Attack of the Vegan Zombie Business Cases

screaming_at_the_business_case_with_you

The Business Analyst and the Project Manager have yet another impossible timeframe forced upon them, which they accept.  Faced with the prospect of losing the confidence of their Project Sponsor, they somehow manage to squeeze out their Business Case.  The Business Case is such a success that they circulate it to the usual suspects for formal review.  However, when a nosy enterprise architect begins poking around in the details, he finds more than he bargained for!

Just like the horrible undead creatures from in B-grade horror movies like Attack of the Vegan Zombies!1, the business cases keep coming through the door and through the email, and they are unstoppable, fully-formed, dangerous, and perfectly hideous.

  • The business cases arrive after being bred in captivity, never before having seen the outside world or a strategic context, and they are packed with impenetrable, unusual, misused, and idiosyncratic language: their intentions are unclear, and we are unsettled by not being certain what they are requesting or justifying.
  • The business cases arrive after ten o’clock at night, sixty dense and confused pages long, demanding detailed review before morning to justify a case for change requiring substantial investment.  In the dead of night we unwrap them, afraid at the what inevitably lies within, and as powerless to change their course as the archtypal naked home-alone victim showering behind a flimsy plastic curtain as the evil murderer approaches.
  • The business cases arrive packed with imperatives: we must make this investment because the life, sustainability, and reputation of the business depends upon it, and because we were denied unfairly last time we asked, please!  The very essence of life and death is at your feet, morality and emotion and heartstrings are tugged and implored.
  • The business cases arrive in generalisation-based disguises, cunning wolves dressed as sheep: the case for change is supported unequivocally by the “really expensive” support that will be avoided, by the “drastic risk reduction” that will result, and by the “hugely increased user experience and effiency gains” the organisation will receive from undertaking the work, none of it quantified, well-imagined, or offered with a timeframe in which the benefits will be realised.

Here, now, in 2013, we should be good at business cases, both at creating them and at approving or rejecting them.  Much too often, a business case comes along as an urgently-needed administrative chore to mop up paperwork requirements after an investment decision has been made.  The business cases are bad! However, there are some practical steps to start turning this around:

  1. Collaboration: business cases must not be allowed to grow in isolation, not even to first-draft condition, because so much is set in stone by the time first-draft condition is reached.  Creating a business case must be an open, social, collaborative endeavour.
  2. Context: business cases must be created with context, which means that the projects and initiatives for which cases for change are made must have their own context devolved to the business case and to the team charged with its creation.  The business-case-initiation phase modelled by Gartner2 includes the tasks:
    • define how the initiative addresses business strategy
    • identify business case stakeholders
    • identify business case audience
  3. Betterment: initiatives such as the New Zealand Government’s Better Business Cases3 model (based upon similar models in the UK and Australia) seek to improve the rigour and repeatability of good business cases that support clearly the case for change across five domains: the strategic case, the economic case, the commercial case, the financial case, and the management case.

There is good reason to hope and expect that the quality of business cases will improve, but achieving that improvement does require soup-to-nuts involvement of enterprise architecture and program/portfolio governance teams.  It’s when the business cases appear with a shock factor that things invariably go bad, not least because it’s all too late to recover.

  1. Attack of the Vegan Zombies (2010) synopsis from IMDb at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1380852/plotsummary
  2. Ganly, D. (2012) Use a Robust Business Case Process to Avoid the Seven Common ERP Pitfalls. Gartner Research, Article ID #G00232378.
  3. New Zealand Government (2010–) Better Business Cases, http://www.infrastructure.govt.nz/publications/betterbusinesscases
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