How to get your business case approved

I was speaking at a digital housing event in London recently and while fielding questions afterwards, I was asked a question that I thought worth discussing in a quick post.

The question asked centred around how, if you want to embark on a change project and need to convince your management team and/or board members, how do you go about this.

It’s something that perhaps some find more challenging than others, with many reasons as to why it can be a difficult experience. I have spent many years across many sectors building internal business cases in order to convince the powers that be something or other is worth investing in. Mostly they have been technology or process led changes, but the following can apply to many areas.

The first thing worth noting is that in Social Housing, with the governance model based around committees or boards then sometimes it is required to get their approval. In many other sectors it is  usually straight forward enough in getting your boss’s approval and/or a director perhaps. So, how do we ensure we do the best we can in getting approval for our ideas.

Hold on…..Where’s the list he normally comes up with I hear you ask, well, not wanting to disappoint, here it is.

1. Know your numbers.

If you’ve ever watched Dragons Den on TV you will know the thing that irks them the most is ill prepared figures/numbers on their business plan. The same goes when you are putting a business case together. There is nothing worse than a case without figures. You need to obviously know either how much it will cost or at least a carefully estimated budget. This isn’t enough however, you also need to know how, if at all, you will get some return on your investment. There is nothing better than saying ‘by spending x, we will get x back within 3 years and then we will benefit in cost savings from then on in’. Not only do management in general like this, but you’ll have the finance director on your side as well…..and that’s no bad thing.

2. Know your board.

Boards can be complicated things. They are made up of a wide ranging set of skills, and personalities, but one thing they should all have in common is wanting to do the best for the company. Some boards assign champions to certain areas of the business. You may get a board member that is assigned the responsibility of working with the development staff, and you may also get one that can help you with your business case. Never be afraid of seeking a board members help if they are actually there to help. They usually jump at the chance to get involved, and you know what, they don’t bite.

3. Know the wins.

Is there really any point in doing something if it doesn’t add some value, save some money, improve customer satisfaction and so on. The answer is obviously no. So, work out the wins. Work out what the project will deliver as far as these wins are concerned. Work out how you can explain these in lay mans terms. It is very easy to get consumed in technical speak, so once you write it, get someone to read it who is from a different department for example. It will help get your message across.

4. Know the quick wins.

In some situations the wins above may be long burning. In other words they may not be realised for some time. As a result, some organisational cultures like to see some quicker wins. If this is the case, like above, get them down in a way that examines clearly what they are. A word of warning however. Some feel they just have to get some quick wins to justify a project. This is nonsense. If there are no quick wins, don’t invent them. Nobody will thank you for squeezing in some ill thought of quick wins. They need to be realistic and as it says on the tin…….quick!

5. Know the champions.

It is always good to have some allies. Like the point about building and realising your board champions, it is just as powerful to bring some advocates of your idea and business case into the equation. The more support you can get from different sources in the company the better. Don’t make them the same old friends you go for lunch with, make sure it is a sensible bunch of champions who will really support the initiative. Sometimes you can look outside your organisation. Seek out those who have done it before, are experts and/or dare I say spend a little to gain a lot by employing someone to build your case. It needn’t cost the earth either.

6. Know the risks.

I have seen so many examples over the years where the proposal and business case is almost too good to be true. In some cases boards can be incredibly scrutinising. It is there job after all to recognise the risks to the business, and to help protect it. It does no harm, in fact it its very good practice to highlight the risks before anyone else does. You then have the upper hand. But that’s not enough. If you are going to identify the risks, please come up with a plan on how they will be mitigated and managed. Risk management is an area that is much overlooked and if done properly can be a really useful tool in convincing the powers that be to invest in your project.

So, go forth and make it happen. Build that business case, get your champions sorted and make sure you get the picture clear in the heads of those who will eventually give the go-ahead.

Author: David Loudon
Dave Loudon is the owner and managing director of the social housing management consultancy DtL Creative Ltd.