The Obvious Question Rarely Asked in a Business Case

One Question

Congratulations you have just been appointed the Project Manager (PM) for this very important project. The Sponsor has handed you the business case and set you on your way.

You dutifully read the business case. It looks great. It has all the sections completed as per the template and project methodology. It is well articulated and is clear what needs to be achieved. Most importantly it has all the required sign-offs, and you are ready to go.

As the PM you are entitled to accept the business case as read and use it as the starting point for your project. That would be true if you see the PM role as managing the project delivery process. However, I see the PM and Sponsor as equally responsible for the success of the project and therefore each is accountable for doing their own due diligence on the business case. Our experience suggests that this is a wise thing for the PM to do.

Unfortunately, unless your business is in the business of this type of project the level of research that goes into the assumptions of the business case is usually internally derived by people that have limited experience in the potential outcomes that this type of project brings. In reality, it is no more than an educated guess.

As the newly appointed PM you must ask “What experience and expertise were brought to bear on this business case, is it sufficient and how do you know?” to uncover critical limitations that need to be addressed.

Often, based on further work prompted by the question:

  • The assumptions are found to be unrealistic and are amended
  • The planned resources to deliver or operate the end state are insufficient or inexperienced prompting a rethink
  • The project is paused while pre-project issues are addressed to set the project up for success. All these are good outcomes for the organisation.
  • The assumptions are tested through a minimum viable product approach to derive more certainty.

Even though many project professionals I deal with are reluctant to ask the question for fear of retribution from my experience if it is done constructively, there is only upside for the Sponsor, organisation and the reputation of the PM.

It is always better to risk a few uncomfortable conversations early to know what you are really dealing with than to work with unrealistic expectations and conditions that set the project up for failure. Nothing is more unpleasant than a failing project.

I recommend to my clients to codify the question into the structure of the business case template to ensure that the question is addressed and act as a prompt in the review cycle thereby improving the quality of the business case as a starting point to the project. No fear of retribution if it is expected in the business case. Problem solved.

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