What is the purpose of the programme business case?

The purpose of a programme business case (PBC) is to find the combination of activities that represent the best-value-for-money response to the case for change identified in the strategic case.

A robust PBC provides NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi (NZTA) and all stakeholders with assurance that:

  • an appropriately broad range of options are being considered at a system level
  • the proposed programme represents the best whole-of-life, value-for-money approach (allowing for any trade-offs across different outcomes and risk)
  • relevant legislative requirements to consider alternatives and options have been met
  • opportunities for innovation have been adequately explored.

The following diagram shows where the PBC phase typically fits in the framework of business case development pathways.

View larger image [JPG, 218 KB]

The five-case model and the programme business case phase

The NZTA BCA is based on New Zealand Treasury’s Better Business Cases (BBC) methodology, which is a five-case model.

The table below shows the focus of the five cases in a PBC phase

Strategic case
What is the compelling case for change?
Economic case
Does the preferred option optimise value for money?
Commercial case
Is the proposed deal commercially viable?
Financial case
Is the investment proposal affordable?
Management case
How can the proposal be delivered successfully?

Develop (or refine)


High-level only – completed in activity-level business case

High-level only – completed in activity-level business case

High-level only – completed in activity-level business case

From a five-case model perspective, the PBC focuses on developing the strategic case (the case for change) and the economic case (optioneering), with the aim of indicating a preferred option.

Strategic case

The PBC phase is used to develop an in-depth understanding of the problems, opportunities and strategic context that form the case for change, using evidence-based data, information collection and analysis.

For more guidance on developing the strategic case within the five-case model, please see our guidance.

Strategic case

In most cases, the PBC will be the first business case development phase following the point of entry (PoE) phase, so work on the strategic case will start here. During the PBC the strategic case will be developed to a reasonably complete state, which is sufficient to give direction to the development of a programme of activities.

In some cases initial work will have been done on the strategic case in a previous phase, for example:

  • where a PBC is used to develop an investment that is proposed in an activity management plan (AMP)
  • where a separate strategic case phase has been used to make an initial test of the case for change, before committing resources to a PBC.
    Strategic case phase

Where an initial strategic case already exists, the PBC must review the work done to date, identify any gaps, then address them so that the strategic case forms a good foundation on which the rest of the PBC can be developed.

It is important to complete the strategic case before attempting to start work on the economic case. This is because any changes to the strategic case are likely to mean that some or all of the work you have done on later cases will need to be revisited as well.

Economic case

A PBC identifies a range of alternatives and options as a response to the issues identified in the strategic case. The aim is to identify the preferred response at a strategic level, then to recommend a programme of activities. The PBC does not look at detailed solutions, but should consider a broad mix of activities that might be delivered over a period of time.

For more guidance on developing the economic case within the five-case model, see our guidance:

Economic case

It is important to realise that in most cases, each intervention, or activity that makes up the programme will need further development of the business case. This can include further work on all five of the above cases.  

Five-case model

When is a programme business case required?

A PBC is typically used for business cases that have a higher level of complexity, risk or uncertainty.

For investments where complexity, risk and uncertainty are low to medium, and where it is clear at the PoE that investment will be limited to a single activity, business case development can usually be progressed through a single-stage business case (SSBC) or indicative and detailed business cases (IBC + DBC).

However, there are circumstances where a 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, for example:

  • are highly complex or have a high level of public interest
  • include multiple interventions that will need to be coordinated to achieve the desired outcomes
  • could involve (or be addressed by) more than one mode of transport or activity type, for example if there is uncertainty regarding the optimum mix of modes to address the strategic case
  • may include a mix of transport and non-transport interventions
  • may use relatively untried approaches, such as new technology
  • would potentially benefit from a more innovative approach to finding the right response.

It is important to consider these points carefully at the PoE phase, before deciding whether or not the business case should be progressed using a PBC phase. You will need to discuss this with your NZTA investment advisor before making decisions on how to progress.

For further advice on assessing complexity, risk and uncertainty, and finding the appropriate investment development pathway for a business case, see our guidance.

Right-sizing your business case
Determining your pathway through the business case phases

You can also use the BCA Q&A tool to help you decide whether a PBC is the best phase to use to develop your business case.

