Learn how to build a business case and secure funding for an investment in project management software.
Whether you’re looking to purchase your team’s first project management (PM) software or looking to upgrade your current system, you’ll have to put together a business case to justify the investment to executives.
Though many business leaders believe that PM technology is critical to their business success, budgets are tight. Executives have to make strategic decisions around which initiatives to fund and which ones to back-burner.
We’ll walk you through a six-step model for building a business case that will be tough for even the most frugal decision-maker to shoot down.
We’ve also put together a business case template (it’s free to download!) to help you prepare for your presentation.
Your 6-step guide to building a business case for project management software
The following steps draw from Gartner’s “360-Degree Business Case Development Technique” (full report available to Gartner clients).
These guidelines will help you articulate the benefits of an investment more effectively, better positioning you to secure funding and win executive sponsorship for the project.
1. State the challenge
Straight away, you need to highlight how PM software can address the challenges you’re facing and/or the goals you’re trying to achieve. The trick here is to relate the problems you’re facing to the interests of the executives you’re presenting to. Your team/department goals should already align with strategic business objectives, e.g., targets for growth or savings, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to make that connection.
For example, if your audience’s primary concern is savings, focus on how the problem(s) you’re facing cost the organization money due to operational inefficiencies, project overruns, etc.
Additionally, you should address why it’s necessary to take action now to correct these issues and instill a sense of urgency in decision-makers.
For example, if your audience’s primary concern is savings, tell them how much inefficiencies have cost the organization up till now, or how much inaction will cost the organization if they choose not to fund the investment at this time.
2. Provide a solution
Now that you have their attention, present executives with a plan for how you’ll use PM software to solve the problem(s) you’re experiencing. Be sure to highlight how the PM software addresses specific pain points, not just how it supports your current processes.
The trick here is to show why an investment in PM software is necessary. Meaning, why you need to invest in PM software rather than leveraging a different tool or existing business software.
Your plan should also take into account the people, processes, and technology impacted by the investment:
- Features and capabilities the tool should provide.
- Deployment (e.g., cloud-based or installed/on-premise).
- Other technology considerations (data migration, integration with other business software, down-time, etc.).
- Processes/workflows that will change and how this will impact different stakeholders.
3. Outline costs for an investment in PM software
Next up, you need to break down the costs associated with PM software:
- Tangible costs, such as the expected annual cost of investment (i.e., the approximate number of software licenses needed and the estimated price for those licenses*).
- Intangible costs, such as the time required to implement and learn a new system, and the loss of productivity during that time. These costs are harder to quantify, but still important to mention here.
- Total cost of ownership, which looks at the long-term cost of the investment, plus the cost of operations, to show the investment’s value over time.
*You may not have price quotes from vendors yet, but you can get an idea for what your peers are budgeting annually as well as how much they’re planning to spend per user license from our research report, “What SMBs are Budgeting for Project Management Tech in 2019.”
At this stage you want to present executives with high-level benchmarks only and not inundate them with details. You should, however, come prepared with specifics in case there are follow-up questions.
For example, will different stakeholders need different types of user licenses (admin vs. user vs. collaborator licenses)? How long do you anticipate you’ll use this software before needing to upgrade or switch tools/vendors altogether?
4. Outline benefits from an investment in PM software
Now that you’ve outlined the costs, it’s time to highlight the expected benefits associated with PM software:
- Tangible gains, such as time and money saved by reducing overruns and redundant initiatives and improving resource utilization.
- Intangible gains, such as breaking down silos and facilitating collaboration, and improving data integrity and decision-making. These benefits are harder to quantify, but are a critical aspect of the return on your investment (ROI).
Speaking of ROI, you also want to address how executives should think about and measure the success of an investment in PM software.
Immediate wins such as reduced costs and time savings will be sure to get their attention. However, the true and long-term value of PM software lies in your ability to leverage historical data to make more reliable estimates and forecasts for future initiatives.
Again, the key here is to focus on the unique benefits that PM software provides that an alternate tool would not. Specifically: creating a single source of truth that improves visibility, data integrity, and decision-making.
5. Provide a timeline
Next you need to present a timeline to executives to ensure you’re both on the same page for how long the process of evaluating and implementing PM software will take*.
*Leverage data from your peers to present an accurate timeline to executives. Our “2019 Project Management Software User Report” has stats on how long businesses typically spend evaluating tools, how many tools they demo before they buy, and how long they spend implementing the new solution.
Establishing an accurate timeline with executives is important for two key reasons:
- Many of the benefits of PM software will be delayed, meaning you won’t see them or feel their effects for several months after you implement a new tool. This is because it takes time to build up performance data that you can use to make more informed decisions moving forward.
- Your organization will feel the costs of the investment before you realize the benefits. Not only just the physical costs, but you’ll also experience a loss of time and productivity while users are undergoing change. This dip in productivity is normal, so it’s important to set expectations accurately.
Without taking this step, it can be easy for executives to mislabel an investment as a failure, which would make it more difficult to secure funding in the future.
6. Leverage change management
This last step is critical for securing executive buy-in for your proposal. The majority of organizational change efforts fail, and executives know this. In their eyes, it may be less risky to say no to your proposal, avoiding a change effort altogether, than it is to back one that may not prove successful.
You need to confront these fears head on—don’t wait for your audience to raise them:
- Remind them of the danger and costs of inaction (which you outlined in step 1).
- Acknowledge the change management pitfalls organizations commonly fall prey to, and then state the best practices you plan to follow to avoid making the same mistakes.
By acknowledging and then refuting potential inhibitors, you’ll help build confidence and support in your proposal.
And of course, should your business case be approved, leveraging change management best practices during the roll out of the new PM software will help you gain buy-in and support user-adoption of the tool. Change management protocols to consider include creating communication plans, using culture hacks, and leveraging super-users.
Download our free business case template
Following the six steps above will help you build a bulletproof business case, and our free business case template will help you present your plan clearly and effectively to executives. Download a copy for your next presentation!
(PowerPoint, Google Slides)
Once your business case is approved (meaning you’ve secured funding as well as an executive sponsor), it’s time to start evaluating specific solutions. Here are a few resources to help you get started:
Head over to our project management software directory. Once there you can filter products based on specific features and read user reviews to find the best solution for your needs.
Check out some of our recent product comparisons highlighting top-rated solutions for criteria such as ease of use and value for money: