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Build a Better Business Case

Posted by Mark Fallon on Jul 26, 2016 5:00:00 AM

Do you plan on:


  • Purchasing new equipment or software?
  • Implementing a project to reengineer a critical process?
  • Justifying the expansion of the department?

Before undertaking a major expense or transformation, a leader needs to get approval from their senior management. An effective technique is to draft a clear business case that clarifies the costs and benefits to the company and their customers. For most endeavors, a business case includes the following 8 points:

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Problem Statement
  3. Impact Statement
  4. Proposed Solutions
  5. Basic Project Plan
  6. Costs
  7. Benefits
  8. Restated Summary

The Executive Summary is an abridged version of the overall business case. This section includes a statement of the problem, the issues addressed, the suggested solution, costs vs. benefits, and next steps. If possible, the Executive Summary should be one-page, and two pages at most. Most senior leaders are pressed for time, and want information presented in a succinct manner.

Although it’s the first section, the Executive Summary is usually written last. A good technique is to use key words and phrases that appear in the main text. Planned repetition will plant the seeds and reinforce the positive points that support approving the proposal. Also, some senior managers will only read this section, so it’s imperative to deliver the important points that support your case.

The Problem Statement defines the issue, need or opportunity being addressed. The statement should begin with a general assertion, supported by more details. The problem should be stated as an overall company problem, not just a departmental issue.

For example, a manager may want to upgrade an old inserter. The general problem could be: “The existing inserter is not adequate to meet the current and future needs of the company.” The details could include examples of the lack of adequate integrity controls, slow speeds and down time for repairs.

The Impact Statement explains the issues caused by the problem. As with the problem statement, the focus needs to extend beyond the department and to the company. Whenever relevant, link the problem to customers and costs. Be specific, and include examples when possible.

Back to the inserter project. The impact statement could highlight how the limitations of the inserter caused statements to go out late, or that there were errors in mailings to customers. Costs may include additional customer service calls, overtime or fines for privacy violations. The exact number of calls, overtime hours and fines should be listed. If a senior manager from an impacted department (e.g., Customer Service, Sales, etc.) will provide a testimonial or quote, that will add to the case.

The Proposed Solution should describe the project or acquisition the business case supports. Make sure to explain not only the actions being taken, but the objectives of those actions. In other words, the solution explains the results of the project.

So in the case of a new inserter, the proposed solution is not just “buy a new inserter.” The solution should state what the new equipment will be able to accomplish that the current machine can’t. Include a description of the capabilities, speeds and throughput of the new inserter. The solution is lowering costs and increasing the quality of statement production.

The Basic Project Plan is an outline of the timeline and resources required for the project. Instead of every line or activity, provide the milestones and key completion dates. List the titles, responsibilities and time commitments of people needed to make the project successful. If specific individuals are required, include their names as well.

For a new inserter, the basic project plan would include key steps – drafting and publishing a request for proposals (“RFP”), reviewing responses, selecting a vendor, accepting and receiving equipment, and transferring applications to the new equipment. A detailed project plan would be developed after the business case is approved.

The Costs section is the proposed budget for the project. Detailed information on costs – equipment pricing, programming hours, etc. – should include the reasoning and sources for estimates. If possible, point to previous projects of similar scope. Be careful not to underestimate the efforts required to successfully implement the proposed changes.

Many inserter vendors will provide a price range for budgeting purposes. Issuing a request for quotes (“RFQ”) to vendors will provide more accurate information, including basic equipment, additional functionality, software and installation costs. Ask your Information Technology for their input on any additional requirements (e.g., server installation, network wiring, etc.) and programming hours.

Benefits can include measurable and intangible gains from the proposed changes. Measurable benefits can vary, and often include labor, material, postage and pricing. While not easy to measure – appearance, branding and consistency are valuable advantages that should be considered. Also, managers need to look beyond their own departments for the positive impact of a project.

For example, a new inserter with faster speeds, greater capabilities and higher integrity provides gain for the mail operation and the company. There’s an opportunity to reduce headcount, use different envelopes, combine mailings, etc. The resulting mailpiece presents a better image for the company to their customers. Eliminating errors will also reduce calls to customer service, further saving the company money. There may be even more benefits to other departments, and it’s incumbent on the project manager to seek them out.

The document began with an Executive Summary, and it’s helpful to finish with a Summary. This section will be brief – just a paragraph or two. The purpose is to provide a logical ending to the document, and restate the argument in support of the proposal. A well drafted Summary leaves the reader with a positive attitude towards the project.

When purchasing new equipment or software using the RFP process, managers may have to write 2 separate business cases. The first business case is designed to get approval for the project, allocate budget funds and assign staff. After a vendor has been chosen, a second business case may need to be drafted to approve the specific purchase.

In the second business case, refer to the original document and any responses made in the approval process. In the Proposed Solutions section, expand the discussion to include the alternates considered during the RFP. When reviewing costs, compare the final expenses to the approved budget, with the reasons for any differences. Explain why the team selected the particular solution, including any additional or unforeseen benefits.

Capable leaders seek to continuously improve their operations with new technologies and other projects. They understand the costs, benefits and impact the changes will have for their department and the company. Drafting a detailed business case is an effective way to get the approval and support of senior management to implement those initiatives.

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