Business Case Approach Q&A tool

Programme funding approach

It’s now possible to seek funding for programmes of similar interventions under limited circumstances. For more information see our guidance.

Programme funding approach

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 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. Some guidance to help you to develop your AMP in alignment with the BCA includes:

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 (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)
    WC 341: Low-cost, low-risk improvements (2021–24 NLTP)
  • genuinely stand-alone activities, that is, not part of a more widespread or systemic problem that would warrant a wider programme of activities and therefore 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 phase. 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.

Getting your programme business case right

Remember that the PBC needs to follow the key BCA principle of informed discussion. 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 in getting a good outcome from the PBC 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 PoE entry or, where one already exists, the strategic case, to ensure the discussion is well informed.

Strategic case

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 initial views about the nature of the problems and benefits; it is about using informed discussion to develop a detailed understanding, then objectively testing them against evidence to make sure they are well-founded before continuing further. If analysis of the evidence shows the initial problems or benefits to be incorrect, you will need to alter the strategic assessment accordingly (and keep stakeholders informed of the reasons for any changes).

Stakeholder engagement

It’s important to engage early with stakeholders and have a clear plan for stakeholder engagement. 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.

In the PBC phase, the focus for engagement is on:

  • understanding community aspirations and local context
  • setting direction and developing objectives for investment with partners and stakeholders
  • exploring options and seeking insights into proposed aspects of the programme and outcomes.

Find out more about engagement in the BCA in our detailed guidance.

Engagement and the Business Case Approach

Some key considerations

  • Developing the PBC will involve holding workshops. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 how you will treat risk and uncertainty throughout development of the PBC. If they don’t already exist, establish separate registers to record and track risks and uncertainties. For more information on how risk and uncertainty are managed across the five-case model, including links to templates for risk and uncertainty registers, see our detailed guidance.
    Risk and uncertainty in the five-case model
  • 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.
  • 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 from an output (action or intervention).
  • Business case developers need to consider technical requirements that may be relevant for an infrastructure project throughout the PBC phase. Information about technical requirements for NZTA projects is available on our references and standards page.
    References and standards for NZTA business cases

Developing your programme business case

The simplest and clearest way to approach development of the PBC is to approach it as three stages, as outlined below. Note that this is a suggested methodology, not a strict requirement; users will need to adopt an approach that works for their specific context. As always, use the BCA principle of fit-for-purpose effort to help right-size the work needed.

  1. Establishing the case for change

The first priority is to develop the strategic case that will guide the programme.
Strategic case

The critical actions include:

  • completing the strategic assessment – a clear understanding of the problems that the programme must address, and the benefits it must achieve
  • establishing the strategic context, including:
    • strategic alignment – a statement of how well the programme aligns to strategic goals and priorities, including Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS) priority outcomes, and
    • the environment within which the programme will be developed and implemented - this should include factors such as known or anticipated land use changes, demographic trends, inter-related investments and so on, where these are directly relevant to the programme
  • developing the investment objectives.

Government Policy Statement on Land Transport(external link)

In most cases, the PBC phase will directly follow a PoE phase. Development of the strategic case will be more-or-less starting from scratch, although any assumptions or pre-existing work from the PoE phase must be carefully checked.

Point of entry phase

Occasionally the PBC may be directly preceded by a standalone phase of strategic case development, meaning that an initial strategic case will already exist. When this happens, the initial strategic case must still be tested and any gaps addressed, to make sure it forms a reliable foundation for the rest of the business case. The amount of work needed will depend on several factors, including:

  • the quality of the evidence used in the initial strategic case, and the number of gaps in the evidence base that need to be addressed
  • the number of assumptions that need to be tested
  • the time that has elapsed since the initial strategic case was developed
  • whether any significant changes have happened that would affect the strategic context or strategic alignment.

In either case, the strategic case must be substantially completed before attempting to start on developing the economic case. Once later stages of PBC development begin, any significant changes to the strategic case will result in re-work.  

Problem and benefit definition

Clearly defined problems and benefits are the cornerstones for the rest of the business case, so it is important to put appropriate effort into their development. This is a key action for developing the first section of the PBC document, and must follow the key principle of informed discussion.

