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Survival guide for senior responsible owners - the business case

October 2019

By Rod Sowden

Rod Sowden
'Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.' Barack Obama

There are many reasons why programmes fail, but failure to grasp the scale of the change being delivered and weak leadership of the programme teams are often contributing factors.

The business case

Business cases themselves come in all shapes and sizes, varying from a one-page document to tomes hundreds of pages long. The sheer length and list of things that many organizations require to be included, coupled with a complex approval process, can seem calculated to make even the best senior responsible owner (SRO) wilt. If this programme is the pet idea of your boss, the unenviable task of telling them the figures do not add up will fall to you - but better that than spending large sums of money on a white elephant.

The business case defines your world - it is the top of your document hierarchy, the capstone piece where the options, costs, benefits and risks are brought together in a single document. The core purpose of the business case is to secure approval for the programme to proceed. It enables those responsible for investment decisions in an organization to make an informed choice based on a clearly argued case and an appreciation of the implications.

You should keep the business case close to hand (or at least the summary if it is one of the 100-page types). The business case is your contract with your executive management team and investment decisionmakers. You are accountable for delivering on that contract, so use it as your managerial compass.

Ensure that the climate you create as a leader is one that encourages honesty and realism, as your career depends on it.

The magnificent seven tips for business cases

'If deliberately providing misleading information to gain access to funds is called fraud, then any SRO that signs off a business case that is misleading is a fraudster!' Rod Sowden, lead author MSP

The absolute worst sin you can commit is deliberately underestimating the cost and timescale to get your pet initiative accepted, hoping that once its underway it will not get stopped even though the cost increases. There are likely to be few, if any winners, but there will be lots of losers, such as those who do not get the benefits.

Here are the magnificent seven tips for business cases:

  • Build in a risk budget: the world will not stand still during the programme and having a viable risk budget will help to maintain realism with stakeholders

  • Transition budgets to support operations are essential: these are often missed from business cases, so when the time comes to deliver transition there could potentially be inadequate resources

  • Funding will be volatile: keep your finger on the pulse of the organization's financial forecasts and commitments to ensure your funds do not evaporate unexpectedly

  • Plan for changes of direction: at the end of each tranche, you should seek independent validation of the viability of your programme in terms of benefits, costs and executive support

  • Engage the decision makers early: test the appetite for the programme and set positive expectations in terms of benefits before focusing on costs

  • Beware of benefits double-counting or optimism bias: ensure the costs and benefits have a risk profile so that there is transparency about potential risk areas

  • Keep the business case short if you can (depends on organizations): the justification exists within several other documents which you can attach as appendices

Figure 1 Figure 1 Development of the business case

Figure 1 Development of the business case

About the author:

Rod Sowden is founder and managing director of Aspire Europe, an organization dedicated to improving organizations' programme management performance. In the last 10 years, Rod has travelled the world working on assignments and lecturing on a variety of programme management topics. He is an experienced programme management registered consultant; Rod has worked on numerous consulting and delivery assignments that have left organizations with sustainable change. The bulk of his career prior to programme management was in the BBC, where he worked prior to founding Aspire Europe.

Rod was lead author on the 2011 edition of Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®), and the Portfolio, Programme and Project Maturity Model (P3M3®). He has also authored a series of MSP survival guides, such as the MSP Survival Guide for Business Change Managers, and the MSP Survival Guide for Senior Responsible Owners, which support individuals in key programme roles. Rod has helped more than 150 different organizations improve their portfolio, programme, project, and change management performance.

International Best Practice is delighted to have worked with Rod on his latest title, A Practical Guide to Project Planning, it is a step by step guide on planning for project managers who wish to deliver success.

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