Rebuilding a cathedral – or how to create a compelling business case

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This blog post tries to analyze what we can do to make our audience believe in our business plans. A lot can be said about this topic.

On April 15, 2019, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught fire. This was a catastrophe not only for Paris and France, but for the whole world as well. Money soon poured in to make a reconstruction and restoration possible. Capgemini also donated generously and enough funds have already been promised to restore the building to its former glory.

I, too, was shocked by this event. And I’m very proud to work for a company that recognizes the value of this edifice by contributing to its restoration. But frankly, not all people thought along the same lines. The “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) and others insisted that the money would be better spent on social issues. That’s a fair point. And it made me wonder why, on such short notice, so much money was made available for this building; why so many support this project; and most importantly, what can we learn from this phenomenon for our own projects, and how can we use that to muster enthusiasm for them? This blog post tries to analyze what we can do to make our audience believe in our business plans. A lot can be said about this topic. But let’s not forget that we’re doing business with people for people – and people are only human, with their own quirks, just like you and me.

Visual goals

When your stakeholders aren’t able to imagine the results of the project, you will have a hard time selling it. Rebuilding a cathedral to its former glory can easily be visualized. But in IT, you’ll end up with some kind of architectural schematic with lots of rectangles and lines – making it very difficult for normal spectators to imagine the end result. Real architects use scale models to visualize the result. Perhaps in IT we should use more mock-ups and models to visualize our design goals. “What you see is what you get” is also applicable when building a business case.

Comprehensive timeframes

French President Macron stated that the cathedral should be rebuilt in five years. Architects stated that this timeframe is quite ambitious, to say the least. Almost 60 years earlier, US President Kennedy stated that a man would walk on the moon within a decade, and launched the very ambitious Apollo program. The former is still in progress, the latter ended successfully.

I’ve been involved in several projects were the end date could easily be postponed. These projects never ended and were mostly terminated because, well, no tangible results were achieved. I don’t mean that timeframes should be overambitious and therefore unrealistic. I mean that the timeframes should be in line with the ambitions of the project. Putting a project under time pressure can be a good thing because it will keep focus on the project. But have your mitigation strategies ready when you overshoot.

Cultural relevance

Notre Dame is an important part of Parisian, French, European, and world cultural heritage. The medieval builders worked on this assumption, and it still rings true today. The cathedral was something to live for, to spend time, creativity, and energy on. When a business case sparks the feeling that it will make the world a better place, you can leverage the enthusiasm for your case. But that requires that you to know your place in this world. What do you want to contribute to make the world a better place?

It’s about the why, not only about the how

When you look up how you should write a business case, there’s a lot out there about the contents and structure of the business case itself – the topics you should cover, the levels of detail, and the processes and steps for creating the documents.

These points are all important and necessary. But I’ve seen enough cases that did tick all those formal boxes but still didn’t made it because they focused too much on the how, rather than the why and not in a compelling way. I don’t want to elaborate on The Golden Circle by Simon Simek, but anyone involved in writing business cases should know about it.

Imagine a world in which the vast majority of us wake up inspired, feel safe at work, and return home fulfilled at the end of the day. (Simon Simek)

How do you make your case attractive? “Most software engineers prepare detailed technical rather than business justifications,” states Supannika Koolmanojwong. But are justifications enough? Justifications are not really inspiring visions. So what should we focus on?

The WOW factor

Most business cases contain long lists of objectives, wishes, and requirements. The lists are divided into necessary (must haves), very desirable (should haves), fun (could haves), and future topics (may haves). But such a subdivision doesn’t provide any insight into that particular set of features that makes your case a success. That’s because users often take all those necessary features and justifications for granted and don’t get excited about your business case.

Professor Noriaki Kano of the Tokyo University of Science divides the features into three groups: basic needs (must-have qualities), performance needs (one-dimensional qualities), and delighters (attractive qualities). We should focus especially on the last group – those features that lead to satisfaction and enthusiasm, This all will help your team to contentedly pursue your business case.

The Kano model helps you ascertain which business goals are indispensable, (basic needs or formalities), which are necessary to gain acceptance (performance needs), and which will provide the WOW factor (delighters).

Rebuilding a cathedral

Rebuilding Notre Dame is a very compelling business case, if you look at it that way. It’s full of delighters lots of people want to commit themselves to. It opens a playground for creativity, imagination, and social bonding.

Being part of a grand project is very motivating. The now-retired NASA employees who worked on the Apollo program still remember that very powerful feeling. It still makes them proud.

In IT, we do a lot of projects out of necessity. We have to do them because our IT systems have to be kept up to date or because we have legal obligations to make enhancements. These projects can easily be justified but they are not necessarily very compelling. They have a tendency to drag on.

I don’t have an easy solution to make all business cases compelling. But remember, rebuilding a cathedral will also include a lot of dull and tedious work. And the engineering for Apollo wasn’t exciting all the time either. But being part of something grand will help create motivation for the dull and boring. So, what’s you’re grand scheme of your IT projects?

Creating a compelling business case from economical and financial perspectives isn’t easy. Creating one with a vision for a better world is even more difficult. But you should try to infuse your plans with human endeavors – things worth working for. It will certainly help to motivate your team and drive your project forwards.

To discuss more about this get in touch with Reinoud Kaasschieter.

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