22 September 2020

In her time at The Water Company Jane drove the development of small business cases that were critical to allocate funding for system upgrades and infrastructure refreshes, all of which had been implemented on time and budget, something that was rare at the water utility .  

As a result of these successful projects her manager, Mark, had assigned her the biggest project in The Water Company’s IT roadmap, an ERP implementation. This was a big step up so it meant an opportunity for Jane to prove herself, and if she could get this right it would mean a lot for both her reputation and career. 

Jane was excited and quite nervous. Mark had given her a two-month timeframe to have the business case ready to take to ExCo, the executive committee chaired by the utility’s enigmatic CEO, Kevin. Kevin was well known for throwing out senior managers and experienced consultants from ExCo meetings if they showed any sign of being unprepared. After a fortnight of rolling the business case around in her mind, and more than a few sleepless nights Jane decided that she was going to need help, and quickly! 

Remembering a skilled consultant that she had worked with at a previous company Jane looked up a phone number in her mobile and dialled.  

“Hello, Manoj speaking,” Manoj answered.  

“Hi Manoj, it is Jane here. Would you have time for a chat about a business case?” Jane asked.  

“Certainly,” Manoj replied.  

After a brief discussion Jane had explained the position to Manoj, who jumped straight into a sales pitch by saying “That sounds like quite a large business case, Jane. Under our standard pricing model that would have a t-shirt size of XL and so would be priced accordingly.”  

Jane thanked Manoj for his time and that she would need to think about it, and with that she hung up the phone. Whilst he had always been slick, there was something about the call that did not sit right with Jane, she needed a business case, not a t-shirt. 

Next Jane called Leigh, an-ex colleague who went back to consulting after working for a time in the IT department of a national utility where they had met.  

“Leigh here,” he answered.  

“It has been ages, Leigh. Do you have time to talk about a complex business case?” Jane asked. 

“Definitely has been a long time, Jane. I have looked at a few business cases over the years. Tell me all about it,” said Leigh. 

The pair ended up spending half an hour talking through key points of the initiative, the organisation, and the future ERP solution.  

Nearing the end of the call Leigh suggested “How about we continue this conversation tomorrow morning at your office Jane? If you can book a meeting room with a whiteboard and lots of wall space, I will bring along my colleague, Thanh, and coffees for everyone. Your coffee would be a skinny latte if I remember correctly?”  

Surprised Jane laughed “Yes, how can you remember that Leigh? We have not had coffee in forever. Let us do it!”  

And with that Jane had just booked in a team of consultants to visit The Water Company. 

The next morning Jane got into the office early, wanting to be mentally ready for her meeting with Leigh and his colleague. At 8:28AM she got a call from reception; Leigh had arrived. After greetings and signing them in she ushered Leigh and Thanh into the Board Room, which had a fantastic view over the eastern part of the city and up to the hills. As the pair were putting down their bags and taking out a collection of coloured Post-It Notes, markers and Blu Tack, in walked Mark, much to Jane’s surprise as she thought he would be in late that day. Thanh and Mark greeted each other like old friends, it seems that they had delivered projects together in the trenches of a government department early in their careers.  

After a brief explanation on the purpose of their visit from Thanh, and introductions between Mark and Leigh, and a brief discussion over the importance of the ERP project for Mark, Jane and The Water Company, Mark said ”Well, the three of you have lots of work to do.”  

Jane wondered about Mark’s impression of the consultants. She was sure she would find out later. 

Diving straight in, Jane started to give Thanh a recap of the conversation that she and Leigh had the previous day. 

“I have already been briefed, we are looking at a large ERP implementation to replace aging, out of support systems, and that the CIO’s reputation has been staked on this project being completed on time, on budget and with a strong return on investment,” Thanh offered. 

“You certainly don’t waste time,” Jane flashed at Leigh. 

“Not on something so critical,” responded Leigh. “Shall we get into it?” 

What followed was a several-hour discussion with the pair writing lots of notes into compendiums, Post-It Notes ended up covering the walls filled with ideas, organisational structures, stakeholder’s names, risks and issues, potential scope boundaries and much more. After a while Leigh stopped the conversation and suggested that they could now build out a structure for the business case and then work on where their relevant gaps were and who they needed to talk to resolve those gaps. 

Thanh jumped up to the whiteboard and wrote out the following: 

Business Case Core 

  1. Executive Summary + Recommendation 
  1. Problem Statement 
  1. Objectives 
  1. Scope 
  1. Benefits 
  1. Options 
  1. Risks 
  1. Budget + Resources 
  1. Plan and Schedule 

The three of them spent the next hour talking through the structure, rearranging sticky notes from the conversation thus far alongside the headings that Thanh had sketched out, and identifying required workshops and actions to get the remaining information from the relevant people in The Water Company. 

Leigh then headed over to the whiteboard “Here are a few things that you will need to think about if you want to get this business case through your ExCo presentation.” 

Top nine things when writing a Business Case  

  1. Tell a story 
  1. Know your target audience  
  1. Win hearts and minds 
  1. Cover the basics succinctly – objectives, scope, benefits, cost, and time 
  1. Compare the options (easily)  
  1. Useful + not critical = appendices or remove? 
  1. Too much prose is too much prose – use dot points, diagrams, charts, graphs 
  1. Sometimes less is more, sometimes more is right – see point 2 
  1. Jerry Maquire it – show me the money! 

“That’s a lot to think about!” Jane exclaimed, a bit tired after the intense morning spent working through all the details and ideas.  

Leigh and Thanh beamed back at her and Leigh said, “It certainly is. How about you have a think about things and let me know when you would like to have another coffee meeting?” 

“Coffee meeting? We have planned out how to deliver the business case and we have not actually engaged you yet.” Jane said, sharing her thoughts. 

“No problem,” said Leigh. “We can help if you need us.” 

The pair said their goodbyes to Jane, who scurried back to her desk, opened her calendar, and booked a meeting with her favourite procurement specialist so she could lock in the team who would deliver her business case. Then she sat back and thought about the hard road ahead and how she felt about how the future could pan out.  

What would happen if the project went well?  

What would happen if the project did not go well?  

She shuddered to think, and then turned her sights on the next activity of the day and quickly got lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday work. 

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