Date posted: 6/02/2018 5 min read

How to get your business case approved

Practical tips to prepare a compelling business case that will get approved.

In Brief

  • Most business cases propose some form of change, so they need to be compelling. Grounding them in logic and fact is a good start.
  • Before writing a business case, talk to colleagues and consider how your proposal contributes to strategic objectives.
  • Provide a concise executive summary, clear timeline and ways to measure success.

In many organisations, business cases are the first hurdle when it comes to turning an idea into reality. Sadly, many fabulous business projects have fallen over and never reached the finish line because of poor business cases.

As a finance executive for more than a decade, Lincoln Tong FCA, who is Finance Director at payroll solutions firm ADP Australia and New Zealand CHECK, has seen many business cases cross his desk for approval. “Just about every business case I’ve seen has proposed some kind of change, and humans are not known for embracing change without a compelling reason. So however you present it, your business case has to be compelling.”

While the format of business cases can vary, there are certain fundamental aspects that you must consider. Tong shares the following tips to help make sure your next business case gets the green light.

1. Start with the problem or opportunity

Before you write your business case, seek to quantify the problem you’re trying to solve. What will be the return on investment? What are the payback details? Your business case will need to be grounded in logic and fact.

2. Bounce it around

When you’re scoping out the proposed change, talk to the people who will be tasked with delivering it. They may spot extra opportunities or consequences that you’ve missed. And if they feel like they’ve been part of the proposal, they’re more likely to support it during implementation.

“It’s also a good idea to sound out the decision makers for your business case, if you know them,” says Tong. “Having a supporter among them – before you submit the business case – can help get your proposal through. Plus they may identify where potential objections might come from. That allows you to pre-empt these in the business case that you’re writing.”

By committing to set timelines and key performance indicators, you are demonstrating accountability, which is very important
Lincoln Tong FCA Finance Director at ADP Australia and New Zealand

3. Think big

Make sure your business case explicitly answers this question: How does this change support the organisation’s strategic plan? Decision makers want to see how your proposal will take the business from where it is now to where it wants to be.

4. Know your audience

Your business case needs to be tailored to your reader. Think about what their priorities are and how your idea might help them. Make sure you know what level of understanding they have about the problem you’re trying to solve. When writing, avoid jargon or technical language they may not understand.

5. Brevity

Your readers are time-poor. When you write your business case, get to the point quickly. An executive summary at the front will help you do this. 

6. Timing is everything

Your business case should state clear milestones for how and when success will be measured, says Tong. “By committing to set timelines and key performance indicators, you are demonstrating accountability, which is very important. You might propose a staged process, where progress is gauged at different points in time. This helps mitigate risk and can help allay concerns among decision makers.”

CA ANZ Library: HBR guide to building your business case

Describes how to build a strong business case, including how to align the case with strategic goals, calculate the return on investment and present your case to stakeholders.

7. Use fresh eyes

The best writers know the value of good editors, so before you submit your business case, get some fresh pairs of eyes to check it. Ask a colleague in the finance team to check the numbers. Ask a communications colleague to check for typos. And if you have identified a ‘champion’ among the decision makers, run the draft past them to get their feedback. 

Ready, steady, go

By following the above steps, you are setting up your business case for success. But remember, if you get the green light, then it’s just the start. “Once you start rolling out your change, it’s absolutely crucial that you keep the decision makers and project owners up to date,” says Tong. “Having approved your business case, they are just as accountable for its delivery as you are. As you reach each milestone, you should be checking in to let them know how you are tracking.”

As you review and report the results to management, there will almost certainly be lessons learned along the way. It’s important to share these, so that they can inform future projects and business cases in your organisation.

When it comes to tracking performance, chartered accountants have the edge, says Tong. “We have the analytical skills and the numerical fluency to measure progress. We know how to identify trends and patterns, which means we can explain what the results mean for the business. Chartered accountants can add value from the business case stage, through implementation, to completion, and review.”

Related: Guide to preparing and evaluating business cases

Read more in this Chartered Accountants ANZ guide.