V IE WPOIN TS
MAKING THE CASE
Good ideas aren’t always good business.
BY GARY R. HEERKENS, MBA, CBM, PMP
Ihave witnessed a disturbing practice in far too many organizations: turning anything that “seems like a good idea” into a project. This is not good business. And while it’s certainly possible that
some of those good ideas are wise investments, how can
you be sure? Answer: Take the time to prepare a project
The project business case document is among the most
valuable tools to help support decision-making available to
organizations. A properly prepared business case explores,
examines and presents just about everything needed to
make wise choices. It is an elegant combination of a variety
of balanced elements:
n Historical data and future predictions
n Facts and assumptions
n Financial and non-financial considerations
n Personnel and resources
n Logical arguments and mathematical formulas
In the private sector, business cases play a pivotal role
in funding decisions. And for those projects that are
approved, business cases can effectively take the decision-
making process one step further, helping to identify the
best way to solve a business problem, satisfy a business need
or exploit a business opportunity.
In the public sector, business cases are frequently used
to promote widespread understanding of how the budgeted
funding can be put to the best possible use.
There are many ways to structure the project business
case, which I will explore in greater detail in future columns. For now, I’d like to advocate for project managers
preparing business cases.
THE BUSINESS OF PROJECTS
A Special Note to Senior Managers
Business case preparation presents an excellent opportunity
for project manager involvement, particularly early on.
Many project managers today express frustration that they
are being assigned to manage projects far too late in the
overall investment life cycle. Many report that their organizations use a business case approach—but the project management community does not participate in its creation.
These are lost opportunities.
Consider implementing a model where your project
manager’s initial responsibility is to prepare a project business case. This has many notable benefits:
n An unbiased author proficient in structuring and organiz-
n A project manager who will gain extensive knowledge and
insight about the project’s “roots” (invaluable for making
n More accurate estimates of execution and implementa-
tion costs and timelines
n More accurate predictions of deliverable performance
n Continuity in leadership
One of the common criticisms of the business case is
that it takes too long and costs too much. As a blanket
statement, this criticism has little merit. In fact, one of
the best things about business-case preparation is that the
time and money that goes into preparing one tends to be
proportional to the size of the overall project effort. In
other words, a case for a relatively small project can usually
be prepared in a few days and will only be about three to
four pages long.
Bottom line: For a proportionately small investment,
business cases hold the promise of helping organizations
avoid the “seems like a good idea” syndrome. For my
money, asking your project managers to take the time to
prepare a comprehensive business case is the best project-related investment an organization can make. PM
Gary R. Heerkens, MBA, CBM, PMP, is
president of Management Solutions Group
Inc., and a consultant, trainer, speaker and
author. His latest book is The Business-
Savvy Project Manager.