Business cases that work Part 1/2

There is a time in the life of a product manager where a justification is needed to start a new product, prove its value or expand its capabilities. As a product manager, you are competing against other company resources and a business case is a great opportunity to demonstrate to the company your judgment and strategic mind, as well as your analytical and presentation skills.

Call it a business case or an MRD – every organization seems to be doing this differently. Some organizations require the use of a pre-formatted template that may or may not fit the need of your product, others need a 2-pager. In this 2-part post, we will be discussing 12 tips that will make your life easier and improve your chances of success, irrespective of the format required.

  1. Budget at least 90 days for a medium to large business case. If someone asks you for a business case in less than 90 days, they are setting you up for failure. If you don’t have 90 days, reduce the scope of the business case to something that can be written in 90 days (or break it into multiple phases Your execs will remember the end result only, not the circumstances of the effort. Why 90 days? You will need to speak to many parts of your organization to determine potential revenues and costs and not everyone is readily available. It will take time to compile the information. Count at least 30 days for the review process: your management will request to review the document before it goes out, and when it is final, you should distribute it at least a week in advance of the presentation.
  2. Organize your effort. What information do you need from others, who can provide it and in which timeframe? Who will review your drafts? Tell your reviewers when the first draft will be available and establish strict deadlines for the review process. Schedule appointments with whomever you need to speak with as soon as you can. Put together a mini-project plan that includes what you plan to accomplish and when. Add some slack and get support from your manager.
  3. Make it short. In such an exercise, there is a temptation to be exhaustive and bring up as many details as possible in order to demonstrate your mastery of the situation. The truth is that no one reads long documents anymore. Keep it to 10 pages and include the 1-page executive summary. That’s what most people will read. You can always compile your backup information in support slides or in a separate document.
  4. Include a “business risk” and a “business assumptions” sections. These are the most important parts of the business case: what are the market assumptions that you make? How will the competition react? What could go wrong? In these sections, you can truly demonstrate your strategic talent and clear understanding of the situation. Limit the number of risks and assumptions to 10-15 each and make sure the list is prioritized. Run that list to a few people you trust. These sections will increase the trust in your document as your audience will notice that you left no stones unturned.
  5. Do not write your business case in isolation. Work with your fellow product managers. How does your new initiative relate to your company’s overall strategy? How can you leverage your fellow product managers’ effort and how will they be able to leverage yours? Were the last business cases presented successful? Why? What was the executive management feedback? How can you include that feedback in your effort?
  6. Outsource the number-crunching to Finance. Or at least get their endorsement of your math. Even if you are a science major, if one person finds one single error in your spreadsheet, your entire business case has lost its credibility. Do not let that happen to you and work closely with finance to work out the costs, taxes, run rate and proper amortization techniques. That way you can be certain that your CFO will be behind you and no one will attack your numbers.

To be continued…