It is ultimately difficult to be a top-notch consultant unless you can build a case for your recommendations. That is, a business case. While we in no way expect every management consultant to have stellar business case and finance skills, we think that it is important you understand how to present numbers in a coherent and stimulating way.
Today’s blog does not address the technical side of financial analyses. That’s for another day. This blog gives you an understanding, albeit a brief one, of what happens in the lives of management consultants who specialise in business case development. Yet understanding their analysis approach is not enough. Great analyses with mediocre storytelling skills will lead to utter and complete project failure.
Never ever forget this; a great business case comes down to the management consultant’s ability to present the analyses in the most compelling style. A style which makes the case for change, jumps off the page, and seems alive and real to the audience. This document is a fantastic example and guide on producing such spellbinding business case presentations. We strongly recommend you read this.
To add some flavour to the context within which business case presentations are done, here are our Top 20 observations of the business case process.
- Yes, business case management consultants tend to work longer hours than those focused on the delivery side or change management
- But work comes in waves with the updates:
- Typically 8.30–19.00 most of the time but 8.30–22.00 before each major client update
- There are two reasons for this: progress needs to be demonstrated and the numbers must be perfect or the wrong number will stick in the clients mind
- A lot of work is done, very quickly, and always delivered to deadlines . . .
- . . . but the need to take the client with you limits the number of hours
- You have to work as real teams—more flexible, closer knit, more fun:
- You cannot divide the work into neat chunks
- The horror stories of working till midnight four nights a week are exaggerated and come from poorly managed business case projects:
- Are exaggerated
- Are usually poor/not proper business cases (the process has got lost)
- The framework of the process is rigid, and needs to be:
- A set of contractual deliverables is required in a tight time-frame
- Pace is one of the key things you are trying to demonstrate to the client
- The structured approach and tools also provide protection for consultants with low levels of industry/issue content knowledge:
- e.g. Focus interviews are as much about the management consultant learning jargon/issues/politics in a safe manner as they are about clients having a chance to have their say at the start
- Within the basic framework, every project is tailored for the client and subject to continuous change:
- No two business case analyses are the same from an issues, scope, content, and diagnostics point of view
10. Business case consultants are given a set of deliverables per update, rather than tasks:
- They can create/have input into these if they are proactive and understand the process
11. The real creativity is in defining issues, solving problems, and devising a compelling story to carry the message:
- The business case process means you do not have to invest time reinventing the approach each time, so you can get straight down to the issues
- The numbers in the business case analyses mean little by themselves. They need to be tied together in a story which is compelling. This takes time.
12. More important than anywhere else to be hypothesis-led:
- The whole business case is organised around an evolving message plan (hypothesised messages/beliefs about change that you want to embed throughout the organisation)
- Everything else flows from this and back to it
13. Time is the most valuable resource—try to spend it with maximum impact:
- No work is done unless the team knows what the output will be and how it will be used with clients
14. You need to know when enough is enough!
- Time preaching to the converted is time wasted
- Not 80/20; 60/40 is often more than enough, although occasionally you need 90/10 or more
15. The people elements are at least as important as the content (often more):
- A piece of analysis is only robust once a sufficiently large proportion of the key employees buy-in to its conclusions:
- Until then it is just an interesting set of data-driven assertions
16. “Oh data, you wanted me to get data!”
- Lots of war stories but NO DATA
17. “There is no data”
- Sadly too often this means ‘does not know what data looks like or is too lazy to roll his / her sleeves up and plough through reams and reams of paper to get at the data’
18. Stating the ‘bleeding obvious’
- “Increasing margins will improve profits”
- Clients are looking for the ‘So-What’s’ – keep on digging until you find it
19. Finding a gold mine and quantifying the value of the shack built on it
- Too often management consultants get down in the detail and forget the bigger picture
20. “Validate, validate, validate – oh, does that mean I should have validated my analysis”
- People are validation averse because they don’t understand the process or are afraid it will be abused
- Writing a Business Case that Will Sell (demandmetric.com)