How to write a business case that gets funded: Part I

Writing a successful business case is simple, but not easy. It requires evidence for your assertions, a sharp argument, and concise, crisp writing. Business case training seminars make the process complex and take too much time (and money).

Yet, in essence, writing any business case boils down to the same fundamental 10 steps. After completing these 10 steps, you will be in a position to write a new ultra-concise (and compelling) type of business case: The One-Page Business Case.

In Part I of these articles, I will overview the first three steps. Parts II, III, and IV will cover the remaining steps.

Step 1, Problem: Describe the performance problem

Don't pick the first plausible solution -- no matter how persuasive and pleasant the salesperson. Understand the problem properly. Define the problem in operating terms and size it by putting a price on not solving it.

Annoy with why

Ask why five times (even if you annoy people) to find the root cause. Aim to fix the problem fully and fix it once.

Truth or truthiness?

Bad decisions are bold, quick, and wrong -- based more on truthiness (borrowing Stephen Colbert's term) and gut decisions than truth.

Be an evidence-based manager. Good decisions require facts, hard thinking, dissenting opinions, and rigorous communication, They take more time in the short-term, but you'll enjoy better results in the medium- and long-term.

Step 2, Complication: Find an acute reason to change

Inertia is a powerful force. Stop scrummaging for sales and find the unbearable reason why a customer or sponsor must buy your product or fund your project.

Ask: Why is the status quo unsustainable? What's the acute need?

Chronic conditions can live on indefinitely in passively managed organizations. Build a one-sentence definition of the complication. Real pain needs few words. Beneficiaries of your product or proposal will pay richly for fast relief.

Apply the cliche: Sell aspirin, not vitamins.

Step 3, Full potential: Aim for best performance, not just better

Another cliche -- penny wise, pound foolish -- helps here. Compromise with a partial, incomplete fix, if you must, but make sure it's a step on the way to full potential performance. With private equity firms and turnaround consultants scouring for opportunities, full potential performance will find you. Fix yourself before outsiders appear, promise profits, and put you in their 90-day plan.

Make EBITDA, not excuses!

Make sure your business case gets funded. Buy The Business Case Checklist on Amazon.