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This page contains the answers to a number of frequently asked questions about the Business Case Approach (BCA). If your question is not answered, try the:

If you still need help, get in touch with your Transport Agency investment advisor, or email us at nltp@nzta.govt.nz.

General

  • The BCA makes sense for major investments, but isn’t it too complex for low-value projects?

    Because the BCA is principles-based, it is entirely possible to scale the level of effort so that it is easier to develop business cases for smaller, less complex investments. The principles apply regardless of scale, although there will be big differences in the amount of detail provided and the work that needs to be done, depending on the level of risk and complexity.

    The important question to ask (and keep asking) is, ‘What is the fit-for-purpose way to apply the BCA principles to this investment proposal?’

    For example, a low-complexity, low-risk proposal can often be developed in a single-stage business case (SSBC), requiring only two National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) investment decisions: one at the end of strategic case, and one before implementation. In contrast, a major programme of investments for a large, complex urban area may require an extensive programme business case (PBC) and involve many individual business cases at an activity level to implement over several years.

    Regardless of size or complexity, there are key things that every investment must be supported by, based on the principles. These are:

    What changes from case to case are the level of effort put into understanding each of these key elements, and the level of detail that accompanies them.

    Note: While the BCA is more flexible than most people realise, it’s important to reach agreement up front with your local Transport Agency contact on the approach to be taken. This is a key part of the thinking needed in the point of entry phase.

    For more information:

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  • Because of the focus on problems, isn’t the BCA just centred on the here and now? How do we deal with issues that we’re predicting in future?

    There’s nothing in the BCA that prevents you from planning now to address or avoid an anticipated problem in the future – in fact there have been recent examples in Auckland, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty. In these areas, the BCA has been successfully used to focus on the problems that are anticipated to arise in future from strong growth pressures, and to plan ways to address them over time. In fact, the BCA is a very powerful tool for helping us deal with future problems as it focuses on the benefits that we want to deliver over time, especially where those support long-term strategic goals or objectives.

    Exploring problems can also help to highlight opportunities; they can often be thought of as two sides of the same coin. Describing opportunities can show what an investment could deliver, while articulating problems as the gaps between ‘where we are’ and ‘where we want to be’ helps to explain why investment is needed. For example, there may be an opportunity to support a regional development initiative, but only if certain infrastructure is improved or upgraded. In such cases, decision makers will still want confidence that the need for investment is justified.

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Investment logic mapping (ILM)

  • Do I have to do an investment logic map (ILM) for each business case?

    Based on the key principles and behaviours, an underlying requirement is that business cases are founded on a clear understanding of a problem, including its causes and its consequences. They must also be able to deliver measureable benefits that align with strategic goals or objectives.

    For many business cases, the best way to gain a good understanding of both problems and the benefits of addressing them is to develop an ILM. The thinking process used in an ILM is a really effective tool to help practitioners meet the key BCA principles and communicate the investment proposal clearly on a single page. While the evidence and analysis supporting the problems will need to be developed further in subsequent phases, building an ILM is a very effective way of deciding whether the investment proposal is strong enough to continue with.

    Although it is highly recommended to use an ILM in most cases, there are other approaches that may suit very simple problems and require less time and resource. For example, bringing a team together to apply the ‘5 whys’ technique might be a fit-for-purpose way of considering the problems and benefits relating to a simple asset renewal or replacement. The important thing is to make sure the problems and benefits are understood clearly enough to allow good decision making. You must also be able to communicate these aspects of a business case clearly. 

    For more information:

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BCA phases

  • Do I have to do a point of entry form for every phase of a business case?

    Documenting a point of entry (PoE) is not a compliance step from a BCA perspective; the Transport Agency does not use PoE documents to make decisions on whether to fund subsequent phases of a business case, as these need to be supported by a fit-for-purpose strategic case.

    However, carrying out a PoE step should be done before further work on any business case is started; this is just good practice, and helps avoid getting off on the wrong foot. The PoE is a quick, cost-effective step to explore the appropriate starting point in the BCA process, and look into whether there is any related or existing work that might influence the scope of what you are doing. It also allows early conversations with colleagues, including appropriate Transport Agency staff, to help get the initial scoping for the next phase right. Experience shows that when these things are not considered right at the start, the business case often goes ‘off track’ very quickly and leads to further delays while a reset takes place.