Typically, one or more facilitated workshops are used in this step, although the actual number and format will depend on what work has preceded the PBC phase. Either:

  • the PBC directly follows from a PoE phase, in which case very little formal work may have been done to define the problems and benefits, or
  • the PBC may follow development of a strategic case as part of a separate, stand-alone phase, in which case you should revisit the problems and benefits and, if necessary, refine:
    • the evidence base, addressing any gaps from the preceding phase
    • the problem statements, including their root causes and end consequences, and
    • benefit statements, including percentage weightings and measures.

For detailed guidance, see our page on defining problems and benefits.

Defining problems and benefits

NZTA strongly recommends the use of investment logic mapping (ILM) to define and communicate the problems and benefits that underpin an investment. For detailed guidance, see our page on ILM:

Investment logic mapping

Investment objectives

Once the problems and benefits are clearly captured and tested against evidence, the next key step is to develop investment objectives, which play a key role in helping choose between programme alternatives and options. They will be used together with other criteria to determine trade-offs and a recommended programme.

For more information on developing investment objectives and their role in optioneering, read our guidance on developing investment objectives:

Developing investment objectives

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 counterintuitive. Avoid drawing preconceived solutions to peoples’ attention, as once a potential solution is ‘on the table’ it will be harder for people to imagine alternatives.

Information sheet about encouraging 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 a formal 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 should address:

  • demand management: options for preventing a problem, such as reducing the load on transport infrastructure by promoting telecommuting 
  • productivity: options for improving the situation to 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
  • supply: options for fixing a problem, for example increasing capacity by adding more train carriages, or another lane to a road.

You should apply an intervention hierarchy approach to the optioneering of all investment proposals, at both programme and activity levels.

Intervention hierarchy

For more information about optioneering, see our guidance on the economic case page.

Optioneering in the economic case

Alternatives and options workshop

This workshop should be a big brainstorm of possible alternatives and options – to start with, all ideas should be considered, without critical analysis or judgement, otherwise there’s a risk that innovation will be discouraged. 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-box ideas can be raised and explored. This can work in a number of ways to suit the attendees and project, but is a great way to bounce off each other, spark ideas and challenge thinking.

  • Alternatives and options do not need to be limited to transport interventions – there may be other ways to address the problem, as well as a variety of funding sources and implementation.
  • It is useful to have a range of participants from your partners and stakeholders to get a range of ideas – they don’t always need to have technical expertise to offer good ideas.
  • Avoid focusing on pet projects and older ideas that have been floating around for a while, as you are trying to encourage other ways of thinking about how to respond. Capture these things, by all means, but don’t allow them to dominate thinking from the outset.
  • Explore the three categories of responses outlined above – demand management, productivity and supply – as well as the intervention hierarchy approach: integrated planning, demand management, best use of the existing network and then new infrastructure.
  • Encourage people to think of a range of responses in terms of cost – from low-cost to high-cost interventions.
  • 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.
    Do-minimum option

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.
  • Agree specific criteria to assess and narrow down the longlist of alternatives and options and, later, to evaluate a range of possible programmes. These must be based on the investment objectives.
    Developing investment objectives
  • Do a high-level assessment of programme-level alternatives and options.
  • Start thinking about groups of alternatives and options that could form programmes to address your problems and deliver benefits, and the likely trade-offs of alternatives and options within those programmes.
  • You can use multi-criteria analysis (MCA) to compare alternatives and options and support a trade-off conversation, but a less formal or structured approach may work just as well for less complex programmes. This will help to narrow your programmes to a shortlist for more detailed comparison. If you have a large number of options and alternatives to consider, you could use the early assessment sifting tool (EAST) to help narrow them down.
    Multi-criteria analysis
    Early assessment sifting tool
  • Evaluate options for their ability to deliver against investment objectives, taking into account estimates of:
    • costs
    • risks
    • uncertainties
    • time to deliver
    • interdependencies
    • any other relevant factors.

Evaluate these factors 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. These conversations recognise that the investment is seeking multiple outcomes and that it may not be possible to achieve them all at the same time.

  • 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 in more depth against investment objectives and other criteria.
  • Prepare an appraisal summary table (AST), including an indicative benefit–cost ratio (BCR) for each shortlisted option.
    Appraisal summary table 

3. Identifying and developing the recommended programme

Once you have a shortlist of possible programmes to investigate in more detail, a stakeholder workshop will be an important component in shaping the decision making and deciding on the recommended programme.

