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What is the purpose of the programme business case?

The purpose of this phase is to:

  • test and refine the strategic case, including the problem statements, and fill any evidence gaps
  • investigate a mix of alternatives and options to address the strategic case (ways to intervene)
  • recommend a preferred programme to address the strategic case.

When is a programme business case required?

In many cases where the type of intervention required to address the strategic case is clear, and where this is limited to a single activity type, business case development can be progressed through a single-stage business case (SSBC).

However, there are circumstances where a programme business case (PBC) phase is needed to enable the right level of analysis and development to more fully understand the problems, opportunities and constraints identified in the strategic case. These can include proposed investments that:

  • are highly complex or have a high level of public interest
  • include multiple activities, for example a road intersection improvement, a bus lane, a new bus service and personalised travel planning
  • could involve (or be addressed by) more than one mode of transport or activity type, for example if there is uncertainty whether the solution should be road or rail
  • seek to provide an optimal mix of interventions, which may not necessarily be transport system-related
  • would potentially benefit from a more innovative approach to finding the right response.

Where do activity management plans and one-off activities fit?

Activity management plans (AMPs) can fulfil the role of the business case (up to and including the PBC) for continuous programmes such as road maintenance. They should be developed in accordance with industry good practice for AMPs and in a manner consistent with Business Case Approach (BCA) principles.

AMPs need to analyse network alternatives and options in developing a preferred programme, and demonstrate how the options considered as part of the programme address these issues.

Read the Road Efficiency Group (REG) guide to integrating the BCA in activity management planning [PDF, 7.3 MB]

‘One-off’ activities that are included in another programme, for example an AMP that has been developed using BCA principles, are unlikely to require a further PBC, provided it can be demonstrated that they are:

  • relatively simple and low-cost activities, for example, activities that meet the requirements for a low-cost, low-risk programme during the 2018–21 National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) (it is expected that an AMP will act as the PBC for low-cost, low-risk programmes, meeting the BCA principles requirements for the activities within that programme)

Find out more about low-cost, low-risk programmes 

  • genuinely ‘stand-alone’, that is, not part of a more widespread or systemic problem that would warrant a wider programme of activities and hence a specific PBC.

This means that, provided the AMP has been developed in a fit-for-purpose way that meets the requirements and expectations of the BCA, many activities will be able to start at the single-stage business case. If during the development of the strategic assessment it becomes clear that the problem is more complex or widespread than initially thought, then a PBC should still be considered as the way forward.

Find out more about the single-stage business case 


Keep in mind that a point of entry conversation is used to explore the correct starting point for business case development, and should include consideration of the above points. If in doubt, seek advice from your NZ Transport Agency investment advisor.

Find out more about the point of entry 

Getting your programme business case right

In the PBC phase, you and your partners and stakeholders further develop your understanding of the problem and its context, and begin identifying how you might address the problem. The PBC does not look at detailed solutions, but should consider a broad mix of changes or activities that might be delivered by multiple parties over a period of time.

The programme business case needs to follow the key Business Case Approach (BCA) principles of investing for benefits, fit-for-purpose effort and clarity of intent, and the key behaviours of step-by-step development and informed discussion.

Read more about the BCA principles, behaviours and capabilities 

Depending on the complexity of the investment proposal, it is worth spending time and money in this phase to hire good workshop facilitators and specialist consultants, where you need them. This will help ensure a successful result as you keep developing the investment story.

The ‘pre-work’ effort required in developing a PBC should not be underestimated. Before any workshops are held, it is crucial to spend time revisiting and testing the assumptions made in the strategic case, building the evidence base and developing alternatives and options to ensure the discussion is well informed.

You will continue to apply critical thinking throughout this process to ensure the integrity of the business case. This is not simply an exercise in confirming the initial problems and benefits; it is about objectively testing them against evidence to make sure they are well-founded before continuing further. Implicit in this statement is an expectation that if analysis of the evidence shows the initial problems or benefits to be incorrect, the strategic assessment will be altered accordingly (and stakeholders kept informed of the reasons for any changes).

Stakeholder engagement

Engaging early with stakeholders and having a clear plan for stakeholder engagement is also very important. Getting the groundwork right means you should be in the best possible position to develop the business case further and explore alternatives and options with your stakeholders.

