Some shovel-ready advice on writing a business case

The call has gone out to councils to get some shovel-ready projects, well… actually ready to get on the shovel.

Over the last few days, I’ve had calls with clients wanting help with getting to ‘go’ stage, so I thought it would be useful to share my experience and thoughts on writing a business case.

I’ve done a few business cases – I’ve even done the training and have the badge. Go me. To be honest, I also ballsed a couple up in the early days too. However, I learnt from that and went on to do some awesome ones. Go me again.

In my opinion, and with the benefit of having lived through a few of them, the business case approach has become one of the most misunderstood and poorly applied processes in the history of everness! It’s the second biggest bureaucratic constraint to infrastructure investment, beaten only by the Resource Management Act.

The irony is that it’s actually a very good, common-sense tool for understanding investments. The five-case model simply mimics the five questions you would get from any investor.

Unfortunately, it’s been hijacked by consultants and bureaucrats who just love to hit that complicator button (and I know that’s something I’ve been guilty of in the past!)

Following the business case template is easy, so don’t worry too much about the actual writing. 80% of your effort needs to go into making sure the right people are filling in the gaps and that they know their sh*t inside out. Many business cases have got over the line with some slick talking and cool graphics only to fall at the first hurdle of implementation.

Right now, for the business case approach to really work, we must be bold enough to simplify it. We need to fast track the process, without losing the integrity of its decisions, and get our construction workers employed.

So, here’s my go at simplifying things:

OK! Let’s get straight into it.

An effective proposal will be able to complete the sentences below. Any further information will simply be there to reduce investment uncertainty for your funders.

Case 1 (Strategic): 

What do you need and why?
Our community needs……
To address a problem with……
It is caused by……
As evidenced by……
I heard you are into this sort of thing because your business plans and strategies say this……

…And what will your community get from it?
By fixing ….., the community will benefit by……
The risks to the community of not fixing it are……
And, we will know we have achieved our goal when……
And we will report it back to using the following evidence……

Case 2 (Economic): 

Why is your proposal the best option?
Our proposal best delivers our community needs by……
And addresses the problem by……
We considered the following option(s) of……
But decided against it because……..
(Include if you can’t procure it, or manage it, or afford it too)

Case 3 (Commercial): 

How are you gonna build it?
We propose to procure construction from the market by……
Sh*t can happen, and if ……… happens, we may not be able to deliver it.
So, we have factored……… in to avoid……… happening.

….. And how will it be operated once it’s built?
We will ensure the ongoing delivery of benefits by……

Case 5 (Management):

Who is going to manage this project?
We will oversee construction and delivery by……
We will report back to you like this……
Sh*t can happen, and if ……… happens, we may not be able to deliver it.
So, we have factored ……… in to avoid ……… happening.

Case 4 (Financial):

How do you propose to pay for it?
We will need this much $…… for construction
And, this much $…… for its operation.
We can pay for this much $…… from these sources……
So, we need you to pay this much $……
We will pay you back by…… or cut you in on the deal by……
And if these things turn to sh*t……, we may not be able to get your money back.
So we will change our plans a bit to avoid it happening……

You keen?

If you’re curious about this article or want to discuss it further, leave a comment or get in touch with Vaughn.

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