Delivering your Business Case

Posted by michaelk on Sep 9th, 2008
Sep 9

There are many steps in putting together a solid, quality business case for IT projects like scope, criteria, align, etc. but the single most important one in "selling" the case is story-telling.


I have presented more than my fair share of business cases and I can attest that this is by far the most important.  This step exists because of incorrect communication of the business case findings and rationale account for almost 20 percent of all the reasons why business cases fail.  If you can’t communicate your plan it will cover up the quality and relevance of the all the research and analysis that you and your team put into it.


I want to take a minute to share the tasks that are related to this last and final step in building a solid, quality business case for your IT projects.




#1:  Build graphics and narratives

At the core of a business case, the worth is not in the mass of numbers.  Your business case’s value always springs from the quality of the guided conversation it stimulates about the shape of the future.  I can tell you from first hand experience, conversations move people to action.  The data in your business case is merely the backdrop, albeit an important one.


The words, diagrams, and drawings that you present in the report must spark conversations that reflect an accurate understanding of the findings and rationale.  Here are some tips that I have used to do this:

  • Confirm who the audience is.  I always make, and so should you, to know the name, rank and serial numbers of my audience members.  My final reports are always written to known individuals, not to "To Whom it May Concern" types.
  •  Speak the audience’s language.  Speak the language of business or that of the decision makers you are presenting to.  Forget the all the technical jargon, it won’t do you any good at this level.
  • Help the data to talk.  What I’m talking about here is using charts to show proportions, trends, etc.  I use text to draw attention to important findings within the data and charts.  One additional thing to do is use what I call concept visuals.  This is where I take a page from Dan Roam and use drawings to illustrate key points.
  • Use succinct, vivid text.  Nothing drives me more crazy than watching a presenter write a long sentence when just a few words would suffice.  Take this to heart folks.  People that are going to be in your presentation are very busy people and probably have a very short attention span.  Use small potent words to help drive your point home.


#2:  Tell the ROI story


Graphs and charts are great, but not really enough and will still under-communicate unless you tell the story.  ROI storytelling is about relating people-oriented tales that illustrate a key theme, finding, or message of your business case.  Don’t go crazy here, but use this carefully.  The best times that I have found to apply the ROI story is;

  • When a key, somewhat complex, point needs to be clearly understood
  • When a key point needs to be believed and,
  • When a key point needs to be easily remembered


I have learned the hard way folks, don’t use a story when describing technically-oriented features or functions.  The best ROI story is the one which resonates with the decision makers.  It usually is the kind of story that deals with the enterprise as well as its customers, suppliers, and investors.  I have used customer stories that I have found in client marketing material along with some tidbits of information I pick up during assessment interviews with employees.


I’m going to close with some helpful hints. 

  1. Be clear on the purpose and duration of the presentation.  The purpose and duration drive everything else in the preparation and delivery of the presentation.
  2. Use charts and diagrams liberallyI would say that 90% of the key data communicated should be via graphics and drawings and backed up by the numbers.
  3. Allow plenty of time for questions. 
  4. Be ready for challenges and animosity from the audience.  Your conclusions, findings, rationale, data validity, and sources are all fair game to your audience.  Prepare your self and anticipate this.  Your meeting will be more successful if you do.  On the topic of animosity let me say this.  Business cases are bound to stir up controversy.  Be professional and speak to the antagonist with respect.  Respond directly to them and then try to move on.  If they persist offer to take the discussion offline.
  5. Get feedback.  This is my favorite thing especially if you can have this presentation before presenting your final report.  This should give you time to sharpen the final written report.


As I stated in my first post here.  Preparation is the key to success.  In every expedition I’ve been on, we spend months preparing.  The same goes for important presentations as well, it could save your professional credibility.


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4 Responses

  1. Dr. Jim Anderson Says:

    I agree! I agree! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat though a business case presentation in which the presenter thought that the numbers would do the talking for him/her. The proper use of a story makes it all seem that much more REAL.
    The one point that I think that you missed was that at the end of the day, your business case needs to be tied to an OUTCOME. Your audience really doesn’t care about your numbers, your story or even about you. Instead what they want to be sold is an outcome – your business case is just how they can get there.
    - Dr. Jim Anderson
    Blue Elephant ConsultingThe Accidental Communicator Blog

  2. Michael Keen Says:

    Dr Anderson,

    thank you so much for the feedback. I agree with you statement that a business case does need to be tied to an Outcome. This is actually just the last step in my seven step process of developing a solid business, just FYI.

    Thanks again


  3. simon - presentations training UK Says:

    Another one shouting “I agree”… but… but don’t forget to have your detailed hard-core data to hand as a leave-behind. Obviously it isn’t appropriate to put it in the presentation but it’s got to be there just in case it’s needed.

    I’ve been known to put data in slides that I don’t show, in case I need them at question-time.


  4. carol Says:

    I agree with gauging your audience first to know what works for them and what a public speaker should avoid when delivering his or her speech. this also goes for the voice intonation and body language.

    this is a great post. It helped me a lot. thanks. :)

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