[How to] Create an executive business case

Get your business cases right. Focus on orienting your listeners and making them care, not on your solution

[How to] Create an executive business case

It's easy to get business cases wrong.

Too often, people focus on what their solution is. Instead, orient on your listener and what helps them.

There are many ways of doing this. An all-purpose one covers three points:

😴 Why they should care

💡 Why it makes sense

🏆  Why it can succeed

Let's talk through the specifics.

The structure of the all-purpose business case

Of course, there's more to it than just the three points. You may prefer more or fewer specifics to include because of personal preference, the topic you are discussing, or the audience with whom you are discussing it.

Over time, I have honed in on these topics within each point though. They seem to give me 80% of the value I need in the real world:

A stylized list over colorful shapes with topics for creating a business case, as also listed below

Or, if you prefer a plain-text version of it:

Why they should care

  • Importance of this conversation (1): Must-solve problem/ vision/ motivation
  • Fit with listener's priorities
  • Insufficiency of existing efforts
  • Sanity check/ solvability/ why us

Why it makes sense

  • Importance of this conversation (2): Business value
  • Best option (in the real world)
  • Justification for solution (1): Unfair advantage
  • Justification for solution (2): Reasonable effort
  • Justification for solution (3): Risk management
  • Solution specifics (if asked for) <— Note that this is NOT the focus

Why it can succeed

  • Ask
  • Aggressive, thoughtful planning
  • Accountability

Avoiding mistakes

This is an "all-purpose" business case, by which I mean that there are of course many other ways to structure it. Even I use others. This one just happens to fit many circumstances.

That said, as much as there are many "right" ways of creating business cases, there are also many "wrong ones."

One mistake that I see particularly often is to focus too much on the solution itself.

The solution is your focus, sure. And you've put lots of effort into it. But if it's your focus, then it's not your audience's.

To convince people, you need to focus on their focus. First, orient them by placing your idea in their context. Then give them a reason to care by the standards that they care about. And finally, alleviate their worries that you might fail.

How to use it – A full guide for creating such business cases

If you are good to go with the list of topics above, groovy! Go and conquer!

But if you'd like more specifics, here you are. We'll cover the same topics but add both a "headline sentence" you can use to summarize each section and 40+ specifics to help you come up with your point of view and be ready for follow-up questions:

Want a take-away version of this guide? Happy to oblige:

Rather want to read it here? Sounds good. Here it is spelt out:

Why they should care

[Importance of this conversation, part 1: Must-solve problem/ vision/ motivation]

“We must solve problem x. It’s unavoidable, even given other competing priorities!”

  • Why is the problem big and urgent?
  • Why can’t we solve it with existing & lower-risk approaches?
  • Why now?

[Fit with listener’s priorities]

“You probably already realized it, but just to be explicit, this of course is critical to your xyz effort/ goal/ vision.”

  • Why does it help what the listener wants to achieve?
  • Why is it not a distraction?

[Insufficiency of existing efforts]

“We are not reinventing the wheel – the x, y, and z easier alternatives won’t solve this.”

  • Why not an existing alternative or simpler “good enough for now” option?
  • Why is the solution to create a new initiative rather than update existing ones to deal with this issue?

[Sanity check/ solvability/ why us]

“As far as I can judge, we have found the best path forward for your agenda right now.”

  • Why can this be done?
  • Why should you be the ones to solve it?
  • What’s in and out of scope?

Why it makes sense

[Importance of this conversation, part 2: business value]

“The opportunities we found could be worth $xyz of revenue (or profit) in x months/  years.”

  • What is a realistic range, focusing on orders of magnitudes?
  • How might the listener follow your math, with simple back-of-envelope estimates?
  • Is even a “realistically pessimistic” scenarios still attractive?


[Best option (in the real world)]

“People offer all kinds of wild ideas for dealing with this. But realistically, the top solutions (or businesses) to capture the opportunity are x, y, and z. Among them, x is best because abc.”

  • Which solutions can happen in parallel?
  • Which ones can happen in sequence?
  • Which ones require a choice (i.e., can’t do them all)?
  • Can we accelerate toward the really valuable one(s)?
  • Can we simplify to get 80% of value from 20% of solutions?
  • How well do they align to our other priorities outside this project?


[Justification for solution: unfair advantage]

“We can play in this space and beat x, y, and z competitors/ next-best alternatives.”

  • Why don’t competitors meet user needs well enough?
  • Why won’t apathy keep users from acting at all?
  • If there “are no competent competitors,” is this opportunity actually real?

[Justification for solution: reasonable effort]

“We can implement solutions in x years with great/ reasonable certainty at an ROI of x%.”

  • Predictable milestones with ability to halt before over-investing?
  • Ways to start getting returns on investments soon, even if in small amounts?

[Justification for solution: Risk management]

“As ever, there are some unknowns left. But we have clear line of sight to activation.”

  • Work like past work/ capabilities that are tried & true?
  • Downstream risks checked out and under control?
  • Go to market plan for early traction clear?
  • Budget and resources lined up?

[Solution specifics]

“Would you like to hear any of the specifics?”

  • [Note that this is entirely at your conversation partner’s discretion. People commonly make the mistake of leading with this and offering it whether their listeners care to hear it or not. Or to be more explicit: This makes up much of your job but not theirs. Only offer it if that’s what they want! Even then, keep it short and get back to their agenda]

Why it can succeed


"We need x from y person. Then we’re off to the races.”

  • Reasonable?
  • Approval needed? From whom?
  • What: Resources, people, money?
  • Asking for specific reasons, not just “in general?”
  • Air cover?
  • Evangelism?
  • Leniency?
  • Political issues?

[Aggressive, thoughtful planning]

“We are going after this responsibly but hard!”

  • Can we accelerate the timeline toward 50% of our estimate?
  • Can we simplify to get 80% of value from 20% of work/ solutions?
  • How can it help or be helped by our broader or other priorities outside this project?


“Unless you prefer something else, we will next update you at x milestone in y time.”

  • Things to know until then?
  • Meanwhile, we have:
    • Clear, speedy activation plan with milestones?
    • Agreed roles & responsibilities and secured resources?
    • Accountability and stakeholder visibility in place?

I hope you earn approval for all your coolest endeavors!