What is in a Business Case? And Why Your Projects Need One

Is this a Business Case..? No, no it is not.

What are they and why should you care?

A Business Case is a document that the Project Manager can refer to see the project is still useful, still something the users would want and still doable.

This is the fourth post in my PRINCE2 series to learn more about Project Management. The Business Case is one of the Themes of PRINCE2.

Some Jargon For You:

Benefits: Any measurable improvement to the business. Does it make the business better? No? not a benefit. Can you specifically measure the impact of the goodness created? No? not a benefit.

PRINCE2 projects create PRODUCTS, using products creates a change in the business. These changes create OUTCOMES. These outcomes produce BENEFITS for the business.

For some weird reason negative outcomes are called DIS-BENEFITS. I think the creators of PRINCE2 wanted the least catchy name they could think of.

Want an Example with that Jargon?

Jargon is all well and good, but how can we really understand something? With some super sexy context of course.

Output

New Sales System

Outcome

Sales are processed quicker and more accurately than the crappy old system

Benefits

10% cost reduction and 15% more sales

Boom. That is context.

Business Justification

Business Justification sounds very impressive. But what does it mean?

Some more jargon coming your way.

To keep a project being worth the trouble, you must justify the Business Case. The project must be Desirable, Viable and Achievable (DVA). What are these terms? Why do they rhyme?

Desirable: The project balances cost, benefits and risk (not the same kind of desirable as a chocolate lava cake, sadly)

Viable: The project will create benefits for the business

Achievable: The project can be done. It is not some impossible task.

What Makes A Business Case a Business Case?

It is vital that you, as Project Manager, create and maintain a Business Case on any PRINCE2 project.

You must review and update your Business Case after any events or decisions that affect the DVA.

Your Business Case must define how to manage the project so you get the benefits and outcomes the business needs.

You must record all the roles and responsibilities of the project team in your Business Case.

The key idea of a Business Case is why? Y0u must define why this project must be done.

Verifying and Maintaining Business Justification

AKA checking the project should be done and making sure it’s still worth the cost.

For a truly well-managed project you must check it it is still worth the cost at the following times:

  • The beginning of each step in the project
  • The end of each step in the project
  • Any time a new issue or risk is noticed!
  • When a backup plan is created
  • At the very end of the project

Remember, the customer is the ultimate judge of the whether or not the project was justified.

Ensuring and Confirming Benefits are Realised

AKA making sure the project is a success.

Sadly, many systems never get used. A system is not just for Christmas people! Here are some common reasons why a system may not get used:

  • If a project is part of a larger programme, it may not be able to produce all those juicy benefits on its own. You could create a damn good wheel, but the customer can’t drive home in a wheel.
  • The project team could make a fantastic product but not train the customers how to use. Remember the first time you drove a car? Imagine there were no driving instructors and you had to just get that bad boy home. Training matters.
  • People can just lose enthusiasm. Some projects take a long time, the customer doesn’t care anymore or some newer shinier, project comes along. You need to keep their precious attention or your project will crash and burn.

A truly successful project has the products used, not just created.

If you learned something or you want to try your own Business Case now, please let me know in the comments below.

The 7 Themes of PRINCE2

If you want to manage a PRINCE2 project successfully you must follow the 7 Principles of PRINCE2, follow the 7 Themes of PRINCE2 and use the 7 Processes of PRINCE2. In today’s post, we are looking at the 7 Themes of PRINCE2.

The themes of PRINCE2 describe the qualities that make up project management that you must address to have a successful project. All the themes can be tailored to suit the project (as we saw in the 7 themes of PRINCE2).

The 7 Themes of PRINCE2 are as follows:

  1. Business Case – Why?
  2. Organisation – Who?
  3. Quality – What?
  4. Plans – How? How much? When?
  5. Risk – What if?
  6. Change – What is the impact?
  7. Progress – Where are we now? Where are we going? Should we carry on?

1. Business Case

All projects start with an idea.

The idea should provide something useful to the business. The Business Case is a document that says what makes this project useful.

Wondering why you are doing this project? Check the Business Case.

Need to know if changing the direction of the project will still be useful? Check the Business Case.

Need to know what the end product should look like? Check the Business Case.

2. Organisation

All projects involve people.

Some people will benefit from the project. Some people will manage the project. Some people will create the products of the project.

The Organisation theme tells you all about all the people, who is doing what and who is getting what.

3. Quality

For Projects to have been worth it, they need to be high-quality.

The project manager (PM) must agree with the people benefiting from this project (the stakeholders) and the people making the products, how good the product will be. Then the PM makes sure that level of goodness is what the stakeholders get.

