I’m not going to lie. When I propose a project and an executive says, ‘Why don’t you put together a business case,’ I start to smolder inside. Writing a business case is a soul suck. I hate writing business cases almost as much as I hate going to the dentist (and I really hate going to the dentist).
And yet business cases are necessary. Why? Because you are competing for resources – be they funds, time or manpower. If you’re asked to write a business case it’s because your stakeholder is trying to understand if your bet is the best bet.
A business case is the tool you’ll use (a document) to persuade stakeholders to support your project, investment, or proposal. When well-written, it will be easy to understand, persuasive, and backed by data and research.
Sadly, well-written business cases are rare because too often they have an overabundance of data and research and a scarcity of good writing.
Where the Power of Business Storytelling and Story Structure Comes In
Here’s where the power of storytelling – and specifically story structure – comes in. A lot of people are confused about what business storytelling really is. It is not literally telling a story of why you want $5 million dollars to build a flying car.
Last week I spent almost two hours on the 405 trying to get to work and it occurred to me that if we had flying cars we could travel at multiple altitudes and also more directly! If we could modify cars to be more like drones we could help people save a ton of time and make a ton of money! Also, I wouldn’t be late so often. Can I have the money?
In other words, business storytelling is not about telling the story of why you’re making a request. Instead, it's utilizing the structure of a story so that your stakeholder weaves a story together in their own mind.
The outline of a standard business case
A business case typically includes the following elements:
- Problem or opportunity statement: Clearly defines the issue or opportunity the business case aims to address.
- Goals and objectives: Outlines the desired outcomes and the expected results of the proposed solution.
- Alternative solutions: Examines different options and their potential impact.
- Recommendation: Provides a clear, justified recommendation for the best course of action.
- Implementation plan: Outlines the steps necessary to put the recommended solution into action.
- Financial analysis: Provides a detailed financial analysis of the costs, benefits, and risks associated with the recommended solution.
- Monitoring and evaluation: Describes how the success of the solution will be monitored and evaluated.
- Conclusion: Summarizes the key findings and supports the recommendation.
Doesn’t that sound riveting? Was that little outline as hard for you to read as it was for me to write? Now imagine all the sections actually being filled out. Painful. It sounds like a job.
It doesn’t have to.
The Outline of a Story
If you look closely, a story has many of the same elements but in a more natural order.
- A hero & a quest: The story’s hero has a quest to fulfill (an opportunity or a problem)
- A problem to overcome: The reason for the her to embark on the quest is to achieve some outcome (exploiting the opportunity or resolving the problem)
- Uncertainty: There are many potential ways to embark on the quest
- A guide: But there is one way that is better than others (says the guru - that’s you)
- A clear path: To take the quest, the hero will need to do A, B and C.
- A special power: You have confidence that these steps will result in a good outcome based on your experience and wisdom (the analysis). You have been to the mountaintop!
- Protection: You’ll make sure the hero is guarded and protected along their journey
- And finally you invite the hero to step into the journey with you
You see, story structure provides the framework that includes an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.
The story structure can help you create a compelling narrative that engages your audience and drives your message home.
- The introduction sets the stage for your story and sets the tone for the rest of your business case. It should introduce the problem or opportunity you are addressing and provide a brief overview of your proposal.
- In the rising action, you describe the challenges and opportunities associated with the problem or opportunity you have introduced. You should also describe the alternatives you have considered and explain why your proposed solution is the best option.
- The climax is the turning point of your story. This is where you present your recommendation and make your case. You should provide a clear, concise, and compelling argument for your proposal, using data and research to support your argument.
- In the falling action, you describe the implementation plan for your proposal. This is where you outline the steps you will take to put your proposal into action, including timelines, resources, and budget.
- The resolution is the final step of your story. This is where you describe how you will monitor and evaluate the success of your proposal. You should also describe any risks associated with your proposal and explain how you will manage those risks.
By using story structure, you can create a business case that is easy to understand, persuasive, and backed by data and research. The structure helps you present your information in a logical and organized way, making it easier for your audience to follow your argument and understand your proposal.
The use of story structure also has several other benefits.
- Stories are inherently engaging, and using story structure in your business case can help keep your audience engaged and invested in your proposal.
- Stories are also inherently persuasive, and using story structure can help you make a convincing case for your proposal. By presenting your information in a clear and compelling way, you can build support for your proposal and increase the likelihood of success.
- The structure of a story can help you present your information in a clear and organized way, making it easier for your audience to understand and follow your argument.
- Story structure is flexible, and you can adapt it to fit the specific needs of your business case. Whether you are proposing a new project, investment, or change in strategy, you can use story structure to make your case in a way that is relevant to your audience.
The Bottom Line
In my experience, the business case is how innovation gets approved. Whether in my former corporate life or on behalf of clients, I’ve used business cases my entire career to get decisions and approval. And I’ll admit, I used to do them the old fashioned way because I thought I had to.
A few years ago, I started putting all of the storytelling tools we use to build client brand narratives and messaging strategies into our actual proposals and recommendations. That changed everything.
When your audience (stakeholder) understands your proposal in the form of a story, it becomes their story too. And when it becomes their story, they have a simple way of understanding and believing it (assuming it deserves being believed).
To sum up: Using story structure when developing a business case can help you create a compelling narrative that engages your audience, drives home your message, and increases the likelihood of success. By following the key elements of story structure, you can present your information in a clear and organized way, making it easier for your audience to understand and follow your argument.
If you’re interested in learning more about how we’ve helped companies like Amgen, Belkin, Takeda and others incorporate storytelling into their routines of building business cases, check out or Get To The Point business storytelling workshop or get in touch.