Key questions to consider

  • How do the alternatives and options in each programme 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 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?
  • Are there any unacceptable risks or uncertainties associated with any alternatives or options? Can they be managed to an acceptable level?
  • Is the recommended programme likely to be affordable, feasible and acceptable to the public?
  • Is there a clear rationale for the rejection of alternatives/options on completion of the PBC?
  • What are the measures to identify the success of the recommended programme?

Recommended programme workshop

You may not require as many workshops, or you may 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 the shortlisted programmes.
  • Test programmes with stakeholders and gain feedback, support and direction.
  • Check if there is the right mix of alternatives and options in the programme, 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, uncertainty 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, uncertainties, 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.

Programme business case document information guide [DOCX, 4.4 MB]

The PBC document should:

  • tell your investment story clearly, in a way that can be understood by laypeople
  • use graphics, maps and diagrams as an effective way of communicating what the data shows
  • include all supporting evidence collected up to this point – include the complete data and technical information as appendices  
  • include supporting analysis and other work commissioned to provide evidence
  • include documentation developed during workshops, for example an investment logic map.

Consider creating an A3 summary page that tells your investment story graphically and succinctly.

How do I know if my programme business case phase is complete?

This will depend on which phase you are working on, how complex the investment is and how much risk or uncertainty is involved.

However, there are a few things that can help you, including:

  • Talk to your NZTA investment advisor. It’s important to work with your investment advisor throughout the economic case. They will be able to help you get the level of detail right, and avoid missing any important steps.
  • Check against the 16 questions, which have been developed to help business case practitioners understand when they have done enough. Questions 9–12 are directly relevant to the PBC, and are designed to test whether:
    • enough work has been done to identify the preferred response from a range of alternatives and options, and
    • the reasons for choosing the preferred response are clear.
  • Understand the residual risks, and challenge your confidence in delivering the recommended option within the cost range.

How to self-assess your business case

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).

As well as checking against the 16 questions, the business case developer and the problem owner should evaluate the investment proposal against the Investment Prioritisation Method (IPM). The results of this self-assessment should be recorded in the PBC document.

Investment Prioritisation Method

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 NZTA 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.

When you decide that the PBC is ready for assessment by NZTA, request support via Transport Investment Online (TIO). If you are seeking either:

  • inclusion of the programme and/ or its activities, or
  • funding of a subsequent phase or phases

through the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP), you must submit an accompanying application in TIO. Both the scope and the application must demonstrate that the level of effort proposed is appropriate to the scale of the problem. Also remember to keep your NZTA investment advisor in the loop when you are ready to seek a formal decision.

Transport Investment Online(external link)

What happens next?

When the request for PBC support is received in TIO (or via your investment advisor for NZTA projects), NZTA assesses the business case and applies the Investment Prioritisation Method (IPM) to determine whether:

A recommendation is then made to the delegated decision maker on whether to support the PBC or not. If your NZTA 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, the management case will need to include appropriate next steps for each activity in the programme. This should be done in a fit-for-purpose way meaning that, in practice, next steps can include:

  • Activities with low to medium complexity, risk, uncertainty or cost can be progressed as a single-stage business case (SSBCs) or SSBC-lite.
    Single-stage business case phase
  • Activities that have high complexity, risk, uncertainty or cost may need to have a separate indicative business case (IBC) and detailed business case (DBC) developed.
    Indicative business case phase
    Detailed business case phase
  • 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.
  • Some or all of the interventions in the programme may be placed ‘on hold’. This could be where a critical threshold value, such as one or more level of service criteria, needs to be reached before intervention becomes economical. Where an intervention is to be placed on hold, this needs to be clearly signalled in the programme management case, together with the criteria for re-activating the intervention.

You can use our guidance on determining the pathway through BCA phases and the BCA Q&A tool to guide your critical thinking about the phase of the BCA you should progress to next.

Determining your pathway through the business case phases
Business Case Approach 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 then align with the IPM.

If NZTA 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. 

Resources and further information



Additional references and standards for NZTA projects

Information sheets

Need support?

Contact your NZTA investment advisor or email the Business Case Process team at businesscaseprocess@nzta.govt.nz