If the stakeholders need a lower cost, then the PM will have to get them to agree to lower quality and vice versa.

4. Plans

For a project to succeed, you must know how to do it and when to do it.

Plans go hand in hand with quality. Once you know what to make, you need to know how to do it well.

The plans are the matched to each person at each stage of the project. Everyone should know what to do and when to do it, regardless of their status.

The PM will also refer to the plans when they communicate updates on the project to the stakeholders. Things going according to plan, is good. Not going to plan and we have a problem.

5. Risk

Projects go wrong. But, you can make it less wrong.

Operations have likely been perfected over a long time of figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

A project is generally new. New is uncertain. Uncertainty leads to things going wrong. Some of these things can be predicted and maybe even prevented.

Managing risk is vital.

6. Change

Projects aren’t set in stone.

Situations in the business change so the projects change to keep up.

This theme deals with changes that can be managed in a project. This could be the PM responding to changes the stakeholders want or the products not suiting the Business Case.

7. Progress

Projects cause things to change, positive change is progress.

This theme explains how the project matches the plans for the project. Is the project performing going well? Does a problem need to be escalated? Is the project as far along as it should be?

Progress also tells you if the project should continue. Perhaps you have spent too much time and money and not got enough results. Ending a project that produces no results is valuable to the business too, in the resources it saves.

The book goes into each of these themes in detail in their own chapters, but now you have a high-level idea of what each theme is and how it’s important to project management.

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below.

The 7 Principles of PRINCE2

The principles of PRINCE2 are what make a project a PRINCE2 project. The principles are not designed to be ironclad rules, but rather a guide on the best way to approach projects.

The PRINCE2 principles are:

  • Universal – They can be applied to any project
  • Self-Validating – They have been proven to work by being used in many projects over a long time
  • Empowering – Knowing you are working with effective tools gives you confidence in your work.

What Are The 7 Principles?

The 7 principles I will describe in this blog post are:

  • Continued Business Justification
  • Learn from Experience
  • Define Roles and Responsibilities
  • Manage by Stages
  • Manage by Exception
  • Focus on Products
  • Tailor to Suit the Project

Continued Business Justification

The project manager must make sure the project is still going to provide a positive value and is still needed by the users at each stage of the project.

Cutting a project short that won’t be worth the time, money and effort is good, because it frees up that time, money and effort for projects that are worth it.

Learn from Experience

  • Beginning – Learn from similar previous projects
  • During – Learn from what has happened so far on the project
  • After – Learn from the project once it is finished

Defined Roles and Responsibilities

Everyone on the project needs to know what they should do and what they should not do. This stops people wasting time, money and effort doing the same work, or work someone else is better suited to.

Everyone also needs to know the best way to communicate with other people on the project. Got some remote workers? Best to know upfront, so you can arrange to speak virtually or on the phone.

Manage by Stages

A “management stage” is a single block of the project, like gathering requirements or developing the welcome screen.

Shorter management stages are easier to control, larger ones require less direct management, so can be reduce the workload on the Senior Manager (only really applies to huge projects).

PRINCE2 projects all have at least 2 management stages:

  • Initiation (the start)
  • Anything after that

The end of each management stage is when documents should be updated and the project should be checked to see if it is providing enough value to be worth continuing (Continuous Business Justification)

Manage by Exceptions

Set boundaries for the project, that if passed, mean it has failed and should end. Generally these have a little wiggle room.

The most common exceptions are:

  • Cost
  • Time
  • Quality
  • Scope
  • Benefits
  • Risk

Focus on Products

Projects that focus on producing something are more likely to be successful. You can justify to a client an application you have built much more easily that some generic improvements you made to worker productivity. A product is thing that has been made.

Agreeing on what the final product will look like with users make it less likely they will be unhappy with the final product as they told you that’s what they wanted. It also helps to stop users adding new features and ideas through the project, which can lead to the project never finishing because there’s always one more thing.

Tailor to Suit the Project

All projects are different, so make sure you adjust your project management accordingly. If the project is smaller and simpler you may be more hands on, if the project is large and complex you would likely need to delegate more and keep track of people rather than getting stuck in yourself.

Now you have a top-level definition of the 7 principles of PRINCE2, do any of these sound wrong to you? Do they sound right to you? Has it changed the way you will manage your projects? Let me know in the comments below.

How to Manage Projects: An Introduction

Projects are everywhere. You have to solve a problem for a client? That’s a project. You want to build chairs in your spare time? Each chair is a project. You want to write a series of blog posts? Those posts are a project. But how do you manage a project to make sure it’s a success? I don’t know. So I am going to learn about it from “Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2” and share what I learn with you.

