The Business Case Approach (BCA) provides a flexible method of developing your business case using fit-for-purpose effort. One way it does this is by breaking the work that needs to be done for a robust business case into phases, which means the case can be built up progressively, and decisions about whether to proceed can be made at regular checkpoints.

This page introduces the business case phases and describes the various ways business case development can progress through them.

What are the business case phases?

Each of the business case phases:

  • are discrete pieces of work to develop some or all of the five cases to a point where the project team can make a recommendation on how to proceed
  • end with a formal decision point on that recommendation.

Funding and scope for the entire phase of work is usually approved at the preceding decision point

Phases are used in the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) (and therefore Transport Investment Online (TIO)) to describe the overall progress of the activity through to completion.

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The business case phases, as shown in the coloured boxes, are:

Point of entry phase (PoE): involves discussions to reach agreement on whether a potential investment is aligned to strategic priorities and how it should progress through the BCA.

Point of entry phase

Programme business case phase (PBC): to find the combination of activities that represent the best value for money response to the case for change identified in the strategic case. PBCs typically have a five- to 30-year horizon and take six to 12 months to develop.

Programme business case phase

Indicative business case phase (IBC): to identify a preferred option to address the case for change for an individual activity. IBCs are typically initiated when an investment will be delivered within a 10-year horizon and take six to 12 months to develop.

Indicative business case phase

Detailed business case phase (DBC): to build a complete understanding of acceptable risks, uncertainties and the benefits associated with the investment, so that a final decision can be made on whether to implement it. DBCs are typically initiated when an investment will be delivered within a five-year horizon.

Detailed business case phase

Single-stage business case phase (SSBC): merges the option identification of the IBC and the detailed analysis of the DBC into one. SSBCs are typically initiated when an investment will be delivered within a five-year horizon. The SSBC lite is a pared-back version of the SSBC for non-complex activities where the whole-of-life cost is less than $15 million.
Single-stage business case phase

Pre-implementation and implementation phases: while the business case is completed and endorsed by these phases, in practice you will need to ensure that any changes and new information is captured in the business case.

Pre-implementation phases are typically initiated when an investment will be delivered within a two-year horizon and may last up to two-years. Implementation phases are when the investment is actively delivered.
Pre-implementation and implementation phases in the business case


In rare cases you may consider undertaking a standalone strategic case phase, to clarify the case for change, before committing significant resources to develop the business case further.

Strategic case phase

Projects may also go ‘on hold’. Conceptually, this can be thought of as a ‘hold phase’. Projects can go ‘on hold’ for a number of reasons, both planned and unplanned, for example:

  • It may not yet be the right time to proceed. For example, a PBC might identify a bridge in a corridor that will be upgraded at the end of its useful life, which may be 20 years from now, or when a certain annual average daily traffic (AADT) threshold is reached.
  • It might not be the right time to invest. For example, the benefits of the preferred option might not align sufficiently with the current Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS) to be a priority for funding through the NLTP.

Where a project is to be placed ‘on hold’, this needs to be clearly signalled in the management case, together with the criteria for re-activating the project.

Business cases generally develop from top left to the bottom right of the diagram above, however:

  • it isn’t always strictly left to right because business case development is iterative and sometimes new information will have you going back to earlier steps in order to move forward
  • it isn’t strictly top to bottom as often not all phases will be completed – for example, your business case may not need a PBC phase, or might use an SSBC phase rather than the IBC and DBC phases.

The scope of each phase of a specific project is not set in stone, but is informed by the risks and uncertainties of the project. See Right-sizing your business case for further explanation.

Right-sizing your business case

Choosing your pathway

A pathway is the sequence of phases you plan to follow to develop your business case and make the investment.

The path a business case takes through the business case phases depends on a project's specific needs. This animation demonstrates some of the most common pathways you might take.

Your NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi (NZTA) investment advisor will help you decide on which pathway is appropriate to recommend for the problem or opportunity you are exploring. This always begins with the PoE phase. In fact, recommending the pathway is one of the outputs of the PoE phase.

Point of entry phase

Applying the BCA to activities is decided on a case-by-case basis and knowing the individual context and other key aspects of the project is essential. Also, understanding the previous work undertaken in relation to the problem and opportunity is key in determining how to apply the BCA to your investment proposal.

