Stakeholder-led business case development



By Louise Worsley

South Africa

I keep thinking that the penny has finally dropped – it’s the stakeholders that count!  People in projects now at least talk about stakeholders, even the project management associations talk about stakeholders, yet when you listen carefully, you start to wonder.  Are the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of stakeholder engagement really understood?

One area you’d think was undeniably a stakeholder intensive process is the development of the business case.  Surely this is critical to the stakeholders and the investors in the project?  But no!  Look around, business cases are often written by specialists in writing business cases, or worse, the project manager, and often in parallel or even after the project has started.

One relatively recent improvement is that you find a section entitled ‘Stakeholders’ in a good business case.  Yes, an entire section!  But often, the content and purpose are problematic.  It’s supposed to provide evidence in support of the three functions of any business case, but instead it’s a list or where a stakeholder analysis is written up.

The three purposes of a business case

The first purpose is to demonstrate that the project is worth doing.

The second is to prove that it is more worth doing than some of the competing projects.

The third is to provide the framework for all future business decision-making about the project.

To achieve these, the business leaders and investors in the project need to be convinced about:


  • Desirability – is there evidence that the project is worth doing, and just as importantly, who thinks so? Are there legitimate stakeholders backing the project?
  • Do-ability – is there a feasible case for delivering the outputs and outcomes? Planning is necessary before do-ability can be proven.  Still, even at this stage, options can be assessed.
  • Viability – combining desirability and do-ability leads to an assessment of how viable the project is. Are the benefits risks and cost risks commensurate with the risk appetite of the critical stakeholders and the organisation?

If the business case is to deliver on its promises, you need to know, “Who wants what?” “How badly do they want it?” And “How committed are they?” Oh, and it’s helpful to know how widely held the view is that this is an important and necessary expenditure.

With that in mind, let’s unpack the contents in the Stakeholder section.


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Editor’s note: This article is based on a presentation by the author during the Project Management South Africa (PMSA) 2021 National Project Management Conference held virtually in November 2021m for which the PMWJ was a media partner.  To learn more about PMSA and their events, visit https://www.projectmanagement.org.za/. For more on the subject of this article, see the author profile at the end of this article and contact the author directly.

How to cite this article: Worsley, L. (2022). Stakeholder-led business case development, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue II, February.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/pmwj114-Feb2022-Worsley-stakeholder-led-business-case-development.pdf

About the Author

Louise Worsley

Cape Town, South Africa


Louise Worsley has been a consultant in project and portfolio management for other thirty years.  She is an associate lecturer in project management at The University of Cape Town, where she leads the Master’s module on HR and leadership in projects.  She is the author of several project management books, most notable in this area is Stakeholder-led Project Management which is now in its second edition. She can be contacted at https://www.linkedin.com/in/picubed/