    The results of the PoE step should be documented simply, in a memo or file note. A suggested memo format is included in the PoE guidance, but it is not mandatory for National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) purposes.1 The key is documenting the outcome of the PoE clearly, and saving the document where it can be located easily.

    It is also good practice to revisit the PoE at the end of each phase of a business case; again, this is not a compliance requirement imposed by the Transport Agency, and should not be a major exercise. It is simply good practice to check ‘where we are’ against ‘where we thought we’d be’, and decide whether any changes are needed in how the business case will continue to be developed. It is also a good opportunity to check in with others, including stakeholders and Transport Agency staff, to make sure everyone is still on the same page.

    Read more about the point of entry in the BCA guidance


    1 Note that an organisation may still require formal documentation of a point of entry for internal, business management purposes. For example, Transport Agency staff are required to complete an internal form to support requests to commence business cases that are included in the Transport Agency’s own business plan. Business case owners working for approved organisations will need to establish whether there are similar requirements for their own organisation.

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  • I’ve seen diagrams that show another strategic case at the start of an indicative business case (IBC) – is this always needed? If so, why?

    The main requirement before starting any business case phase is to make sure there is a good understanding of the information needed to carry out that phase.

    Before starting any IBC or single-stage business case (SSBC), it is important to revisit the strategic case to ensure that it is still fit for purpose. This includes making sure that the problems and benefits are understood in enough detail to:

    • scope the work properly, and
    • allow a decision maker to understand what the investment is about.

    This need arises because the early phases of a business case, such as a programme business case (PBC), typically consider problems at a strategic level. They do not usually include enough detail to understand a specific intervention, such as improving a single intersection within a programme of corridor improvements.

    If the SSBC or IBC immediately follows the initial strategic case phase, all that will normally be required is a brief check of the existing work to make sure there is enough detailed understanding of the problems and benefits, and that the strategic context is still valid. This can often be done simply by updating the original strategic case document to support a request for National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) investment.

    If, however, the SSBC or IBC is being carried out to develop an intervention as part of a PBC, a further strategic case phase may be needed before seeking NLTP investment. This is because:

    • problems and benefits in the PBC phase are usually stated at a relatively high level, in strategic terms; they typically do not capture a detailed enough understanding of the problems and benefits specific to a single intervention from the programme
    • programmes will typically be implemented over longer periods of time, often several years. The likelihood that the strategic context and investment priorities have changed in that time is quite high, and steps need to be taken to ensure the investment is still well-aligned with strategic goals
    • later on in a programme it is possible that most of the desired benefits have already been delivered. The intervention needs to be tested to make sure it is still actually needed and continues to represent good value for money.

    In these circumstances, it is usually necessary to build on the original strategic case by revisiting the strategic assessment and strategic context at an appropriate level, before seeking funding for the next phase.

    For more information:

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  • How many options am I supposed to have at the end of an indicative business case (IBC) phase, or at the shortlist evaluation step of a single-stage business case (SSBC)?

    The purpose of shortlisting in the IBC, or the early stage of the SSBC, is to narrow down options on which detailed analysis and evaluation will be carried out, avoiding the need for such analysis of each and every option in a longlist.

    As with many such questions, there is no hard-and-fast rule specifying how many options to take forward at the end of an IBC. However, there must be at least:

    Often the best way forward won’t be clear even when the shortlisted options have been evaluated, in which case more than one shortlisted option should be taken forward for more detailed analysis.

    It is also good practice to check in with decision makers at the end of shortlisting, since they may require that a particular option is developed further alongside the preferred option and do-minimum. For example, one of the options may deliver against wider organisational goals and objectives and an informed decision is needed as to whether this should be chosen ahead of the preferred option.

    Example 1:
    After alternative and option development, a simple intersection improvement might be found to only have limited options (for example, a do-minimum option comprising changes to markings/signage and sight lines; install a roundabout; install traffic signals; partial or full grade separation).

    In situations like this, it may be possible to quickly develop a longlist, then workshop this with stakeholders to qualitatively evaluate options against investment objectives and identify a single preferred option at the IBC stage, without doing a lot of detailed analysis of each option.