Find out more about engagement and relationship management

Benefits of a programme business case

A robust PBC provides the Transport Agency and all stakeholders with assurance that:

  • an appropriately broad range of options is being considered
  • the proposed programme represents the best whole of life, value for money approach (allowing for any trade-offs across different outcomes and risk)
  • requirements under the Land Transport Management Act 2003 (LTMA) to consider alternatives and options have been met.

It also needs to demonstrate that the BCA principles have been applied so that the investment proposal can be prioritised under the Investment Assessment Framework (IAF).

Read more about the IAF and effective and aligned business cases

Some key considerations

  • Getting the right workshop facilitator is important – they need to manage the process, not the outcome. We recommend using external, independent facilitators, who should be ‘content free’ and have no stake in the outcome. Facilitators need to be able to lead informed discussions to express the workshop objectives and outcomes in plain language and concepts, and obtain agreement of all participants to the outcome of the workshops. Their key responsibility through the PBC phase is to:
    • help the participants tell their investment story as clearly and concisely as possible
    • challenge the logic of what participants say
    • guide the building of a really strong evidence base for each workshop
    • obtain and properly consider the opinions of key stakeholders.
  • Be prepared for the business case development process to be non-linear and iterative. You may continue to collate evidence and refine problem statements throughout the PBC phase as your knowledge and understanding grows and changes.
  • Consider constraint mapping. Identify no–go areas or acknowledge additional cost for a preferred solution. For example, what is the environment (physical, social)? How do locals use this environment? What is the context? What are the constraints? Set the scene for how problems impact on people and places in the area.
  • Consider an uncertainty log. Note proposals that are not locked in, but may be in future and could have an impact. For example, a major housing development in the locality may be on the books but it’s not clear when it will happen. Make assumptions about what some of the effects may be if a proposal goes ahead, such as changes to road, rail, or ports.
  • Keep the BCA principles uppermost throughout business case development – you are looking for evidence-based analysis, not committee-based decisions. Asking ‘Why?’ and ‘What if?’ is more important in this phase than ‘How?’ It is more important to be able to demonstrate that the principles are being met, than to undertake a particular process in a set order.
  • The number and complexity of workshops should be fit for purpose and relative to the scale of the proposal and capability and experience of stakeholders.
  • Establish the difference between ‘outputs’ and ‘outcomes’. They are often confused, but you can provide clarity for all involved by using definitions, such as:
    • An output is the product, change or solution that is implemented to achieve an objective.
    • An outcome is the result of a change (action or intervention).


It is good practice for large and/or high-risk proposals to formally check in with investors once the problems and benefits have been reviewed and investment objectives are being drafted. A discussion about where things are at can help avoid heading down a wrong or expensive track.

Putting your programme business case together

The simplest and clearest way to structure the PBC is to divide it into three sections, as outlined below. Note that this information is provided as a guide only; users need to bear in mind that specific situations may differ. As always, apply the BCA principle of fit-for-purpose effort.

1. Revisiting the strategic case and developing investment objectives

This section of the PBC usually takes around 60% of the time of the PBC phase. Expect it to take around four to six months, though for an especially complex issue it may take even longer.

In collaboration with your investment partners and stakeholders, you need to revisit and refine the strategic case:

  • Confirm the case for change is still relevant.
  • Guided by the gaps in evidence identified in the strategic case, gather additional data and analyse what it means – what is significant? Building the evidence base is one of the most important functions of the PBC.
  • Assess and, if necessary, refine the problem statement(s) to reflect current understanding of the problem(s).
  • Use the refined problems and benefits to develop SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) investment objectives on the basis of the analysis. Investment objectives should encompass any targets identified in the benefits map.
    • Start with qualitative targets and revisit them as the PBC progresses to make them more quantitative. This allows time to test whether a particular target is achievable or affordable in practice, and can help avoid setting unrealistic expectations at an early stage.
    • For example, you might start with a safety objective that aims to achieve an overall reduction in serious crashes, then gradually refine this towards an achievable percentage reduction in serious crashes over a set period of time.
  • Map the investment objectives back to the problems and benefits and check that there is a logical flow. Do the objectives make sense in relation to the problems and benefits?
  • Start thinking about benefits realisation. How will you measure investment objectives to determine whether you’ve achieved what you said you would? Did a different benefit occur? How will benefits continue to be tracked over time, and by whom?

Workshop one

The first workshop is the cornerstone for how the rest of the business case develops, so it is important to make it as effective as possible. It will generally feed into the first section of the PBC document, and is an opportunity to reinforce engagement with and between the stakeholder group, the problem owner’s organisation and, if relevant, the project team.

