Preparing a business case need not necessarily be a lengthy or difficult exercise. The amount of time worth spending on this is necessarily related to the likely scale and cost of the project.
Even if you are faced with the second of the above scenarios, where the project is already something of a fait accompli, it is worth drafting a short outline and confirming with your sponsor that this is indeed what they have in mind. As a minimum this would summarise what you are doing, why you are doing it and what alternatives exist.
The business case is an important document as it states what the project is intended to achieve. Throughout the life of the project as you come to the end of each stage, this document is referred to as a basis for deciding:
- Can the business case still be achieved?
- Does the business case need updating?
- Should the project continue?
In a worst case scenario it may be that a management group has decided on a course of action without adequately exploring whether this is necessarily the most effective way forward or whether it will adequately meet the identified needs.
An alternative, and equally likely scenario, is that it has set time and cost limits in advance of a proper analysis of what the project involves.
To be fair, especially in relation to systems implementations, such optimism can often be provoked by the claims of vendor sales teams and consultants about how easy it is to apply their ‘standard’ implementation methodology in your institution. In these cases the business case should state the reasons why alternatives weren’t fully explored or the fact that time and cost estimates may need to be revised once proper planning is under way.
Statistical data or other evidence from colleagues in the sector can help to make your case. Hopefully this will be sufficient to make your sponsor pause for thought and consider the best way forward. If nothing else it will at least give you some protection when you have to go back and tell them that things aren’t going to work out quite like they thought.