Business cases were prepared for each of the UC Futures projects, using the Better Business Case model adopted by the NZ Government. They were a prerequisite for Government funding, and this had the potential to drive a focus on up-front costs. But business cases can’t be just about getting the build budget approved. They need to be a reliable foundation for project delivery, and that requires an accurate reflection of scope.
In fact, some of the benefits proposed by our business cases can accrue only after the buildings have been occupied. For example, increased student numbers and new working styles are projected from the provision of contemporary, purpose-built facilities. Strategies for achieving these benefits and monitoring progress towards them need to be resourced beyond the construction phase. The cost of maintaining the asset over its lifetime also needs to be taken into account. The best business cases keep one eye on the capital project and the other on supporting long-term organisational success.
And, of course, an approved business case does not guarantee a successful outcome. Our projects had multi-year lifecycles in a turbulent post-disaster market, so business cases needed to be reviewed and challenged regularly in order to remain relevant. However, we learnt that significant change in a large building programme can be difficult and costly to achieve once the project is moving forward. Some adjustment will be possible, but it is important to develop a robust business case at the outset.
The business case process is challenging but it is a useful opportunity to ask uncomfortable questions, especially about risk – commercial, economic and strategic. It can enhance your understanding of stakeholders, and it is a good way to communicate with Government. It also provides a risk-based overview for project and programme governance.
It took us a while to get good at business cases, and we had to do a lot of learning quickly in the midst of intense recovery work. If business cases are new to you, our advice would be to introduce this thinking into your planning practices now. It’s a useful discipline at any time, and the transition will be much easier should you need to ramp up business case development in response to a disaster situation.