How to make a winning business case

Secure capital funding with this four-step strategy for telling a powerful facilities story
Thursday, September 18, 2014
By Susan Anson

For thousands of years, people have woven pictures, symbols, sounds, and words together into stories to simplify complex concepts, convey ideas, and persuade others to adopt their perspectives. The greater the complexity, the more powerful the impact of an effective story.

Successful facility managers (FMs) are adept at creating winning business cases — a specialized form of story — to secure needed capital funding. The most effective FMs develop this story with the following four-step process:

1. Link facilities to the organization’s mission

The foundation of the story is how facilities support the core mission of the organization. Linking facilities with the mission provides the story’s practical, emotional, and political structure. For example, in a university setting, facilities support the organizational mission through their role in attracting top students (attractive dorms, athletic facilities, dining halls) and faculty (research facilities), securing alumni contributions (naming rights for new, modern buildings), and enabling effective learning (classroom space in good condition, supporting infrastructure).

The mission also guides the type and level of detail of the data to be collected, the analyses to be performed, and the targeted stakeholders that will be the audience for the story.

2. Collect and maintain current, accurate data

Successful business cases are supported by clear, compelling data. Savvy FMs often work backwards in determining which data to collect. They analyze the decision-making process, identify the key stakeholders, determine the types of analyses the various stakeholders will find persuasive, and then collect the data required to perform those analyses.

Once the necessary data is identified, FMs have several options for gathering it, including using their own FM teams to collect data, ideally employing a mobile application with a consistent process for the best results. They can also use third-party firms to do the collection. Many options exist and often a combination of approaches proves to be ideal. Whatever the chosen approach, the key is obtaining the right data with the right level of detail for the purposes of telling one’s story effectively.

3. Perform relevant, targeted analysis

After the data at the heart of the story has been captured and stored, the next step is to understand what it means.

Start by assembling insightful metrics, such as the Facility Condition Index (FCI) and comparative benchmark data from peer organizations. Then use a range of standard reports to understand what the data says about both the current and future condition of the various facilities. Follow that by generating a series of what-if scenarios under various funding scenarios. Finally, add risk assessment to the condition data to identify the impact of the unexpected failure of key facility elements.

These analyses will bring meaning to numbers, shaping the story and enabling sound decision-making.

4. Effectively communicate with key stakeholders

With data and analysis assembled, the final step is to communicate the findings — in essence, to create the facilities story. To make it compelling, consider the overall theme — for example, “Facilities at Risk” — and conclusions, as well as the audience’s perspective. Clearly state what conclusions have been drawn from the data — for example, “To reduce this risk, we require an additional $2 million annually,” and think about what conclusions the audience should draw — for example, “We need to allocate more funds to deferred maintenance.”

Use visuals and charts that drive the major points home. FMs may need to define some of the metrics or explain how they’re calculated. It’s important to include enough information to support the story without distracting listeners. Only include what is essential to supporting the conclusions.

There will always be questions and critics. Anticipating questions and having supporting data handy will put FMs in the best position to respond. Show confidence in the story, and that will be conveyed to the audience, supporting the conclusions and next steps.

Making the case for needed funding by telling a powerful story can help FMs escape the all-too-common cycle of reacting to emergencies because of insufficient budgets. It’s impossible to be persuasive about facility needs without good storytelling, based on sound data and analysis that proves and substantiates the conclusions. A facilities manager can use this approach to be more successful and productive, and to reach those holding the purse strings. Ultimately, it’s to the benefit of the organization and its facilities.

Susan Anson is president of VFA Canada Corporation, a provider of solutions for facilities capital planning and asset management.