options in a business case

Document options in a Business Case

A lot of people have difficulty in understanding how to document options in a business case.  This post will help you understand more about what is required.

The process to document options in a business case involves undertaking background analysis, but it is worthwhile spending the time doing this. If you want to write a good business case then you need to be sure to document the options available.

This is usually one of the key areas that Executives are looking for when they read a business case.  They want to know what all of the available options are for solving the problem that they have and the impact of each of those options on the outcome and especially on the business, so for that reason it is a very important part of a Business Case.

It is also important that you make a recommendation, or suggest which option you consider is the best one and why. In choosing the best option to recommend you must be able to show the case for why this is the best option.

You must have done your analysis work and gathered the information on each suitable option, what the option entails and how you would enact it.  This means understanding what it will cost to follow through with this option.  In doing this homework you will clearly start to understand which option IS the most viable and which ones aren’t.

Let’s look at how you might structure this section of your Business Case and what you would include here.

Structuring the options section in your business case

I like to clearly spell out that there are, for example four options available, and I do that as simply as making a high level statement to open this section such as…  “There are four options that have been considered in order to resolve this problem and they are:

1 – Do Nothing

2 – Re-engineer the manual processes

3 – Partial automation of the process

4 – Full automation of the process

By using this sort of heading structure, it makes it very clear for your Executive or Executives (the decision makers) to see what you have considered and the information that you have captured relating to each of them.

Providing the detail for each option

The next step is to detail in clear and succinct language what each of those options entail.  It is also important to include the benefits or risks of each option.

For example:

Option 1 – Do Nothing

Here you would describe what the ‘Do Nothing’ situation is.  For example:

Currently a three member team process incoming mail by manually opening it, stamping it, sorting it, scanning it, and filing the electronic file into a shared folder so that the item can be actioned by another team.

The benefits of this option are

  • staff will not have a changed process to learn;
  • the process currently works;
  • staff manage all incoming mail within the time periods set, with overtime occasionally worked.

The risks with this option are

  • if the team was provided with increased work volumes they could not necessarily process it within the desired time frames;
  • overtimes costs could begin to increase;
  • staff work life balance would be changed.

The cost to undertake this option is: Zero/Nil.

Include the benefits and risks for each option

By including both the benefits and risks of each option you are putting forward you are showing that you have clearly done your homework.  DO NOT make up statements for inclusion here.  Stick to the facts as you know it based on your investigations.  It is also important that you show the approximated cost of undertaking this option and the dollar amount supplied needs to be realistic.  Do your homework and talk to the people that would be involved in provision of the work to deliver that option to get their estimates on how much it is likely to cost.

You now use this same format to describe each of the other options that you have listed.

It is worthwhile remembering that you can list as many options as you like, but too many and you are going to lose your Executive – they will stop reading and not seriously consider them properly.  I therefore recommend that you put forward a maximum of four, including the Do Nothing option, but, you can have less.

Your ‘Recommendation’ is then going to discuss why you propose that one of these options is the best one and why.

Some reminder tips:

  • Remember to be clear and concise in describing what each option is;
  • Include the cost of the options (where you have that information) as this will help show why you are making your recommendation;
  • By detailing the benefits and risks of the option you are also helping support your reasoning.
By following these steps your business case is going to stand up to greater scrutiny.