Totally Brilliant

Totally Brilliant

Business cases drive important investment decisions, but when leveraged to drive results as well, they can do much more.

Business cases are still a topic that attracts lots of interest among CIOs and their staff - or at least that's what the very high attendance at a recent series of Gartner EXP teleconferences on business cases tells me. But why such continued interest in this old chestnut? The awful truth is that most IT business cases are still mediocre - and some are just downright dreadful.

This isn't news. Senior management no longer approves large capital investments based on what appears to them to be flimsy business cases. You've suspected or known this for a couple of years now, but perhaps your enterprise processes are such that it's just too hard to change the "business case culture" that drives your budget process. Think again. CIOs are first in the firing line when the accusations of weak business cases (and projects that don't deliver), start flying. There must be a better way.

Gartner EXP took a close look at a large number of business cases and the processes used to develop and execute against them as part of a recent study called: Building Brilliant Business Cases. We found some business cases are very successful, and, in fact, quite brilliant. Most of the very good ones share common characteristics and have no problems at all in getting widespread stakeholder support.

Processes used to develop brilliant business cases are different. Brilliant business cases contain the best thinking of all stakeholders. It must be a thorough process, one that involves the right people, uncovers all of their concerns and issues and then addresses them. It can take months. Because the process is comprehensive, presenting the case to the decision-making body to get approval for funding is then just a formality.

Too many business cases overemphasize technology and technology is only a means to an end. Benefits come from business changes. A brilliant business case addresses how people and processes will change. It documents the "as is" and "to be" status describing the changes needed to bridge the gap.

Many business cases are not approved because they simply lack sufficient financial justification. Brilliant business cases identify and quantify all benefits because their development includes an exhaustive search for benefits. This includes interviewing people close to the problems, holding benefits-discovery brainstorming sessions with the business and IT, using consultants, trade associations and vendors to leverage experiences of other companies and using value frameworks.

When business unit executives develop the benefit estimates, they become comfortable with the goals. As a result, they are more amenable to publicly committing to realizing these benefits by either signing the business case or even presenting that section of the case to the investment committee.

The contents of brilliant business cases are different. Some organizations use a standard business case template. However, most of these suffer shortfalls. The links to business objectives are not explicit, risk analyses are inadequate and the business cases are difficult for decision-makers to understand.

Brilliant business cases describe projects in the context of business goals, strategies and plans, and the enterprise's existing and planned portfolio of projects. Alternatively they can reflect business or IT "pain points" where things are not working properly.

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