There’s a good chance that your organization is being forced to do more with less under the strain of budget constraints and competing initiatives. It’s a matter of survival. You need to present decision-makers with well-thought-out and targeted business cases for new initiatives. Yet developing such a business case is no walk in the park. Perhaps because our firm has its roots in New England, we sometimes compare this process to leading a hiking trip into the woods — into the wild.
A hiking analogy may be a well-traveled path for some and brand new — and somewhat daunting — terrain for others. Relax. Success in developing a business case for a new initiative boils down to planning, preparation, and applying a few key concepts we’ve learned from our travels.
Consensus is critical. Before you can start the hike, everyone has to agree on some fundamentals:
|•||Where are we going?|
|•||When do we go and for how long?|
Getting everyone to agree requires clear communication and, yes, even a little salesmanship: “Trust me. The bears aren’t bad this time of year.” The same principle applies in proposing new initiatives - making sure everyone has bought into the basic framework of the initiative is critical to success.
Although most hiking involves groups of people similar in age, ability, and whereabouts, for your business initiative you need to communicate with diverse groups of colleagues at every level of the organization — for a business initiative, gaining consensus among people who bring a wide variety of skills and perspectives to the project is an additional layer of complexity.
To gain consensus, consider the intended audiences of your message and target the content to what will work for them. It should provide enough information for executive-level stakeholders to quickly understand the initiative and the path forward. It should give people responsible for implementation or who will provide specific skills substantive information to implement the plan. And remember: one of the most common reasons projects struggle to meet their stated objectives (and why some projects never materialize to begin with), is a lack of sponsorship and buy-in. The goal of a business case is to gain buy-in before project initiation, so your sponsors will actively support the project during implementation.
Set your goals. It’s refreshing to take the first steps, to feel that initial sense of freedom as you set off down the trail. Yet few people truly enjoy wandering around aimlessly in the wilderness for an extended period of time. Hikers need goals, like reaching a mountain peak or seeing famous landmarks, or hiking a predetermined number of miles per day. And having a trail guide is key in meeting those goals.
For a new initiative, clearly define goals and objectives, as well as pain points your organization wishes to address. This is critical to ensuring that the project’s sponsors and implementation team are all on the same page. Identifying specific benefits of completing your initiative can help people “keep their eye on the prize” when the project feels like an uphill climb.
Timelines provide additional detail and direction — and demonstrate to decision-makers that you have considered multiple facets of the project, including any constraints, resource limitations, or scheduling conflicts. Identifying best practices to incorporate throughout the initiative enhances the value of a business case proposition, and positions the organization for success. By leveraging lessons learned on previous projects, and planning for and mitigating risk, the organization will begin to clear the path for a successful endeavor.
Don’t compromise on the right equipment. Hiking can be an expensive, time-consuming hobby. While the quality of your equipment and the accuracy of your maps are crucial, you can do things with limited resources if you’re careful. Taking the time to research and purchase the right equipment, (like the right hiking boots), keeps your fun expedition from becoming a tortuous slog.
Similarly, in developing a business case for a new initiative, you need to make sure that you identify the right resources in the right areas. We all live with resource constraints of one sort or another. The process of identifying resources, particularly for funding and staffing the project, will lead to fewer surprises down the path. As many government employees know all too well, it is better to be thorough in the budget planning process than to return to authorizing sources for additional funding while midstream in a project.
Consider your possible outcomes. You cannot be too singularly focused in the wild; weather conditions change quickly, unexpected opportunities reveal themselves, and being able to adapt quickly is absolutely necessary in order for everyone to come home safely. Sometimes, you should take the trail less traveled by, rest in the random lean-to that you and your group stumble upon, or go for a refreshing dip in a lake. By focusing on more than just one single objective, it often leads to more enjoyable, safe, and successful excursions.
This type of outlook is necessary to build a business case for a new initiative. You may need to step back during your initial planning and consider the full impact of the process, including on those outside your organization. For example, you may begin to identify ways in which the initiative could benefit both internal and external stakeholders, and plan to move forward in a slightly new direction. Let’s say you’re building a business case for a new land management and permitting software system. Take time to consider that this system may benefit citizens, contractors, and other organizations that interact with your department. This new perspective can help you strengthen your business case.
Expect teamwork. A group that doesn’t practice teamwork won’t last for long in the wild. In order to facilitate and promote teamwork, it’s important to recognize the skills and contribution of each and every person. Some have a better sense of direction, while some can more easily start campfires. And if you find yourself fortunate enough to be joined by a truly experienced hiker, make sure that you listen to what they have to say.
Doing the hard work to present a business case for a new initiative may feel like a solitary action at times, but it’s not. Most likely, there are other people in your organization who see the value in the initiative. Recognize, and utilize their skills in your planning. We also suggest working with an experienced advisor who can leverage best practices and lessons learned from similar projects. Their experience will help you anticipate potential resistance and develop and articulate the mitigation strategies necessary to gain support for your initiative.
If you have thoughts, concerns, or questions, contact our team. We love to discuss the potential and pitfalls of new initiatives, and can help prepare you to head out into the wild. We’d love to hear any parallels with hiking and wilderness adventuring that you have as well. Let us know!