Michelangelo is said to have described sculpting as a process of removing the marble that wasn’t part of the finished statue. Though the outcome is rarely so beautiful, building a convincing business case should take a similar approach. Starting with all possible courses of action and chiselling away at those that deliver the least benefit allows your stakeholders to fully appreciate why the suggested path is the most favourable. At that point, they will be much more likely to engage in the effort and risk required to bring it about.
In contrast, many business cases have the feel of a finished product being unveiled, whether driven by a visionary CEO or emerging from a ground swell of front-line opinion – the statue with no evidence of the chiselling. This might be done in good faith: after all, stakeholders don’t always have the capacity to go through the same journey of investigating, considering and eliminating other options. But if it is only the pros and cons of one option presented, no matter how clear the benefits, the execution of the plan will be dogged by the question: “Is there a better way?”
An example might be where clinicians believe that two hospitals would benefit from a merger in order to improve patient care, directly and indirectly. In reality, a merger may be only one of several options by which the same outcomes could be achieved. Reciprocal contracts, joint ventures and many other mechanisms could be used to create and maintain integration. By acknowledging that several options may bring similar benefits, stakeholders are allowed to weigh the relative complexity of creating and maintaining the various alternatives. As a result, all parties are better primed to accept the risk and cost involved in the chosen option and their engagement in delivering the plan is more assured.
The core of successful presentation of a business case is the relationship with the stakeholders. The stakeholders need to know that they are respected, that there is appropriate openness and disclosure and that, as far as possible, everyone has the same information. Even where those elements of relationship are already strong, a proposal to change puts a strain on the level of trust within the relationship. Sustaining trust requires the parties to continually demonstrate to each other not only their honesty but also their competence and loyalty.