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Making a business case

November 30, 2008

On various technical writing discussion lists, some regular complaints from poster include ‘my computer is slow and the company won’t pay for an upgrade’ or ‘I need some software/training/conference fee, but they say I can’t have it as it costs too much’. Typically, the real issue is that the person is complaining to their manager about how *they feel*, but they’re not getting the response they want. What the manager is hearing is ‘poor me, poor me—look at how bad I’ve got it.’ What the manager needs to hear is how spending X dollars is going to improve the bottom line for the *company*. They can’t justify (to their boss) spending dollars just to stop you complaining.

What does this mean to you? Well, for starters turn your complaint/issue into a business case. Prove to your manager that not having X, Y, or Z is costing the company money and that it’s cheaper for them to get it for you and make you more productive as that will mean the company is getting better value for the dollars they do spend. It means you have to do some research and you may need to gather some raw figures on what the cost is of you NOT having the thing you want. If you can make a good business case, you’ll save your manager some time as he or she can see straight away whether the ‘return on investment’ (ROI) is justified for the expense. You need to complain in terms ‘they’ understand—and that’s money!

Not with me so far? Let me give you an example from a few years ago…

I was running on 256 MB RAM (the developers were all on 1 GB) and it was a frustrating as hell trying to have multiple apps open. Word kept crashing, I had to keep rebooting etc. At the time, extra 128 MB RAM cards were around $100 each (yes, it seems a lot now, but it was cheap at the time…).

So I did my sums, then did them with my boss on his whiteboard. I had the RAM upgrade the next day— after some 6+ months of complaining and asking and begging. Here’s how it worked:

  1. I lose 15 mins per day (MINIMUM) rebooting my computer when Word crashes because I have to have Word + graphics app + Outlook + authoring tool + (app) + (app) open at the same time to do my work.
  2. I work three days a week for you, so the MINIMUM combined time cost per week is at least 45 mins; per month it’s 180 mins (45 x 4); per year it’s 1980 mins (180 x 11 months)
  3. I’ve been working for you for 3 years, so I’ve lost at least 5940 mins (1980 x 3) in productive time. That’s 99 hours (5940 / 60). Let’s round it up to 100 because I said this was the MINIMUM – it’s probably more.
  4. My hourly rate is $50 (for the purposes of the exercise I used $50/hour, though this technique still works well at $20/hour and much better at $100/hour!).
  5. Therefore it has already cost you $5000 to pay me for waiting for my computer to reboot, reopen Word and the other apps etc.
  6. Assuming I work for you for another 3 years at 3 days a week, expect it to cost at least that again. That makes it $10,000.
  7. 128 MB of RAM is $100; another 256 is $200.
  8. Can I please have some more RAM?

Substitute your own values for mine and I think you’ll have a compelling argument. For example:

  1. I lose 15 mins per day (MINIMUM) rebooting my computer when Word crashes because I have to have Word + graphics app + Outlook + authoring tool + (app) + (app) open at the same time to do my work.
  2. I work five days a week for you, so the MINIMUM combined time cost per week is at least 75 mins; per month it’s 300 mins (75 x 4); per year it’s 3450 mins (180 x 11.5 months)
  3. I’ve been working for you for 3 years, so I’ve lost at least 10350 mins (3450 x 3) in productive time. That’s 172.5 hours. Let’s round it up to 175 because I said this was the MINIMUM – it’s probably more.
  4. Based on my salary ($60K), I worked out that my hourly rate is $30.
  5. Therefore it has already cost you $5250 (175 hours x $30) to pay me for waiting for my computer to reboot, re-open Word and the other apps etc.
  6. Assuming I work for you for another 3 years, expect it to cost at least that again. That makes it $10,500.
  7. 1 GB of RAM is $100.
  8. Can I please have some more RAM?

You could use this sort of argument for an extra monitor etc.

It’s very simplistic, but it does put your complaint into monetary terms, and that makes it really easy for your manager to make a decision—and to justify that decision to their manager.

One comment

  1. […] your existing content; about being careful of software demonstrations given by a vendor; about making a business case for getting what you need; and about the real costs of a ‘lite’ […]



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