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Investing in product development without a business case is a fool’s errand.

I don’t mean a financial business case. Indeed, I prefer the Prince 2 term ‘project initiation document’. Whatever you call it, preparing this document helps you succeed in your project. Money is just one of many factors to consider.

A business contracted Delta Swan to bring forward two in-flight projects. I hoped the projects had proper requirements and robust business cases. I was disappointed.

Project one

This project was up and running, so I joined their meetings and got to know them all. They were doing a good job of moving on tasks.

And that was the problem. They had no business requirements. So they were making assumptions all over the place. I suggested the business review its strategy and goals. While considering my suggestion, the business put the project on hold, cancelling it later.

Project two

A straightforward product introduction. But…Sales had created the delivery date and it had no planning behind it. I set about understanding the project and documenting my findings. I uncovered five major risks and issues. Managing these obstacles showed the desired delivery date was impossible.

Once I was confident in my understanding, I presented two options.

  • Plan A – which relied on the early, less expensive resolution of one of the risks (travelling hopefully).
  • Plan B – which assumed a late, expensive outcome (the probable result of travelling hopefully).

While our sponsors thought through the options, we kicked off key activities. Items on the critical path, if you want the lingo. We passed the concept gate and documented both options for the definition gate.

However, the organisation wasn’t fully behind the project. The problem lay in a disjointed vision for the market sector. So I helped the team build a strategy. We highlighted the issues and recommended changes.

A successful conclusion

Cancelling the first project gave the company time to strengthen its strategy and work out it didn’t need the product.

In the second project, the business developed a Plan C. This hybrid accepted the likely expensive outcome of the risk behind the Plan A and Plan B options. By accepting the risk the business went to market in its (re)planned timescales.

Having killed one project and pushed back the other, the business no longer needed Delta Swan. So, I suggested we end the contract early.

Key skills

Business analysis – data analysis, insight, persuasion.

Risk/ issue management – used interviews and team meetings to identify risks. Researched technical and legal matters to understand probability and severity. Worked with subject matter experts to develop robust management plans. Budgeted for the risk management plans and built them into the schedule.

Governance – set up project gates and a steering group. Presented to the concept gate review and prepared the definition gate review.

Project management – Business Case preparation and team building. Scheduling and integrating sub plans in Microsoft Project. Budget preparation. Stakeholder engagement.

Strategy development – led the team to define a strategy and implementation plan. Wrote a strategy white paper and outlined a board presentation pack for the strategy owner.

Product development – built an integrated product team. Introduced project assessments and built a New Product Introduction process.

Do the issues in this case study sound familiar?

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