Updated: May 19, 2022
Written by Natarajan Srikrishnan
Whether you’re in a technical or business management role in any industry, knowing how to write executive-level Business Cases is an important skill to have. Senior leaders are continually challenged with how to prioritize key initiatives and get the best ROI (Return on Investment) given the limited time and resources (money, people, tools, infrastructure, etc.). Business Cases help facilitate those decisions by providing strategic and economic rationale along with operational details in a concise and structured manner. Now that you know why Business Cases are so useful and critical, let’s dive deeper into how to write one …
While every company might have its own template for Business Cases, there are typically standard elements to every Business Case, shown in the visual below:
Let’s look at each of these individually in more detail, and at the end, we’ll see how to leverage them to outline the scenario presented in our Spark session on "how to write an executive-level business case" wherein an E-commerce company is struggling with sales numbers:
1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY – This is typically a 1-2 page overview of the entire Business Case document that provides only a high-level outline (think 10,000 ft view) of the following key elements:
● Investment needed (i.e. how much money you need to execute the business case proposition)
● Opportunity overview and size
● Proposed solution and scope
● Financial metrics (ROI, Break-even point, Net Present Value, etc.)
Pro Tip: It is a good idea to write this section at the end, after you have completed all other sections. That way, you’ll find it easier to omit unnecessary details that have already been covered in depth in their respective sections.
2. WHY – This 1-2 page section is typically focused on highlighting the problem or opportunity for the company, and the strategic rationale behind investing to address this opportunity. This could include:
● External factors:
i. Market size, key segments, trends, historical and forecasted growth rates
ii. Competitive landscape
iii. Regulatory and geo-political dynamics
● Internal factors:
i. Strategic rationale given current offerings (e.g. new growth opportunity, international expansion, cost reduction, customer retention etc.)
ii. Alignment with company vision and mission
Pro tip: Do your research and write a compelling narrative! This section is extremely critical and can make or break the Business Case. Use verifiable sources of information (company annual statements, Statista, Forrester, Gartner and other consulting white papers, etc.) and clearly show why the company should seriously consider investing in addressing this problem/opportunity.
3. WHAT – This section is typically 1-2 pages long and serves to provide details on the proposed solution that is driving the investment ask. This could include:
● Description of the solution and how it addresses the opportunity at hand
● Any other benefits that the proposed solution will bring to the company
● Description of the current state and what is being incrementally provided by the Business Case
● Description of the anticipated future state
Pro tip: Be sure to include an overview of any alternative solutions that were considered and why they weren’t ultimately viable/optimal options.
4. WHERE – This small but important section aims to provide clarity on the scope of the Business Case. This could include applicability across specific geographic regions, markets/industries, products, etc.
Pro tip: Clearly indicate what is NOT in scope for the Business Case.
5. HOW & WHEN – This 1-2 page section seeks to highlight the operational details of the Business Case. It typically includes details on the key stakeholders involved, resources needed, and a high-level execution plan with phases, milestones, and key deliverables.
6. HOW MUCH – This is the financial section and is typically 1-2 pages long with some tables that show details around the projected revenues, costs, profit, and metrics such as Return on Investment, Net Present Value, Break-even period, etc.
Looking at the example shared on our Spark session, the above visual will look something like this:
Beyond these sections, the document would also have pages for ‘Stakeholder Approvals’, ‘Table of Contents’ and ‘Appendix’ as needed. And voila! You now have the secret recipe for a Business Case!
Pro tip: Try to keep the final document within 10 pages. Yes, it is incredibly hard to fit all important and relevant information within 10 pages, but trust me, executive leaders don’t have the time to read anything more than that - so, keep your document crisp and concise! Succinct communication is an important skill for your bright careers ahead! 😊
About the Author:
Natarajan (Nattu) Srikrishnan is currently a Director of Global Product Strategy at LexisNexis Risk Solutions (LNRS) in Atlanta, USA. He earned his MBA in 2018 from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. Nattu has lived in 4 countries and brings a diverse background with experience spanning various functions including product management, strategy, market research, operations and supply chain across multiple industries. He got his B.Tech. Pharma degree from ICT, Mumbai, in 2012. In his free time, Nattu finds himself learning more about food, playing soccer and video games, cheering FC Barcelona or watching an F1 race.