At this workshop participants will:

  • relook at the strategic case, and test if it is still fit for purpose
  • share any new evidence that might have previously been missed or unavailable
  • drill down into detailed evidence to gain a clear understanding of the fundamentals
  • in light of the evidence, revisit and, if necessary, refine:
    • the problem statements
    • root causes
    • consequences
    • benefits
    • percentage weightings
    • measures (key performance indicators or KPIs).
  • start developing investment objectives. These play a key role in helping distinguish between programme alternatives, and options and will be used with other criteria to determine trade-offs and a recommended programme.


It is important to have the right people at this workshop, and to organise it around the availability of key participants. Workshops should be kept to around two hours if possible.

If there has been a significant gap in time between the strategic case and developing the PBC, this re-examination is even more important.

The workshop may include senior, governance-level people, including elected members, but also people with specific technical skills and knowledge. As with all BCA workshops, this should be led by a facilitator. However, remember to keep it fit for purpose; low risk and complexity programme workshops may be facilitated by a staff member with the appropriate skills and experience, while high risk or complexity issues are best led by an external, accredited facilitator.

2. Identifying alternatives and options

For a robust business case, it’s important that all possible responses are captured and recorded. This encourages innovation, ensures the best alternative or option is chosen and reduces the risk of the recommended programme being challenged further down the track.

Think about how you will encourage a broad range of alternatives and options to be explored, even if they initially seem counter-intuitive. Avoid drawing pre-conceived solutions to peoples’ attention, as once a potential solution is ‘on the table’ it will be harder for people to imagine alternatives.

Read an information sheet about innovation and creativity in business case development [PDF, 107 KB]

An alternative is the broader level of the solution, for example, a bypass or an intersection; the option could be what kind of intersection, such as a roundabout or a grade-separated intersection.

Some alternatives and options will come from partners and stakeholders through the workshop, while others may come from public consultation. All potential responses should be given meaningful consideration and not dismissed out of hand; valid reasons need to be given for not continuing further with any response option.

Responses can fit into three broad categories, which all need to be explored when looking at alternatives and options:

  • demand management – options that consider how to manage (usually reduce) demand, such as introducing congestion charging
  • supply – options that increase capacity, for example adding more train carriages, or another lane to a road
  • productivity – options that make the service more efficient, for example creating T2 lanes that can only be used by vehicles with two or more occupants, or allowing heavy vehicles to carry more freight.

The Transport Agency expects that an intervention hierarchy approach will be applied to all investment proposals, at both programme and project levels.

Read an information sheet about using an intervention hierarchy [PDF, 40 KB]

You can use the BCA strategic options toolkit to help you consider options.

Download the BCA strategic options toolkit [XLS, 199 KB] (click ‘Enable content’ to run macros)

Workshop two

This workshop should be a big brainstorm of possible alternatives and options – at this stage, all ideas should be considered, as in ‘there’s no such thing as a stupid question’. The project team should continue to develop the investment story, getting the right level and pitch, and opening it up for creative alternatives and options. The PBC phase is where innovative, outside-the-square ideas can be raised and explored.

  • Alternatives and options do not need to be limited to transport interventions – there may be other ways to address the problem.
  • It is useful to have a range of participants from your partners and stakeholders to get a range of alternatives and options – they don’t always need to have technical expertise to offer good ideas.
  • Workshops are a good way to test pet projects and older ideas that have been floating around for a while, although keep in mind the need to avoid leading people to a solution too early.
  • Keep in mind the three categories of responses – demand management, supply, and productivity.
  • Ensure you include a do-nothing option (what if nothing is done to address the identified problem?) or a do-minimum option among the more case-specific options.

After the workshop

  • You will need to go back to the evidence base to evaluate alternatives and options.
  • Longlist all the alternatives and options. They don’t all have to have originated from the workshop – be open to other sources, such as suggestions from the public through consultation and engagement.
  • Consider using a map or diagrams to explain the alternatives and options.
  • Come up with the criteria that options should be measured against. These must be based on the investment objectives.
  • Decide on the approach to be used for evaluating alternative programmes. Multi-criteria analysis (MCA) is a tool that can be used to compare options and support a trade-off conversation, but a less formal or structured approach may work just as well for less complex programmes.
  • Options should be evaluated for their ability to deliver against investment objectives, taking into account:
    • costs
    • risks (and uncertainty)
    • time to deliver
    • interdependencies
    • any other relevant factors.

