be clear and use numbers. Don't just say something hazy like "good for the customer/company", say WHY. Economic benefits are usually straight forward "we save X dollars/week" or "we get Y dollars/month more". Non economic benefits are a bit harder, but need to be there, and with numbers. Some examples,

  • average response time reduced from 2 hours to 20 minutes

  • delivery time reduced from 5 days to 1 day

  • available ball diamond times increased from 24 days per month to 28 days per month

  • whatever, you get the idea

Costs are usually obvious and easy to list out but be honest, don't cut corners because you want to make your case look good. You lose creds in a big way by being too optimistic. Also, make sure you cover all the bases by thinking about indirect costs as well. Indirect costs are things like

  • installation

  • training

  • "learning curve" when getting the full benefit doesn't happen right away. BTW you look seriously credible if you put this in

  • if there are a lot of people involved also put in management time; don't pretend something complicated will just magically happen - you might seem a bit shallow.

At the end, make sure to total it up! There's nothing better than a positive number that says "do this thing".

Set out what will happen.....the plan

Now that everyone knows what and why they need to know how to be really OK that this is the next success and not the next headache. This doesn't have to be a long drawn out thing (OK sometimes it is for a big project). Just set out exactly what needs to be done, what are the timelines, and who is responsible for each of the steps. Who does what and when - the basics of project management.

You can list this out in a three column table for a simple proposal. If you want step up your game maybe try milestones on a calendar or even a Gantt chart as these are great visualization tools.

Summary at the end

Good stories don't just stop, they wind down. Same here, give a short final pitch and nudge about how great it will be to see how things will be better. Maybe even have a "gracious bow" saying you appreciate the chance to put the idea forward and talk about how things can change. Just thoughts.

Good luck!


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