    Example 2:
    Addressing traffic and pedestrian conflicts in a rural town might require more detail (including public consultation, consenting risk, geotech risk, etc) on a number of alternatives and options before a preferred option can be confirmed. For example, it may be hard to distinguish between options that improve the existing street environment against those that bypass the town, based purely on transport considerations.  

    In that case, the extra work to understand these details will almost certainly be beyond the scope of the IBC, as significant further work is likely to be required. Depending on circumstances, it may be possible to carry out the additional work through a cost-scope adjustment to the IBC, or it may be included in the first stages of the DBC (effectively taking two or three options forward for more detailed analysis).

    For practical purposes, the important requirement is to make sure everyone is clear on why a particular approach is being adopted, and that there is a clear focus on understanding risks and using that to inform decisions.

    Note: In both the examples above, a do-minimum option must still be taken through to the DBC, along with any preferred option(s), so that a comparison can be made.

    For more information:

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Applying BCA principles to regional land transport plan (RLTP) development

Measuring benefits

  • How can we include liveability as an investment benefit?

    Measuring ‘liveability’ can quickly become problematic since it is such a diverse outcome area and can mean different things to different people. However, many of these issues can be avoided by having a strong focus on what’s most important – from the perspective of the investment under consideration.

    It also helps to keep in mind that the main reason we identify and measure benefits is to track the effectiveness of our investments in realising the specific outcomes we set out to achieve. In the context of liveability, this means it might be highly relevant to track benefits relating to transport affordability, ease and safety of access to services and amenities, or levels of mode choice, where these are related to the problems we’ve identified. Other outcomes, such as physical appeal or lifestyle opportunities, may be less directly relevant to the identified problems, but form key interdependencies where they are important outcomes in a related strategy or plan. Strategic context will be important in determining how much influence these related outcomes have in selecting the preferred option.

    Example: A problem and consequence is identified as: ‘Inability to respond in a timely way to pace and scale of greenfield development will restrict access to jobs, education and other core services in and around growth areas.’

    In this example, the consequence we are concerned about relates to access – people’s ability to get where they need to be. So even though the benefit says ‘liveability’, we don’t need to measure all aspects of liveability, only those that relate to access. Again, this isn’t saying other aspects of liveability don’t matter, it is acknowledging that they are not the primary driver behind this business case. Where other outcomes are identified as important by separate strategies or plans, they need to be allowed for in the strategic context and decisions made as to how much influence they will have over selection of preferred options.

    Also remember some of the following principles when identifying benefits and measures:

    • Measures need to be focused – often less is more. Be selective and only measure what helps us understand whether our investments are having the desired effect. This means being really clear on what’s most important, and why. If one benefit has 5% weighting, and another has 65% weighting, we would expect far more attention on tracking the latter.
    • Any measure used to track the effectiveness of an investment needs to be ‘attributable’, that is, we can say hand on heart that our investment has had a direct influence on the measure.
    • Measures need to be directly linked to the benefits and the problems identified in the strategic case. It’s important to ask, ‘What is the problem about?’, not just use the benefit.

    For more information:

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  • How do I include targets in the benefits map?

    A benefits map must include the benefits, key performance indicators (KPIs) and measures that relate to the investment proposal. In defining measures, it’s important to include both baselines (the current state – where we are now) and targets (the desired future state – where we want to be).

    Setting targets can be challenging, and may even cause a rethink of the appropriate measures to use to track benefits. In general, it is not necessary to have detailed targets (or baselines) at the end of a strategic case, but these will be needed before SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic/Relevant, and Time-bound) investment objectives can be identified. 

    Setting firm targets too early can be counter-productive, as it may set expectations about what the investment can deliver that later turn out to be unachievable or unaffordable. An iterative approach can be used to help avoid this risk, for example by setting an initially qualitative target then making this more quantitative as alternatives and options are identified and evaluated. For example, a safety target for a measure of deaths and serious injuries (DSIs) for a corridor may be initially stated as ‘below existing levels’; it may later be revised to ‘Two or fewer DSIs in five years’, once it has been established there are some realistic options that can reach this level.  

    For more information:

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