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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Well first, let me say thanks for the warm welcome Barry, and in the immortal words of one of my heroes, Dean Martin, "how’d all these people get in my room?" 


Well as my bio states, I spent most of the 90′s hidden away in the deepest darkest recesses of the largest mountains in the world.  My experiences over those seven years have formed how I approach business and consulting.  One of the biggest lessons I have learned, and carry with me today, is to prepare properly.  For an expedition the size of Annapurna, it took months of planning and logistics work.  Speaking in public and/or presenting to C-level executives for client corporations requires significant planning as well.


As with climbing any major mountain, you need to learn everything you can about the route, weather, etc.  Tha same goes for speaking.  You have to learn everything you can about your audience.  I spend hours pouring over research about a client’s industry and company.  By doing this I make sure that I speak to the issues and challenges they face everyday.


Now one of the things that I was taught by some of my mentors in IT early on was to make a strong opening and closing and to just memorize that part.  I can’t find a way to compare that to alpine climbing, but suffice it to say, I make sure that I have some great facts and figures memorized about my clients industry and company, maybe some IT initiatives I’ve been able to uncover in my research.  This will really blow your audience away when you can jump right in and speak intelligently about their industry and/or company.


As I have learned over the years climbing and life in general, if you visualize yourself doing something it makes it easier to achieve your goals.  I used to visualize myself reaching the summit of mountains.  I still had to endure many hardships (freezing temperatures, snow, ice, avalanches, etc) to reach a summit, but visualizing myself standing on top helped push me forward when it took everything I had to just put one foot in front of the other.  I take that same approach before I begin any presentation.  I visualize my success and getting a great positive response from my audience.  If you follow this little piece of advice it will go a long way in calming those nerves and mentally setting yourself up for success.


The last thing I want to close out my first post with is to give you two words:  Passion and Enthusiasm.  I am passionate about the technology I have made a career out of; Citrix.  I share my passion and enthusiasm for business and technology everyday I’m in meetings with clients and prospective clients.  I share this passion and enthusiasm with groups that I speak in front of.    People feed off of these two emotions.  If you exude enthusiasm for your topic your audience picks up on that and it carries the rest of the way through the presentation.  These two emotions will help you create success.


I am looking forward to contributing to this site and sharing my alpine climbing experiences and how they help me everyday in my career.



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Drilling Down into the Six Rs – Results

Posted by Barry Flanagan on Feb 20th, 2008
Feb 20

First, have a definite, clear practical idea; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.



If you want your audience to follow you, you must have a clear vision of where you want to go and the path you want to follow. You have to answer one question for yourself and your audience – What’s In It for Me? What is the one most important goal for you, what action do you want to take? What problem is your audience looking to solve, or what goal are they striving to reach?


You must have a firm grasp on the reasons your audience will be motivated to follow you down the path you map out to your ultimate goal. Many technical speakers do not have a clearly defined goal, and never consider the goal of the audience. This story from " The Story Factor by Annette Simmons is a fantastic example of a speaker who understands where he wants to go with the audience and what it will take to get them to follow -

 Skip looked into the sea of suspicious stockholders and wondered what might convince them to follow his leadership. He was 35, looked 13 and was third generation rich. He could tell they assumed he would be an unholy disaster as a leader. He decided to tell them a story. "My first job was drawing the electrical engineering plans for a boat building company. The drawings had to be perfect because if the wires were not accurately placed before the fiberglass form was poured, a mistake might cost a million dollars, easy. At 25, I already had two masters’ degrees. I had been on boats all my life and frankly, I found drawing these plans a bit …mindless. One morning I got a call at home from a $6/hour worker asking me "are you sure this is right?" I was incensed. Of course I was sure — "just pour the damn thing." When his supervisor called me an hour later and woke me up again and asked "are you sure this is right?" I had even less patience. "I said I was sure an hour ago and I’m still sure."

"It was the phone call from the president of the company that finally got me out of bed and down to the site. If I had to hold these guys by the hand, so be it. I sought out the worker who had called me first. He sat looking at my plans with his head cocked to one side. With exaggerated patience I began to explain the drawing. But after a few words my voice got weaker and my head started to cock to the side as well. It seems that I had (being left-handed) transposed starboard and port so that the drawing was an exact mirror image of what it should have been. Thank God this $6/hour worker had caught my mistake before it was too late. The next day I found this box on my desk. The crew bought me a remedial pair of tennis shoes for future reference. Just in case I got mixed up again – a red left shoe for port, and a green right one for starboard. These shoes don’t just help me remember port and starboard. They help me remember to listen even when I think I know what’s going on." As he held up the shoebox with one red and one green shoe, there were smiles and smirks. The stockholders relaxed a bit. If this young upstart had already learned this lesson about arrogance, then he might have learned a few things about running companies, too.


Communication can be defined as “the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information”. Exchange is the most important word in that definition. If the audience does not understand your point, you have not successfully communicated. Have you ever heard a speaker who seemed to wander aimlessly through a topic with no clear path or destination? A speaker with no obvious goal in mind confuses himself and the audience. As the Roman Orator Cato once said "Grasp the subject, words will follow."



The most important step to becoming an effective speaker is to ALWAYS have a clearly defined RESULT in mind.  After you have created crystal clear RESULT for your presentation, it is much easier to create your opening and closing, choose your main points, and build your content. Your RESULT is what you want your audience to conclude (and act upon) when you are done. When you start at the conclusion, it is a much simpler task to create your opening, main points, and then tie everything back into that conclusion.


A well defined RESULT needs to be specific, attainable, and focused on the audience. “Describe our new product features” is not a specific RESULT for your audience. “Grasp the problems that are driving our new product features, and see how these new features solve those problems while providing a fast return on the upfront investment” is a specific, attainable RESULT for your audience, as opposed to the generalized and speaker focused first example. The second statement articulates exactly what the speaker wants to achieve, and lays out a roadmap for how to achieve that RESULT so the audience gets it. Answer the question "What’s In It For Me?" for yourself and your audience, and you will be on the right path to creating a clear result for everyone.




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