Although a sceptic about many aspects of business, one thing that seems to offer real value is the business case. Being able to show that what comes out will be more than what goes in strikes me as a fairly elementary requirement for testing whether a project or operation is worthwhile, and some of the business case models I have seen are pretty sophisticated.
Pity so few businesses have any idea how to use them. A few may be using concepts like ROI for real planning, but for most this sort of calculation is used strictly after the event. Likewise for project-based organisations. For example, in the IT world a majority of projects now have a business case, but only a minority really use it to manage the project. It ought to be an invaluable means for making all sorts of decisions – prioritisation, triage, change requests, everything really. But in practice it isn’t.
My favourite business case story comes from a decade ago, when I was consulting to a credit card company. One day there landed on my desk the business case for a marketing project that said, among much else, that one of the benefits planned to accrue from the project was that the company would issues 750,000,000 more cards in Europe.
750,000,000 more cards? That was almost two for everyone in the EU! So of course I rang up the analyst who had written this and it turned out that he had meant to write 750,000 – a rather more realistic number. We had a friendly and very amusing conversation about how easy it is to make mistakes of that kind. But when he said he would correct the document and reissue it, I asked him to leave it just as it was and see who else noticed.
So we waited. And waited. The claim was repeated in every important document from that point on wards – the requirements spec, the analysis, the designs, the testing – everywhere. And not a single other individual questioned this preposterous number. Ever.