Three steps to compelling business cases

By Richard Lenton, Mark Payne

Public and private sector organisations are constantly changing, whether to develop and grow or experiment and evolve. Behind each and every change is a business case that addresses the spending proposals, resource impacts and potential opportunities. But business cases can take months, if not years, to prepare and get approved. Sound familiar? It’s a common challenge, but solutions are within your grasp.

We believe high quality business cases can be approved and delivered quicker, saving between 30-40 per cent in time taken and cost of production compared with current approaches. The secret lies in balancing early stakeholder engagement with flexibility, using data to create an irresistible approval case and by developing a culture of ongoing improvement across your organisation.

We used this approach and our wider programme of recommendations to help a major department in the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) improve the standard and timeliness of business case submissions to the Ministry of Defence’s Investment Approvals Committee. Using our insights, best practice templates and training packages, DIO moved from just 40 per cent of business cases getting first time approval to 88 per cent, in a 12-month period – over their target. We helped DIO go further, faster – reducing complexity and identifying savings earlier. Since implementing our plan, DIO has delivered over 150 business cases with a value of £750 million.

From our experience with DIO, we’ve identified three steps essential to securing business case approval.

1.         Balance early engagement with agility

Early engagement with the approval team will lead to marked differences in the quality and accuracy of your business case. While its vital to source key documents and engage early – sometimes months before submitting the business case in some instances – you’ll need to balance this with a realisation that many business cases evolve over time. Frequent engagement and built-in agility will maximise your chances of success by avoiding surprises and bringing stakeholders with you on a journey of iterative improvement, winning their support as you openly and transparently refine your business case.

2.         Build an accurate, data-driven business case

While experience and gut instinct have their place in experimentation and operations, you need data-led evidence and insights to build a business case. Organisations are data-rich environments – they’re just waiting for someone to bring it together to offer insight from the data. By embracing data collection and breaking down silos between internal data providers you’ll be able to build a compelling, evidence-based case for change. At the same time, you must build confidence in your submission by ensuring all evidence is complete, correct and fully supported. The ROAD (Requirement, Options, Affordability, and Deliverability) Test is a very useful framework for building and demonstrating the evidence for a successful business case.

3.         Learn, re-learn and learn again

Business cases often form part of a larger programme rather than one-off occurrences. The trick is to ensure each business case is better than the last. Evaluation ensures good practice is perpetuated, lessons are learned and project teams avoid repeating costly mistakes. We recommend capturing lessons through a Learning from Experience (LfE) activity, where points are captured and shared through newsletters, information sheets and websites. This mindset will help ensure you constantly iterate and evolve all ideas and business cases – even those accepted first time. At the same time, leaders need to ensure that business case ideas have a clear line of sight to commercial outcomes – and use this to encourage experimentation and new thinking with value-adding outcomes.


The business case and approval process can be straightforward if based on good guidance and professionalising oversight/support. By embracing the principles of early engagement,provision of evidence and learning from experience, the quality of business cases will improve and approval times will be shortened.

Following our approach will ensure money is spent appropriately and value is returned, in line with government or organisational policy. Achieving high quality, coordinated business cases provides approvers with the confidence to support the business case, resulting in more first-time approvals and faster delivery of enhanced benefits from the business cases, as demonstrated in the success rate achieved by DIO.

By planning ahead and staying agile and responsive in your approach; by providing data-driven evidence and supporting documentation; and by making sure you have a mindset of continuous improvement, you’ll make your business cases better and better.


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About the authors

Richard Lenton PA defence and security expert Richard helps public and private organisations transform to realise strategic, operational and people benefits across their enterprise.
Mark Payne PA Business Case and Approvals Expert Mark is highly skilled in business case development and an expert in the approvals process. He has a proven ability to capitalise on opportunities, forging and consolidating openings and realizing best practice in support of business processes. He is able to develop and deliver solutions against set performance standards, demanding timelines, cost and quality constraints.

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