These considerations should be evaluated at the same time as trade-off discussions. For example, an option that isn’t lowest cost, or doesn’t deliver against all objectives, may be chosen because it has a more acceptable risk level than a lower-cost option that meets objectives.

  • In MCA, each option will be tested and ranked against the others.
    • This is typically done in the PBC phase by the project team.
    • Think about getting the right expertise for the type of risk so informed judgements can be made.
  • From the results of evaluation, create a shortlist of alternatives and options to evaluate against investment objectives.

3. Identifying and developing the recommended programme

A stakeholder workshop will be an important component in shaping the decision making once you have a shortlist of alternatives and options for a recommended programme.

Key questions to consider

  • How do the alternatives and options address the problems identified in the strategic case (do they address the root causes)?
  • What synergies or conflicts are there between alternatives and options if packaged together?
  • Is the recommended programme going to alleviate the identified or perceived transport problems?
  • Is the recommended programme consistent with the strategic case and the investment objectives? Do investment objectives need to be revisited or redone?
  • What are the likely impacts of the recommended programme?
  • Is the recommended programme likely to be affordable, feasible and acceptable to the public?
  • Is there a clear rationale for the rejection of alternatives on completion of the PBC?
  • What are the measures to identify the success of the programme?

Workshop three

You may not require as many workshops, or have used a different approach, to arrive at a recommended programme, but you will still need to have gone through the same thinking to arrive at your recommendation.

  • Present shortlisted alternatives and options, and draft programmes.
  • Test programmes with stakeholders and gain feedback, support and direction.
  • Check if there is the right mix of alternatives and options in the programmes, and whether any have been missed that should be included.
  • Confirm a recommended programme, which should consist of a broad range of alternatives and options that may be packaged together, to be developed further through detailed business cases.
  • Include a do-minimum option (the most likely transport situation over the course of the appraisal period if no further intervention were to occur) among other more case-specific options.

Developing the recommended programme

The investor(s) and other stakeholders will need to understand why the proposed strategic response was selected out of those considered. This should include details of how the alternatives and options have been evaluated. As always, apply fit-for-purpose effort to the range of factors considered and the degree of analysis supporting the assessment of options, based on the complexity, risk and potential value of the proposed investment.

The PBC must include an assessment of the feasibility of the recommended programme to give the investor(s) confidence that it can be delivered.

  • Identify the indicative costs, timings, risks, dis-benefits and dependencies of the range of programme options.
  • Outline how the final recommended programme will be taken forwards.
  • Demonstrate how the defined investment objectives will be realised.
  • Provide an overview of the governance structure, risk management, communications and stakeholder management.
  • Develop a plan for how the programme will be funded.

Completing the programme business case document

An information guide is available as an option for you to use and adapt when writing your PBC document, to help you tell your investment story.

Download the programme business case document information guide [DOCX, 4.4 MB]

You should be working on the PBC document throughout the process, adding to it and refining it as your knowledge grows. This includes continually applying the business case assessment questions to ensure you have covered the key issues that will form the Transport Agency’s assessment of the business case. In addition, regular discussions with a Transport Agency investment advisor helps to ensure that the business case is robust, and there are ‘no surprises’ when it is assessed.

Find out more about the business case assessment questions

  • Make sure it tells your investment story clearly, in a way that can be understood by laypeople.
  • Using graphics, such as maps and diagrams, is an effective way of communicating what the data shows.
  • Include the complete data and technical information as appendices.
  • Consider creating an A3 page that tells your investment story graphically and succinctly. It could be used as an executive summary.

The PBC document should include:

  • all supporting evidence collected up to this point, such as investment logic mapping
  • supporting analysis and other work commissioned to provide evidence
  • documentation developed during workshops.

Assessing readiness for support

Moving to the next phase of business case development is never a foregone conclusion. Each phase must include an assessment of whether it is worth continuing to develop the proposed investment at this time, and by this organisation(s).

The business case developer and the problem owner make an initial assessment of the strength of the business case, guided by the business case assessment questions, and evaluate the investment proposal against the IAF. The results of this ‘self-assessment’ should be recorded in the PBC document.

Find out more about the business case assessment questions and the IAF

Problem owners should form an objective view on whether to recommend continuing development of the business case. If the decision is to proceed, the PBC must identify the scope of the next phase.

