How to get the go-ahead
A winning business case requires careful planning
- By Mark Lavigne
- Dec 10, 2003
From the largest federal agency to the smallest municipality, making a smart case for IT investment has never been more important.
Public-sector managers need the right components to build a sound business case that convinces key players of three things:
- Stating the problem in plain language with key data about its policy significance and complexity
- Identifying customers and stakeholders
- Spelling out the expected changes, costs and risks
- Presenting the available options to decision makers and recommending action.
The Center for Technology in Government takes a three-phase approach to business case development. Each phase is adaptable to a wide range of circumstances. The results of one phase feed into the next, but later phases can also loop back to refine the overall effort.
The first phase is analysis. Don't skimp on defining objectives, opportunities, strengths, risks, resources and constraints.
The second phase is design, based on the collected information. Articulate the rationale of the overall approach. Then compile the basic materials into a strategy for reaching each audience.
The third phase is presenting the message and methods to the various audiences in a way that secures their commitment and support.Figure it out
Discover exactly where you stand at the beginning'pinpoint problems and opportunities for improvement. This requires mapping existing business processes and assessing the current infrastructure's capabilities and compatibilities with other groups that are likely to participate.
The first phase lays the groundwork to show decision makers what is lacking in your current system, the benefits they'll see from the new one and why past investments weren't enough to solve today's problems.
Select the current business processes that seem most valuable for the near future, and set specific goals to streamline them. Describe in lay terms what benefits users and stakeholders can expect. Show what it would cost to achieve those benefits and who would pay. Set milestones for regular progress.
As you develop your case's main elements, keep in mind that the most acceptable case incorporates input from representatives of all who will be affected'not merely your organization alone. A collective effort will be more relevant and persuasive.
When you've designed the business case, get it onto the agendas of all the audiences'stakeholders, decision makers and opinion shapers. Put your case to them to win their support in the form of funding, staffing, advocacy or energy.
The success of any business case presentation depends in large part on its audience appeal. Tailor your presentations to the specific concerns of, say, agency executives, public information representatives or end users. Each group will have different questions. That's why it's important to customize your message and choose a medium and venue that works for each audience.
Just as there are various audiences, there are many ways to deliver your message: meetings, briefings, presentations, press events, articles, information packets or a combination.
Share the knowledge you have gained with those who will be affected by the initiative. And let your enthusiasm shine through. No matter who's in the audience, you'll be ready if you can answer six questions:
- What are the key program and policy concerns of this audience?
- What related activities do they engage in nowbr
- Whom should I invite, and what materials should I provide?
- What logistical preparations should I make?
- How much time will I have?
- How, when and with whom should I follow up?
Armed with these business case basics, you'll feel confident. Mark LaVigne is communication manager for the Center for Technology in Government in Albany, N.Y. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.