Building the Innovation Business Case

by Paul Hobcraft

Building the Innovation Business CaseOne of the toughest aspects within Innovation is making the Business Case. Much of the information is imperfect, the returns are often fuzzy and unclear in the early stages and the doubters line up ready to block and deter new ideas from entering the commercialization process. Justifying new innovation to others can often be really hard.

How can you reduce many of these uncertainties?

Often what is missing is ensuring the innovation business case takes a clear methodical approach and builds the arguments up in a sound structured way. Far too many cases are based on emotion and gut feel. Some of these clearly work but an awful lot get lost along the way, especially in the more structured organization. So often good ideas are ‘killed’ because the Business Case was not as well thought through as possible. It simply became the necessary chore at the end of a set of events that were in themselves a mountain to climb. The last mile may be putting together the best possible business case, and sometimes the hardest to achieve, but the accumulation of all your efforts in many cases rest on this document.

A good business case for innovation concepts needs to show the areas of clear discussion, not just ‘brushing over’ the unknowns but attempting to quantify and qualify them as best as you can with the (imperfect) information to hand. It needs to ensure conclusions do reduce down the more ‘emotive’ parts, so as to allow the ‘idea or concept’ to firm up, stand tall and be seen for their real merits. Deep conviction needs to come through when there are a number of unknowns to allow for genuine discussion and growing identification in solving issues and evaluating risks as a common point.

We also often do miss vital steps or forget to view the issues from all our stakeholders’ perspectives.

We often write the business case from our own perspectives not from others, especially not from the consumer insights that might have started us off on the given journey in the first place. We also need to reflect and account for the multiple stakeholders, both internally and externally, that this idea is trying to address through the innovation concept we are proposing.

Knowing the issues, reducing the ‘noise and distractions’ and making the professional case is what we need to do to attract commitment to the projects we are working on, At the same time we also need to consciously work on keeping the project on track. This all helps.

So what is the suggested approach we should be taking?

Firstly I would argue that each organization needs a clear systematic model that you go through, that everyone goes through, and that takes the business case through a structured step-by-step approach. It needs to allow enabling arguments based on facts to build and grow, to lay out challenges and uncertainties. This enables everyone involved to see the same steps of approach taken in making their business case. Transparency gives similarity and the ‘common’ business evaluation provides a consistency of approach to all cases, irrespective across the organization. It gives everyone the same platform to justify their business case.

Within this step-by-step approach you do need to require a comprehensive case building technique.

This building step technique will help move you towards a compelling business case that provides all stakeholders their essential information in this more transparent, consistent process for everyone.

The Business Case needs to include within its proposal:

  • There will be different creativity tools to start the process but the need is to structure the project information on a comparable basis. This requires laying out often difficult definitions of success, providing suggested guidelines to individuals listening to attempt to get everyone on the ‘same page’ so as to judge the case, provide different options of alternatives to ‘getting ready’ within the case and what these might means and then clearly point to where these issues can be possibly resolved. Innovation in its early stages is full of open questions and the hard work is trying to answer these as best you can, ignoring the difficult issues does not help your case I would argue, it is better to address them as best you can.
  • Then we move into building the business case preparation, cost and benefit analysis (where we can), clarifying opportunity needs (for instance unmet customer needs), offer different factor analysis, assessing stakeholder interests, clarifying uncertainties where you can.
  • The next group of factors to consider is making the clear assessments of competition, outlining the tactical moves to be considered for market attractiveness, the implications, the ability to execute and what business model does the business case take to provide the fit and attract the commitment. Finally how to stage this- through piloting, trails or moving towards full blown commercialization and what each will entail in commitment and resources.
  • Lastly, to go back through the Business Case elements to present a format that builds up and breaks down the case logically with the best available inputs that includes the unique selling proposition and the future resources needed to translate this case into a winning commercial prospect. Do lay out clear time lines and milestones and the projected financial and commercial value it would provide as best as you can. Do remember that discussing the unknowns actually does reduce down conflicts and allows for more combining best opinions and shared thinking.

Moving an idea into a mainstream activity is one of the hardest aspects to achieve

Making the innovation business case a winning one is not down to luck, it is down to a systematic approach to building up the compelling case for this. Approaching this is a well-structure, methodical way takes out much of the guess work and the emotions if it is seen as logical, well thought through and defined. Innovations are often ‘fuzzy’, but adding to this with a poorly crafted approach opens the door to disappointment.

Making the case in a well structured process gives greater opportunity for identification and realization. Crafting a compelling business case based on the best available facts and raising the open issues allows for a mature discussion of its merits. Hiding facts, poorly laying out the business case, not putting enough thinking into this final document is more often than not the reason for an idea being ‘killed off’. Do you have a good innovation business case structure?


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Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.

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  1. I happened to read to your post just like that but after reading I could tell that you told me what exactly was running in my mind. I thank you for sharing such good points. It will help many people.

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