The information gap analysis that you’ll undertake as part of the PoE is a key step in determining the business case pathway, including the approach to be used to fully understand the problem/opportunity and build any case for investment. Some questions to guide this include:

  • What do we currently know about the problem/opportunity?
  • What work has already been undertaken in relation to this activity?
  • Is your evidence base still relevant or is some of the evidence outdated and has not been updated recently?
  • What key decisions or commitments have already been made that impact on this investment?
  • What previous relevant NZTA endorsements have been made?
  • When will it be appropriate to seek decisions from decision makers?

You can use the BCA Q&A tool to guide your critical thinking about the development path for a business case.

Business Case Approach Q&A tool 

Should you complete a programme business case phase?

A PBC will identify a recommended programme of projects that addresses the problem statements and outcomes. Each of those projects will potentially take a different path forward.

Because all projects will have multiple components, it can sometimes be difficult to know whether it is a programme rather than an activity, and therefore needs a PBC level of analysis and development to more fully understand the problems, opportunities and constraints identified in the strategic case. If the problem your business case is addressing has one or more of the following factors, it may indicate that a PBC is appropriate:

  • multi-modal problems
  • multi-outcome problems
  • a system-wide view is required (as opposed to a single mode- or organisation-specific view)
  • a five- to 30-year time horizon
  • multiple projects with interlocking benefits that are not easily separable.

Otherwise it may be appropriate to proceed directly to an IBC or even SSBC phase.

Single-stage business case or indicative business case and detailed business case?

The SSBC phase combines the key actions of both the IBC and DBC into one phase. The key distinction between an SSBC pathway and an IBC and DBC pathway is the formal decision point between the IBC and DBC phases.

An SSBC also has an internal hold point as it progresses out of optioneering and into refining the preferred option, but this decision is made by the project sponsor or the governing body of the related programme, rather than by NZTA.

An SSBC pathway does not lead to less effort being required to develop the business case, rather it is the project’s risks and complexities that drive the effort. If the risks and complexities are not high, and in particular there is less risk in the development and selection of the recommended option, then an SSBC pathway may be appropriate.

Can you go straight from point of entry to detailed business case?

In general, no. It is possible that there could be enough existing work of sufficient quality around the problems, investment objectives and option selection that the next phase should be a DBC but this is rare. This typically occurs when a PBC or activity management plan has gone into sufficient depth on the activity in question. Another example where progressing directly to a DBC may be appropriate is where an activity had previously progressed through to a DBC phase but work had stopped for a period of time.

Can you go straight from point of entry to pre-implementation or implementation phases?

In general, no. If there is enough existing work of sufficient quality around the problems, investment objectives and option selection, and that option had been refined and de-risked to an appropriate level, it may be appropriate for the next phase to be pre-implementation or implementation. However, this is rare, and typically occurs when a PBC or activity management plan has gone into sufficient depth on the activity in question.

Decision points along the pathway

Different development pathways will have different decision points.

The PoE phase is usually the first decision point. At this phase the problem owner is looking for endorsement of approach captured in the record of the PoE, which describes:

  • the problem/opportunity
  • likely outcomes of addressing it
  • the business case pathway the project team and investment advisor have agreed on – for example, to complete a single stage business case
  • the scope of work required to the next investment gate in relation to the risks and complexities of the project, and
  • how the project is aligned to strategic priorities.

As you build the case for investment across the business case pathway there are key decision points along the way. When a business case endorsement is sought, stakeholders and NZTA need to have assurance that:

  • an appropriately broad range of options are being considered at a system level
  • the proposed programme/recommended option 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
  • the proposal aligns with the GPS and, for NLTP activities, fulfils requirements set out in the NZTA Planning and Investment Knowledge Base.
    Government Policy Statement on Land Transport(external link)
    Planning and Investment Knowledge Base

For more information on how to check if your business case is ready, see our guidance self-assessing your business case.

How to self-assess your business case

For more on what NZTA looks for at the completion of each phase, see the phase-specific guidance:

Point of entry phase
Programme business case phase
Indicative business case phase
Detailed business case phase
Single-stage business case phase

Resources and further information


Business Case Approach Community of Practice

  • The BCA Community of Practice promotes BCA best practice through mentoring, coaching, knowledge sharing and skills development. Contact for more information.

Learning modules

Need support?

It is important to talk to us throughout the development of your business case. Contact your NZTA investment advisor or email the Business Case Process team at