Creating Bulletproof Business Cases

By Richard Larson, PMP, CBAP, Watermark Learning and Elizabeth Larson, PMP, CBAP, CSM, Watermark Learning

Part 1: Overview of Business Cases

One of the top issues we hear from our training clients is that projects often get justified or initiated by solution. This usually means either no business case was done or an insufficient business case was created. The resulting solution then often doesn’t completely solve the underlying problem; re-work results, and/or the ongoing pain the project was intended to address will continue.

The general challenge addressed by this article is the problem of projects not meeting business needs. Projects should help the business solve its problems—not continue to live with “pain” or miss opportunities that could have been addressed by the right project at the right time. This article will address these issues by presenting in five parts:
  1. A short overview of business cases
  2. Various aspects of analyzing business needs
  3. Recommending solutions with a feasible approach
  4. Extensive coverage of cost-justifying projects, including cost-benefit analysis
  5. Pitfalls to avoid when recommending projects
Overview of Business Cases

To begin, here is a textbook definition of a business case that we will use throughout this article:

“A document written for executive decision makers, assessing the present and future business value and risks related to a current … investment opportunity.” (Keen & Digrius, 2003, p. xii).

A formal approach to creating business cases is laid out in A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide), specifically in the Enterprise Analysis Knowledge Area. Following are the five tasks in Enterprise Analysis, all of which deal with pre-project analysis of business needs. (IIBA, 2009, p. 81).

  • Define Business Need
  • Assess Capability Gaps
  • Determine Solution Approach
  • Define Solution Scope
  • Define Business Case
Practical Approach: SARIE

A more informal and practical method that has served our company and others for years, is the SARIE approach to business cases. It ranges from capturing the true business need and underlying root causes through a recommended solution and implementation approach to a cost-benefit evaluation. Here is what SARIE stands for:
  • Define Situation
  • Analyze Situation
  • Propose a Recommendation
  • Plan Implementation
  • Evaluate the Solution
The SARIE method supports the analysis of an organization’s internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats, known as a SWOT analysis. These strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats often are addressed in the Situation as part of the business need.

Mapping SARIE to Enterprise Analysis

SARIE compares closely to the Enterprise Analysis Knowledge Area of the BABOK® Guide. For your information, Exhibit 1 below shows a mapping of SARIE to Enterprise Analysis tasks. They differ mostly in their order. So, for example, the S part of SARIE is what the BABOK Guide® calls “Define Business Need.” (IIBA, 2009, p. 81). At the other end, the E in SARIE matches the “Define Business Case” task.

SARIE Enterprise Analysis Key Features
Situation Define Business Need Current problem or opportunity
Analysis Assess Capability Gaps Root cause and/or what is missing to meet needs
Recommendation Define Solution Scope What is to be delivered and its effect
Implementation Determine Solution Approach Most feasible approach for delivering the solution
Evaluation Define Business Case Measure the costs and benefits

Exhibit 1: Mapping SARIE to the Formal Enterprise Analysis Knowledge Area

We will see through the rest of this series how each step of SARIE can help you plan and create bulletproof business cases.


Keen, J. M. & Digrius, B. (2003). Making Technology Investments Profitable: ROI Road Map to Better Business Cases. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ.

International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA). (2009). A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) Version 2.0. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. International Institute of Business Analysis.