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The most important question to ask when doing a workforce management project

Over the last ten years, I have been involved in many workforce management projects which start like this:

“Customer: Thanks for coming in! We’re so excited to kick-off and start the project. We’re bringing in Vendor A to complete Project X. We need to have this completed by October.

Me: Wow, that’s great. What are your objectives for the project? What are you trying to achieve?

Customer: Huh?

Me: Well How will we judge whether the project has been a success? Is it via ROI? A reduction in labor costs by 5%? An increase in sales of 10%?  Do you have a business case?

Customer: I don’t know.

Me: How about we spend some time working through that now. It’s the most important question for your project."

The above conversation is not unusual. It occurs regularly from start-ups to industry leaders. The company knows the How, What, When and Who for the project, but have never determined the all-important Why.

Unfortunately, by this stage, a contract has been signed, and the company has committed to completing a project. It is then a case of trying to retrofit a business case for the project and, by this stage, it is too late.

So Why Should You Have A Business Case?

No person or business wants to invest time, money and resources into a project that may never be beneficial.  A Business case is generally a well-structured document with background, recommendations, analysis, findings and conclusions.  However, as a minimum requirement, the answers to the following questions can be considered as a business case.

  1. Why are you completing the project? (What problem are you trying to resolve?)
  2. What other options are there outside of starting a new project? As an example, do I need to start a new project or what is the investment in updating and resolving my current issues?
  3. What are my goals for the project? (How would I consider this project a success?). As discussed above this needs to be expressed with ideally a quantifiable objective. As an example, for a WFM project an example may be ‘Improve the accuracy of payroll by reducing the amount of manual interpretation by 5%.
  4. Is there an opportunity cost to beginning this project? Should I concentrate on another project that is more in line with the overall corporate objectives of the business?
  5. What are the costs, benefits and risks of starting a new project? The costs would include not only direct costs but outlay in terms of your internal staff’s time and resources. Risks to consider may include the fact that some of the stakeholders are invested in the old system and unwilling to change over. The benefits can be many and varied. From a more efficient workforce which has the effect of increased employee engagement due to the overall company running more efficiently, to a jump in employee retention because staff have better tools and resources.
  6. What are the costs, benefits and risks of the other options?

While the above questions are simplistic, they are designed as a starting point for beginning a business case. The purpose here is to provide you with a simple platform to help you to define your project objectives. Hopefully, the above questions provide a clear outline for beginning a project.

What do I do with the business case once completed?

From here, your business case becomes your reference point for decision-making and viability of the project.

As an example, if I was reviewing vendors for a workforce management product and one the goals of the project was to reduce labour costs by 7.5%, + or - 2%, then I can evaluate the project methodology used by the vendor and whether it will help or hinder the chance to achieve my goal.

Alternatively, it should act as a reference point for the viability of the project at regular intervals. The business case provides the opportunity for the business to review and decide whether the project is achieving the outcomes it was initially set out to do.

Do I Need to Do A Business Case Every Time?

There are times that the justification to begin a project is known prior to completing a business case. You may be tempted to skip the business case, but I would argue that there are multiple benefits for articulating your reasons and goals, as it allows all stakeholders to be involved in the project. The business case provides an understanding of what is the purpose for the project and provides a clear objective for success.

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