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Business cases for grown ups, try an Agile approach

Agile methods have been used very successfully to control the way software is developed.  This is because the approach caters for uncertainty; it plans for changes in scope based on priority.  This contrasts with the ‘waterfall’ approach whereby the scope and plan was defined in great detail at the outset.

We think business case development could adopt agile principles and foster ‘grown up’ dialogues between the business and IT.  In this way project timescales should be fixed but the scope and therefore benefits should be flexible and assigned a priority.  Using an agile approach would suggest also:

  • Getting close to the business – Agree to deliver as much as possible in priority order, within fixed timescales. Commit to the business to review and re-prioritise periodically.  This could help foster a more rational debate on programme scope and the risk of delivering a programme where costs outweigh benefits.
  • Learning lessons through iteration – Agile uses iteration extensively. IT programmes usually involve aspects common to previous programmes. Reviewing old business cases could provide important data on what has worked well in the past, your organisation’s strengths and weaknesses and the real costs and benefits of programmes.

Some of the above suggestions are already performed in well run programmes although often only implicitly. Formalising this approach would be relatively simple and could add real value to a business case by encouraging grown-up dialogues at the outset of a programme rather than only at crisis points.