Building a business case – identifying the resources required

[Originally published on the Australian Government Public Sector Innovation Network under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]

In a previous post we had a look at dealing with risk when preparing a business case. In this post I’ll cover another part of the business case that can be problematic for innovations – identifying what resources will be needed.

One of the difficulties in implementing a new idea is that it can be hard to tell what the call on resources will be. If the idea is sufficiently novel it will be different to what has been done before and therefore require an estimate rather than a full accounting of the possible staffing and money required. Yet those approving the business case will obviously want to know what the potential financial and staffing impact may be and that the estimate has some rigour – they need to know to what they are agreeing. So how can the business case deal with this question?

A starting point is to consider whether the innovation can be trialled in a small contained fashion. Such a trial can give better information on the potential costs and support needed. This is not always possible however (e.g. it is something you either do or don’t do), but it might be possible to start the implementation process and then review at a set milestone to see if the innovation is within the cost expectations before proceeding further.

Another option is to look at whether someone has tried this somewhere else (in another agency, in another government or in a commercial or not-for-profit setting) and can you talk to them about what was involved? Or are there are any proxy measures that you can use? e.g. is there information you can use from when a different but similar innovation was introduced?

Alternatively, has the innovation been wargamed or simulated? This can be done at a small level (in the team) or at a large scale (across Departments) and can help identify what resources might be required, particularly any unexpected issues that might arise.

An example of unexpected issues is that if the innovative idea is successful, it can actually increase demand on the agency. If the idea is a new or improved service and it is well received, there may be increased demand for it from the public and thus greater expense. Or if the idea tackles a particular problem facing an agency, it can mean more can be done and that will have impacts on the rest of the organisation. For instance, in health a surgical innovation could make certain operations cheaper and easier thereby increasing demand for the operation, but this could have flow-on impacts such as increased demand for beds and nurses and increase the overall cost. The business case should consider the potential impacts on the rest of the agency (or even other agencies) and how that might be managed.

You may want to consider the resources through the following prism of how critical they are:

    • Core Resources – The resources required to initiate and drive implementation of the initiative. e.g. project team.
    • Primary Resources – The resources needed to enable proper consultation and collaboration and rolling out of the initiative. These resources are ones that will add value and flesh out the initiative. e.g. Ability to involve end-users of the initiative in the design of the initiative.
    • Peripheral Resources – The resources that may be impacted by the outcome of the initiative. e.g. The agency itself, other third parties.

(These different layers may overlap.)

What are your thoughts on dealing with the resources question in a business case for an innovation? Do you have any tips on how to identify what resources will be needed in implementing an innovative idea?