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How to write a business case – 3 tips

It is no surprise that within the financial services people like to document stuff. Not only from the bookkeeping within the financial industry we need to document our policies, this also goes for the way processes work, agendas of meetings and of course the notes summarizing those meetings. When faced with the amount of work dealing with just documenting what we do, it is sometimes a wonder we get any work done at all.

An important document is the business case. In some businesses, this document is the base for changing business processes. Its goal is to determine whether the change is beneficial. It is therefore a very important document. However, when asked to write a business case I see people still having difficulty with it. Therefore here are three tips.

 1. It is opinion based

A very important aspect of a business case is that people want the advice to be factual and objective. Many people try to prove their advice like a mathematical problem. This is not possible so do not even try. You’ll only end up with a naturalistic fallacy [1]. Accept that the business case is opinion based and that it is your opinion which you provide as an expert, so simply own up to it.

A business case is a call to arms you write. You try to motivate the company to do or not do something based on the fact the action is good or bad for the company. What you want to say is something like: “We need to do X because it is good for the company”. As such you are providing an ethical judgment instead. Such statements have to be based on insights in right and wrong and not only on facts.

What is much more important is that you try to make a case about why your opinion is valid. This allows yourself to be more to the point and direct. Try to explain more why it is good for the company and how you came to the conclusion instead of creating a hundred page report with difficult analyses. Off course facts can help you, but the focus needs to be on your understanding what does and does not benefit the company.

2. Adjust it to your audience

A business case has to be the document on which the decision maker bases his or her decision to invest considerable resources. In most cases this might be your direct boss. His question to you is to deliver him with advice on what to do. What is important is that depending on the person, your business case might differ enormously.

A business case basically consists of three parts, the first being a part that describes the current situation, the second part consists of the possibilities to change the current situation and the third is whether the situation ought to be changed. Some decision makers need a lot of information, others can do with nothing more than a one page summary and most are somewhere in between and have desires on specific parts.

What is important to bear in mind is that the document needs to be used to convince him or her. Therefore use as little words as possible and do not use a template (unless the boss wants that). The best way is to take the template and start thinking which parts are important and which not and adjust the template. Make sure that what you say is fitted to the person and not the subject.

3. Exude expertise

The authority of the business case rests mainly on its author. It is an opinion piece written by the expert. Therefore the main reason why people accept its conclusion is because they accept you as an expert. If they do not accept you or question your expertise, they will not accept the conclusion even if it might be factually right. As such you need to uphold the highest professional standards.

With the business case this means making sure that the business case looks sharp. Make sure that your figures, charts and tables look great, that the text reads smoothly with no spelling or grammatical errors. That it is based on the companies’ font and format. But most importantly, that you reference your statements and facts.

Being an expert means that readers have to be able to test the validity of your statements. For instance, suppose you write that the company needs to grow with 10%. What is the validity of this fact to the reader? Did you make this up or is this general knowledge? As an expert you have to be confident that your judgment holds. This means being confident enough to provide the reader the information needed to check you.

Conclusion

In conclusion the general advice to give you is that you need to understand that the purpose of a business case is to convince someone. It is thus a means to voice your vision in a manner that people accept it is based on more than a mere whim or fleeting thought. It is therefore a testimony of your expertise and how well you understand your boss and the company you work for.

[1] David Hume

Wouter Mertens

Business Manager IT

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