The role and nature of the business case is commonly misunderstood. This leads to poor quality business cases which set projects up to fail.

Is Your Business Case a Liability?

,For a document that has been around for many years, it is surprising how misunderstood the role of the business case is. And how many of them are not worth the paper they are printed on. Here are some essential elements which will determine whether your business case will be effective or not.

1. Your business case should tell a story

It should "argue the case" for your project or program.

Too many business cases don't do that. Instead, they are just a collection of topics in no apparent order that the reader has to make sense of. Often this is because the first step in creating the business case has been to find another document and use it as "boiler-plate", cutting and pasting because the phrases sound relevant. 

When the business case is full of meaningless words, the processes to evaluate business case are then reduced to just looking at the numbers,  focusing on “What’s the ROI?”

To create a quality business case you need to use an orderly and structured thinking process - to understand and then document, "Why this project?" and "Does this make sense?" and "Can we deliver it successfully?"

2. The business case should be a selling document

It should be the means by which the Project Sponsor (not the project team) argues his or her case for their project; what they commit  to deliver in return for the time, funds and resources that are to be invested in the project.

Which leads us to the next point...

3. The business case is a ‘contract’

The Sponsor is contracting to deliver the business case’s value in return for the organization's agreement to provide time, funds and resources requested.

Failure of either side of the contract to deliver what they commit, spells doom for the project and its value.

4. The business case is a strategy document

The business case is often thought of as a ‘financial document’. It isn’t, although it will usually contain financial analysis components.

The Business Case is a strategic document. The first question that should be clearly answered in every business case is, “What, where and how much is this project contributing to our strategy?”

Projects are about implementing strategy, not delivering something on time and budget. If your business case does not clearly linked to your strategy, it is of little value.

5. The business case is the central control document for the project

Too often the business case is seen as primarily the means by which the project is justified, the funds and resources acquired and then its job is done.

It sits on the shelf or in the bottom drawer and is never looked at again. Wrong!

The business case is a living document that summarises the work and analysis required to define the project Value Equation.

Thus, the business should clearly define all the activities deliver the value defined

In Conclusion

If you don’t understand the role and nature of a business case, then your organisation is unlikely to have an effective business case process that produces the high quality business case documents which everyone can 'read like a book".

And if the business case is poor, it is unlikely that you can select the right projects and execute them effectively. [1]

The following articles in this series will take you through the key sections of a well-crafted business case.

Topics: Business Case


[1] Simms, J. (2007). Why Projects Fail: Part Five, Poor Business Case. [online] CIO. Available at: [Accessed 25 Feb. 2020].

"In a recent review of several approved multi-million business cases in one major organization we found that 87 percent should not have been approved. The business cases themselves gave the clues that the project off the rails, the solution was inappropriate, the need for the project was missing, and so on. However, all these pointers were missed by those evaluating the business cases."



Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Sept 2009) as "The Business Case 1 – Myths and Misunderstandings"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections