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

This is the final in our series of posts on our Product Talk 10, “Turning Ideas into Business cases”.

There were a few questions from attendees about selling the case for Business Cases to be used in organisations that don’t create them or currently don’t appreciate them. One attendee working at a digital startup company talked about the tendency of product decisions to be made based by the loudest or most authoritive voice in the room, leading to products with low or negative margins, little to no interest in the market and bad products generally.

Kees Kwakernaak pointed out that the enthusiasm for investigating ideas before proceeding with them requires buy-in from senior management; without this commitment to reflection you can’t resolve this situation. Nick Coster from Brainmates concurred, pointing out the decision to investigate an idea still seems to rely on gut feel, and that adding business cases to these sorts of situations doesn’t necessarily negate this recurring.

Nick Muldoon offered an alternative for situations where business cases are not used – working in software, you can access a lot of data about user behaviour cheaply and easily by implementing tracking within prototypes and (later) in the application. The tracking can then identify if customers are using functionality, and also how they are using it. At Atlassian, a new product or new functionality won’t be signed off by Nick and his team if it doesn’t have analytical data.

The case for business cases as a Sales management tool was raised by Lisa Simons from Brainmates. Without some accountability for the final product, there are some sales staff who will sell anything to hit targets – leaving the Product and Production teams to deliver unrealistic sales. Adding that accountability forces the sale-target focused Sales staffer to consider what they are selling. Irena Macri from Pacific Magazines agreed, adding that Sales staff need access to Business Case documentation or else risk them not taking profitability into account.

Nick Coster pointed out that the case for a business case can also be made by thinking about the information required to make a business decision. You need to identify who needs to make the decision and what information they require to make a decision – the business case should be built with these people and this information in mind. Jen added that there must be collective agreement on what the Business Case is for – if there is no consensus, then the ‘What is the purpose of a Business Case’ discussion has to happen across the whole organisation.

For Kees, on the other hand, the case for a business case comes down to budget and responsibility. The scale of the product should dictate the process. For example, a small set of money could be put aside every year for small products. Small product ideas can then be reviewed via a short elevator pitch to a senior decision maker such as the CEO.