What is wrong with business cases?

We’ve been very busy working with nearly 200 folk across the public sector on building better business cases as part of our partnership with CIPFA (details here).

We’re very proud that 100% of delegates on these courses have passed their exams – very well done to you all!

Doing these courses has led us to reflect on the barriers to better business cases and in summary these are some of the main issuesnew word cloud2 that come up time and again:

1. Insufficient vision – great business cases that win support are those that clearly articulate why this is a once in a career opportunity to do something better and different for users, residents and citizens (that happens to be cheaper), not the other way round.

2. Lack of analysis – compelling business cases need good data, good analysis and clear presentation of the facts

3. Not involving the stakeholders – there is very little point developing options that the decision makers were always going to say ‘No’ to. Much better to spend the time and effort on understanding what could possibly be a ‘Yes’ if there was a bit more detail and depth of understanding.

4. Too many business cases are a ‘sales job’ to get funding and not an exercise in ‘quality of thinking’ – the later is a team game involving co-creating a better future while the former is doing what you were going to do anyway but with someone’s else’s money to back it. As such it’s a recipe for ‘pet projects’ syndrome, or its even uglier elder brother the ‘zombie project’ (that long standing project of doom that simply refuses to die).

5. Too rigid templates – we’ve found the best way to get consistency across business cases is to provide some checklists and prompts of items to include and NOT rigid templates to complete. Templates stifle creativity and encourage a box ticking mindset whereas checklists give authors space to express their unique project, in their own words and respects their intelligence as experienced, well informed professionals.

Some more of our thoughts on business cases can be found in an article we wrote for Public Finance Magazine.

Why not get in touch with your thoughts and experiences and we’ll feature them in future blogs?