Friday, February 18, 2005

Components of a Good Business Case

I spend a lot of time writing proposals for projects we want to conduct for various clients. Much of the proposal process, if not all of it, revolves around building your "case" for the project. Most of the clients I see want to engage in a pure ROI discussion which is disconcerting because it is difficult to calculate ROI on a value-based proposition. But that is a post for another time. Today, I thought I would break down what I feel goes into a good business case or proposal.

There are three main reasons for creating a business case:
  1. To demonstrate the strategic alignment and sense of urgency of the project in question. (Does this project make sense?)
  2. To define the scope of the proposed project.
  3. To show the financial and operational benefits associated with the proposed project.

There are also some secondary reasons. A good business case should help:

  1. Identify risks inherent to the project and strategies for managing them.
  2. Identify and understand rejected alternative solutions.
  3. Target resource requirements (other than cash outlay) needed to accomplish the project.

A good business case or proposal should serve as the foundation for an implementation plan or roadmap.

Discalimer: every business case is differnt. Customize to fit your specific scenario. Your mileage may vary. A solid business case should contain the following elements:

  • Executive Summary - Provide the operational and financial highlights of the business case.
  • Introduction - Explain motivation for proposed project.
  • Solution Description - Identify the proposed actions along with scope and time frames
  • Benefits Discussion - Identify the expected financial and operational benefits. Do not forget to include on-going benefits. (Size, certainty, and timing.) I would recommend using ranges for benefit estimates and talk about the probabilities of the range of outcomes.
  • Costs Discussion - Identifying all costs, in financial and operational terms of the project, both initial and on-going. Due diligence is key. Do not leave anything out. Do not think that you will be able to hold a client hostage after the fact. Unless, of course, you are a big software vendor. Just like in the benefits discussion, ranges are better than absolutes.
  • Risk Management Discussion - Identify the risks, all of them, associated with the proposed project and approach for managing these risks.
  • Value Creation Discussion - Identify, in financial terms, the value created by the proposed solution.
  • Alternative Solutions Discussion - Provide the description, benefits, costs, risks, and valuation of alternatives to the proposed solution.
  • Value Measurement Plan - Identifying the approach to tracking and measuring the value created by the proposed project. This is the hardest part...its the least tangible in the professional services arena. How do you define value? Work with your client.

Again, use what is right for you. Go to the depths that are right for you. But this post gives you good, solid, building blocks for crafting a business case that should differentiate you from your competitors who are hopefully only sending along a pricing sheet.

SWOT Analysis

Harry Joiner, in "Quantifying the Innovation Value of Technology" links to a great form you can use if you need to perform a SWOT analysis. Link. If you find yourself in the position of having to need to do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) in an exisiting, operating business you are most likely, in a word, screwed. SWOT analysis do provide value and this sheet is very handy in providing you a solid base from which to start. Remember, it is a tool. Not a solution. It should serve as a magnifying glass, highlighting linkages you may not have realized existed.

The key to any good analysis resides in digging deep down into root causes. If you are unwilling or most likely, unable to get to the root of your issues, SWOT analyses and strategic sessions of any kind are completely pointless. If the people in the room do not trust each other, you have to solve that problem first. If there is no trust between the participants, if they are all fighting for their own fiefdoms, the strategic analysis is doomed before it begins.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The 25 Most Difficult Interview Questions

I picked this up from lifehacker.

Disclaimer: The article has been excerpted from "PARTING COMPANY: How to Survive the Loss of a Job and Find Another Successfully" by William J. Morin and James C. Cabrera.

I would have done this article in two parts. One possibly being the 10-12 most difficult informational interview questions which would focus on giving the interviewee a good sense of who you are, where you are in your life and career and where you see yourself going. The second part would focus on 10-12 behavioral interview questions getting at the root of how you work, management style, etc.

I am on an interview thread lately because I have been trying to build a team to service a particular client and also help our company grow. I would love to say that it is just the kids coming out of college that don't have a clue, but the fact of the matter is that I have been relatively disappointed by the sheer lack of due diligence from all demographic segments: young, old, male, female, employed and unemployed. This article could help them.

When you sit down with me to talk, my job is to get inside your head and see if we have a match. Your job is to understand my company, and my needs and then help me understand how you can help me with my pain. If I have to spend precious time educating you (i.e. doing your job, you are taking away from your time to be able to help me understand your abiltiy to help us. It is that simple. It is that complex. Here are the quick tips:

  1. Know yourself. Tell me where you were, where you are, and where you want to be.
  2. Know my company. Know where we are going.
  3. Know my industry. Know where the industry is going.
  4. Have some kind of ambition other than making money.

Read it. Know it. Live it.

Make sure you read my guide to the interview process as well.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation

I just finished reading America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation by Michael MacCambridge. If you are a devout follower of professional football, this is a must read. For everyone else, I recognize that some people will be turned off by the fact that this is a "sports" book or a "football" book. This book is SO much more, so much deeper and more complex than being a simple sports book yet it is written in such an accessible manner.

On the outside, this is a complete and concise history of pro football from the post World War II era and forward. The book really kicks off with the 1958 Colts vs. Giants Championship Game. This book is just so much more than a history of the game. The fates of both football and sports television are so closely tied. Without one we may not have the other. The expansion and growth of the NFL is forever linked to the success of the TV medium.

From a business perspective, America's Game offers guidance across a number of disciplines. The NFL and later the AFL, was made up of a bunch of "squabbling" entrepreneurs. All fighting to maintain their teams, their brands, their "territories" and their cut of the money. This book is a study in their entrepreneurship. It is also a study in leadership as evidenced by the trials and tribulations of a young Pete Rozelle who was named commissioner at the tender age of 33. It is a study in the leadership exhibited by Lamar Hunt who had to get over his personal rivalry with fellow Texan, Tex Schramm to secretly negotiate a truce between the two leagues and, ultimately, unite them. (While Al Davis waged open warfare against the NFL.)

The book chronicles the meticulous management of the NFL brand from marketing by blacking out all home games which increased demand and insured ticket sales did not lose against TV. With the creation of NFL Properities they took control of their merchandising. All the souveneirs became standardized. With NFL Films and the voice of John Facenda, they controlled their brand image and their advertising. Along with communications, etc.

This book is an economic study of a changing , post WWII America. It is at this point that the marketing and advertising geniuses of the universe were created. This is the time when they figured out that we would buy stuff that we didnt need. From bobbleheads to $300 game-worn jerseys.

MacCambridge also provides us with a study of race in America through the eyes of the NFL. It is a sociological/political study of the impact of race relations on sport. The NFL integrated well before Jackie Robinson crossed the line in baseball. It had problems are arguably still has problems with integration.

Lastly, this is a study of the men who have left a lasting imprint on the game. The men who sit in the Great Hall of Valhalla amongst their fellow gods. Men like Lombardi, Halas and Paul Brown. Men like Unitas. Players that will assume their rightful places like Namath who had the hubris to guarantee a win over the dominate NFL from his upstart ALF team. Men like Jim Brown, possibly the greatest running back ever and Sam Huff who does not get the short end of the stick in this saga. Men like Al Davis who still fight for what their believe is right.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is fasicinating and deep on many, many levels.