In May this year a Dutch parliamentary committee investigated the Fyra High Speed train programme which costed the Dutch state 10,8b€ so far. The NS, 100% owned by the Dutch state, won the contract in 2003 after a public tender. The Fyra High Speed train, delivered by the Italian company AnsaldoBreda, supposed to travel from Amsterdam to Brussel connecting the Netherlands with the European High Speed network, never got used due to a lot of technical issues. The NS was not capable to deliver according to the contract.
What surprised me most during the public interviews of the key stakeholders by the parliamentary committee is that the initial Business Case for this huge project was not available any more. Both within the Ministry of Transport and the NS tried to find it but it was gone. According to the Dutch Ministers of Transports who were involved during the lead time of the programme the NS asked for more money all the time without giving detailed insight in the costs in relationship to the business case, simply because it was not there. Although 100% owner of the programme the Dutch state did not have a proper business case or took care a new one was made when they could not find it!
From a programme or project management point view unbelievable that you manage a project without knowing what the expected costs and benefits were in the business case approved by the business owner. A business case captures the reasoning for initiating a programme or project answering he basic question “Why should we make this investment?”. The business case gives you insight in the business need, the resources such as money and effort needed, the expected benefits, the risks involved etc.. And, once approved, it’s the foundation for the project plan and basis for reporting on the progress off the project, changes made in the project plan with impact on the business case should of course always be approved by the business owner.
The big question is of course why a big programme’s like Fyra can run for such long time without stakeholders asking themselves how the programme is performing against the expectations described in the initial business case. Probably the size and complexity, lack of technical knowledge In the political domain and focus on short term issues, instead of the whole picture play an important role. What you also see is that the role of the programme manager has changed in time. More and more programme managers have a business background and focus on the keeping the business satisfied while in the past programme managers had a project manager background. This means not much time is spend on the internal project focus so operational project issues and risks are not managed before but after they have already happened.
A strong business case is key for running a successful business and it is worthwhile spending time on the development of this. A business case captures the justification and reasoning for all this stakeholders for initiating a project to support a specific business need. And can be used for convincing of those you want to be involved or you need to make your business case successful: investors, partners, subcontractors, suppliers etc. By developing a business case you can conceptualize your business ambition and enable others to challenge if your case has real potential, which areas contain risks or you need external help etc.. So, don’t try to do this alone and involve as much people as possible. And, of course, don’t forget to involve the customer, the most the most important factor which will make your business case successful. Without involving the customer who needs to buy your product or service you will never be able to start a business, so involve your potential customers also as early as possible!
If you want to know more about this? Check this presentation!