Business Case Development: 8 pitfalls to avoid

Business cases are an integral part of getting a sales & marketing programme signed-off (or any large project for that matter). Particularly now that we are in the middle of a pandemic and economic recession, with budgets culled and an ever greater expectation that all business investments must be accountable and return a profit. 

Here we reveal our top 8 common pitfalls to avoid if you want to get your business case, and funding signed off.

1. Taking too long to deliver

For many managers, the words ‘business case’ trigger a panicked reaction of organising workshops, war rooms and off-site meetings with agencies and research companies. Analysis paralysis will prevail.

While there is a definite need for building consensus and defining the problem (see the points below), it is imperative that you are able to build you recommendation quickly; this means weeks bit months.

If you procrastinate and delay, then the business problem may have been re-shaped or, worse, someone else will have picked up the brief because you have created the impression that you don’t know the solution.


2. Focussing on 'What' rather than 'How'

Many Boards have woken up to the fact that your idea is only as good as it’s execution.

Half of your investment case (and your time in creating it) should focus on how you are going to implement your solution – the combination of data, people, processes and technology that you need and the roadmap that you are going to operate to.

A business case is not the place to create enormous project plans: a planning phase should follow approval. And we are not advocating a return to Waterfall project management – much the opposite as we are proponents of Agile methodologies. You need to have a clear list of high level requirements and how you are going to fulfil them.

3. Your plan is disconnected from the business objectives

However elegant your solution or programme is, if it doesn’t support your business’ overall objectives then it isn’t going to be approved.

If the business objectives aren’t clear or well enough defined then invest your time in clarifying them first.

4. "Fluffyness" the plan lack depth and precision

Translate your programme efforts into a predicted financial return for the business so that your stakeholders can evaluate the investment.

If you haven’t stated an expected financial return using the financial measures that are most important to your business then it will be difficult to approve.

You should also make clear how you will track the impact of your activity and know if it’s working.


5. You haven't got buy-in from beyond the initial phase

As we have said before, everyone is in the Marketing department now. It’s highly unlikely that your planned activity won’t have any impact on another business area (this could be IT, Sales, the shop floor etc).

You need to invest some time in building consensus and understanding how your programme will benefit or hinder other business areas and what they are trying to achieve. Also by pegging your plan to the business objective you will mitigate some of this risk.

6. The bird in the room 

This is a term that SCQuARE use. For all the brilliant analysis that you have done and innovative solution that you have come up with, in the midst of presenting your recommendation you get a stakeholder coming up with a more compelling solution. The presentation is disrupted and most companies will then want this new solution to be worked through to assess it’s viability.

Ensure that you objectively work through all of the alternative options and state why they are not viable as part of your recommendation.


7. There is no escape route

With most business initiatives you need to offer a way out – to state how you are going to measure the velocity of your activity, know whether it is working and how to adapt (pivot) to this understanding.

If you are instead only asking for significant capex then the risk profile of your project becomes much higher.


8.Failing to define the big question and big number 

This is linked to the aligning with you business objective. You need to boil your analysis down to one big question, give the most compelling answer to that question and support it with a big number.

Your big number is the headline financial benefit that your plan will deliver and gives something that is universally understandable within the organisation. 

Are you seeking to hire a consultant to tap into your strategic thinking and help you see the big picture?


Do you need support with developing a great business case that deals with a way of coordinating and focusing actions? Do get in touch we’d love to help!

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