Product Talk #10 “Turning Ideas into Business Cases” – Completing a Business Case

This is the fourth in our series of posts on our Product Talk 10, “Turning Ideas into Business cases”. During this section, participants discussed the criteria for reviewing ideas, and how the Business Case document is used in the Product Management cycle once its completed.

The criteria for evaluating ideas appear to be very similar across the industries – boiling down to portfolio/business strategy fit, well-identified customer needs and margin. However, the three panelists identified that these criteria are usually evaluated by Product Managers on an individual basis, coming down to ‘gut feel’.

Jen identified that there are some additional questions asked in the Publishing industry when evaluating the Business Case. Given the current focus on customer insight, the question is often raised of whether the product is being driven by customer insight. Not so often thought out, however, is whether the idea is part of the future of the industry.

There were some interesting insights from participants on additional evaluation criteria. Irena Macri raised that in the multi-product magazine industry, cross-product functionality ideas are valued more highly. Ryan Hunt pointed out that in the world of application development, the question of why someone hasn’t implemented new functionality or products needs to be addressed in the Business Case.

There are several factors that can facilitate or hinder the go/no-go decision. In Banking, the ‘decision by committee’ approach can keep an ill-fitting idea floating for an extended period of time, especially when people don’t feel brave enough to say ‘no’ to an idea. This leads to the undesirable situation of having bad ideas take up additional resources when it would be better to say No and move on to allow new ideas to be explored.

As the Business Case development is a formal step at Atlassian, for Nick it’s considered complete once the decision whether to proceed with the idea has been made. From Jen’s perspective, on the other hand, the Business Case is a living document even after idea evaluation. For example, after product definition Marketing are often still calculating the launch and product marketing aspects.

For Kees, the Business Case is complete when you pass it on to the Product Development team. The bigger question is how the Product Manager is tracking the performance of the product, reflecting changing expectations in the banking industry of Product Managers from developing products for launch to realising the product revenue. As part of this shift, there is an opportunity in the industry to develop more discipline to reflect on product success on an ongoing basis, as currently people still tend to move on to develop other products post-launch.

Melissa Osborne, an attendee, talked about the process at Sema Group once the business case has been signed off. At Sema, there is an additional validation step following the Business Case – a Product Book is created, which contains

  • Final Development Costs
  • Final Launch Costs
  • All documentation relating to the product

This step has been added in recognition of the fact that the final product that is taken to market will always be different from the idea outlined in the Business Case – or as Melissa put it, the difference between the ‘handkerchief’ and the ‘silk tablecloth’!