Send the PBC document to all participant stakeholders for comment before submitting it to the Transport Agency for assessment of the business case. If there are co-investors, you will need to seek their support, which will likely involve going through their internal approval processes. The decision-making needs of each co-investor must be clear in the project plan and governance section of the PBC document.

Read ‘What does a good programme business  case include?’ [DOCX, 67 KB]

When you decide that the PBC is ready for assessment by the Transport Agency, request support via Transport Investment Online (TIO). If you are seeking NLTP funding, you must submit a robust funding application in TIO, either accompanying the PBC or shortly after support is indicated. Both the scope and the application must demonstrate that the level of effort proposed is appropriate to the scale of the problem.

Access TIO(external link)

What happens next?

When the request for PBC support is received in TIO, the Transport Agency assesses the business case against the business case assessment questions and the criteria set out in the IAF to determine whether:

  • the business case is valid, and
  • the recommended programme is aligned with the IAF.

Read more about effective and aligned business cases

A recommendation is then made to the delegated decision maker to support the PBC or otherwise. If the Transport Agency investment advisor has been involved throughout development of the business case, there shouldn’t be any surprises that result from the decision.

Once the investor(s) has signalled support for the recommended programme, it becomes the ‘preferred’ programme. However, PBC support does not indicate blanket approval for the individual activities signalled in the preferred programme. Each activity proposed for inclusion in the NLTP must still be accompanied by an individual funding application. Because activities within a programme may be implemented over a prolonged period of time, individual funding applications must be made at the appropriate time. It is expected that at least one application for funding for the next phase will usually be made at the same time as PBC support is requested.

In addition to timing, decisions will need to be made regarding the nature of appropriate next steps for each activity in the programme. The Transport Agency’s expectation is that this will be done in a fit-for-purpose way meaning that, in practice, next steps can include:

  • Activities with low to medium cost, risk or complexity can be progressed as single-stage business cases (SSBCs).
  • Activities that are high cost, risk or complexity may need to have a separate indicative business case (IBC) and detailed business case (DBC) developed.
  • Some interventions may still involve multiple activities and/or investment partners, and may require a further phase of PBC development to fully understand the programme of detailed activities involved. This may be particularly relevant where an initial PBC has been carried out at a very strategic level, and does not contain enough detail to identify specific activities.
  • Where interventions are limited to cost-neutral changes to a previously approved continuous programme, (such as maintenance, operations, renewals or low cost, low risk) it will usually be appropriate to proceed directly to implementation. An update to the forecast benefits to be realised will be required, as appropriate to the programme.

You can also use the BCA Q&A tool to guide your critical thinking about the phase of the BCA you should progress to next.

Go to the BCA Q&A tool

If the decision is to not progress the PBC for now, or the assessment indicates that the problem doesn’t align with current priorities and therefore the proposal will not be funded, the decision is recorded in TIO. The PBC entry will remain in TIO, allowing problem owners to return to the PBC in the future, for example, if government priorities change and the problems now align with the IAF.

If the Transport Agency doesn’t support the case for change, the problem owner may choose to continue to explore the proposed investment with funding from other sources.

Make sure the PBC document is filed where it can be retrieved easily for future reference. 


Make sure you communicate with key stakeholders about the reason for the decision. Consider holding a report-back session for all stakeholders, especially if you planned for one in your engagement plan. 

Read more about engagement and relationship management

Funding the programme business case

The PBC phase is funded by the NZ Transport Agency.


Work developed during the programme business case phase may include:

  • an uncertainty log
  • constraints mapping
  • updated problems and benefits maps
  • completed programme business case document
  • funding application for the next business case phase.

Tools and templates


Note that this is for guidance only, and should be adapted as necessary.


 Learning modules

Online learning modules have been developed by the Transport Agency, and are available to our partner organisations. To request access to the modules, email with your name, title, organisation and manager’s name.

The ‘Understanding programme business cases and activity management plans’ course includes:

  • Programme business case overview
  • Developing a programme business case
  • Demonstrating value in an activity management plan.

Go to the programme business case learning modules(external link)

To open the course, click the link above and then click ‘enrol’. You will be prompted to enter your log in. Once you have logged in, you should be taken directly to the course. You can also find it by going to the catalogue and searching for ‘programme business case’.

Information sheets

These information sheets are designed to accompany the learning modules.

Other relevant information sheets:

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