Time For Some Jargon

What is Prince2?

PRojects IN Controlled Environments. I realise that doesn’t tell you much, but the whole book is about PRINCE2, so we will have a better answer at the end of this series of posts.

What is a project?

PRINCE2 defines a project as: “A temporary organisation that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed business case”. Seems unnecessarily wordy to me.

A Project is something you (or a team) do in a limited amount of time to make something valuable. It’s that simple.

The Power Of 7

PRINCE2 loves the number 7. There are:

  • 7 Principles – What makes a project PRINCE2
  • 7 Themes – What must be managed to make a project successful
  • 7 Processes – What must be done at each stage of a project and when to do it

That is the exciting journey that lays ahead. Projects are the best way to create positive change, so learning how to make them a success seems like a worthy goal. Come back next time to read about the 7 Principles in detail.

What I discovered When I Tried Warren Buffett’s 5/25 Rule

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I saw a video recently about Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule in which it is claimed that Buffett once had a conversation with his pilot. For anyone who doesn’t know, Warren Buffett is one of the most successful investors in the world and has been top of his game for decades. After realising he’d had the same pilot for 10 years, he was perturbed to find that the pilot had not moved on in all that time. I will be paraphrasing, but Buffett says something along the lines of “if you’ve been working as my pilot for 10 years, I must not be doing my job right” so he instructs the pilot to write down 25 career goals and that he can write anything he wants.

Next Buffett tells the pilot to prioritise the top 5. This is more difficult, but the pilot does it. Now, Buffet asks him

“What will you do with the other 20?”

The pilot says “I will treat these as 2nd best and work on them when I have spare time”

Buffett replies “No. You avoid those at all costs, until you had achieved your top 5.”

Buffett explains that spreading yourself too thin means you don’t make any significant progress towards any of your goals. Focusing on a goals instead, is the key to making progress.

This doesn’t mean that you are limited to do just 5 things for the rest of your life, never trying anything new, just repeating the same cycle of days for the rest of time. BUT you can’t do number 6 until you have achieved ONE of the top 5. This is the crux of the idea.

This idea can be applied to any area of life where you have too many options. Too many options meaning there are multiple things you want to achieve, but you never quite seem to get any of them done, they just remain on a wish list for all time. For example, do you have too many hobby projects you never complete? Too many career skills, so none seem to improve all that much? Too many new business ideas, but you don’t ever seem to start any? All of these can be whittled down to your top 5, allowing you to focus and make real progress.

I tried this for myself. I don’t have 25 career aspirations, so I wrote down 25 things I want to do in my life in general from hobbies, to work, to travel. The top 5 I prioritised, see below:

  1. Improve my writing
  2. Improve my blog
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Travel outside Europe
  5. Start a Side-Hustle
  1. I have been reading more and more lately about the benefits of being able to write well, which was part of my inspiration to start a blog, so that was always going to end up on this list.
  2. This blog is new, there’s lots of room to grow and improve, but I’m enjoying the process so far With a lot of practice I hope to be writing better articles, have a better website and anything else that would make the blog better.
  3. I have been trying to do this for years, but I always give up a few weeks in. I was recently pointed towards “Couch to 5k”, which aims to make running a habit by easing you in. Instead of going too hard too soon and quitting, as I always have done in the past, you build up to longer runs until you can do 5k even if you started from a point of doing no exercise at all. The best part for me has been the structure the app provides, as I tend to just run hard, then get tired and never want to run again.
  4. I love to go on solo-travel trips, but I have played it pretty safe so far, going to European cities where pretty much everyone speaks English and the culture isn’t too different to our own. I want to go further away and experience more, even if it is a little scary to not speak the language or know all the customs, that’s part of the fun, right?
  5. I recently read a fantastic book by Chris Guillebau, in which he describes the merits of having a “side-hustle” and how to start one. The book is very clearly written and inspiring, with great advice. I aim to write a post on it someday soon. The main reason the idea drew me in, is it allows you to have a project of your own, that gives you a sense of achieving something of your own. Guillebeau says it’s not about workaholism, having a second job would be a nightmare for many people. Side-hustles come come in many different forms, as you can see on his podcast it’s a creative outlet for some people for others it gives them a sense of independence. It’s a great way to do some work you enjoy, just for you, without going all in and quitting your job to start a business.

If this post or the original video inspires you to try the idea for yourself, please let me know in the comments below, how it worked out for you!