Cost-Benefit Analysis In A Nutshell

A cost-benefit analysis is a process a business can use to analyze decisions according to the costs associated with making that decision. For a cost analysis to be effective it’s important to articulate the project in the simplest terms possible, identify the costs, determine the benefits of project implementation, assess the alternatives.

Understanding a cost-benefit analysis

Before undertaking any new project, a business must conduct a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) to determine whether the project is financially viable. In other words, does the forecast revenue exceed the forecast costs?

A cost-benefit analysis is also important in guiding the decisions that are made within a project. This gives project managers a systematic approach to determining the worthiness of various transactions, tasks, investments, and other business requirements.

Ultimately, the cost-benefit analysis gives project managers objective guidance on the approach that will best minimize costs. It also prevents businesses from falling in love with ideas that sound good on paper but which do not generate any return on investment.

Performing a cost-benefit analysis

There is no universal approach to performing a cost-benefit analysis, but certain steps will apply to most businesses and industries:

1 – Articulate the project in the simplest terms possible

First, the project must be clearly articulated and defined in simple terms. This step is important because clarity in defining the problem leads to less clarification work later on.

For example, a farm machinery company looking to add new models to its fleet should assess each model based on whether or not consumers would buy it. It should not, on the other hand, look to increase its fleet based on unpredictable future climate cycles or commodity prices.

2 – Identify the costs

When identifying the costs, it’s crucial that businesses think laterally and include:

  • Direct costs – manufacturing, inventory, and raw materials.
  • Indirect costs – rent, electricity, and other utilities.
  • Intangible costs – or impacts a decision will have on relevant stakeholders.
  • Opportunity costs – for example, the costs associated with hiring new staff members versus outsourcing the work temporarily.
  • Risk costs – or the costs associated with risks related to environment, compliance, or competition.

3 – Determine the benefits of project implementation 

Are real or perceived benefits worthy of investment? That is, do the benefits align with broader company goals or objectives?

Benefits might encompass:

  • Revenue and sales.
  • Enhanced employee safety or morale.
  • Customer satisfaction through faster delivery or valuable product offerings.
  • Competitive advantage and attainment of market share.

4 – Assess the alternatives

Does there exist a more economical way of achieving the aforementioned benefits? This process is called the opportunity cost, defined as the benefits that are realized when choosing one alternative over another.

Regardless of whether an alternative course of action exists, compare the total costs against the total benefits to make the most informed decision. Businesses can do this by considering the payback period, or the period required for the business to recoup costs and break even.

Cost-benefit analysis best practices

  • The CBA is best suited to projects involving policy development, capital expenditure, asset usage, and protocol establishment. Each will require a robust economic analysis that may require the external consultation of an experienced evaluator.
  • The most effective cost-benefit analyses consider a broad and holistic view of costs and benefits over the short and long term. By ensuring that the analysis is comprehensive, there is more chance that every affected stakeholder will be included.
  • Much of the risk involved with this analysis lies in subjectivity. Stakeholders or other interested parties can sometimes exaggerate benefits while understating costs. There can also be a reliance on historical data to predict future trends. In this situation, businesses must perform a rigorous initial analysis to counteract any pre-existing biases 

Case studies

  • Solar Energy Installation:
    • Problem Articulation: Should a company invest in solar panels for its new headquarters to reduce energy costs and carbon footprint?
    • Costs: Upfront cost of solar panels and installation, maintenance fees, potential infrastructure upgrades.
    • Benefits: Reduction in monthly electricity bills, potential government incentives for renewable energy, enhanced company image for using sustainable energy.
    • Alternatives: Using energy-saving appliances without solar installation, leasing solar panels, or buying green energy credits.
    • Decision: If the monthly savings and incentives can offset the upfront costs within a reasonable timeframe, the company might proceed with the solar installation.
  • E-commerce Website Revamp:
    • Problem Articulation: Will redesigning the company website lead to increased sales?
    • Costs: Hiring a web developer, downtime during redesign, potential loss of familiar users.
    • Benefits: Enhanced user experience, potentially higher web traffic, increased sales and conversion rates.
    • Alternatives: Minor tweaks without a full redesign, using a template instead of a custom design, or enhancing only the mobile version.
    • Decision: If the projected increase in sales and traffic offsets the redesign costs within a year, the company might opt for the revamp.
  • Hiring Additional Staff:
    • Problem Articulation: Should the company hire more staff to handle increased demand during the holiday season?
    • Costs: Salaries, training, potential overstaffing post-holiday season.
    • Benefits: Increased capacity to handle demand, improved customer service, potentially higher sales.
    • Alternatives: Outsourcing, automating certain tasks, or offering overtime to current employees.
    • Decision: If the potential sales increase and improved customer satisfaction outweigh the hiring and training costs, the company might decide to hire temporary staff.
  • Launching a New Product Line:
    • Problem Articulation: Will introducing a new product line boost the company’s profits and market share?
    • Costs: Research and development, marketing, manufacturing, potential cannibalization of existing products.
    • Benefits: Access to a new market segment, increased sales, enhanced brand image.
    • Alternatives: Modifying an existing product, partnering with another brand, or acquiring a smaller company with a similar product.
    • Decision: If the forecasted revenue from the new product line significantly exceeds the R&D, marketing, and manufacturing costs, the company might proceed with the launch.
  • Implementing Remote Work:
    • Problem Articulation: Should the company adopt a permanent remote work policy post-pandemic?
    • Costs: Setting up remote work infrastructure, potential collaboration challenges, cybersecurity risks.
    • Benefits: Reduced overhead costs (rent, utilities), potential to tap into a global talent pool, improved employee satisfaction.
    • Alternatives: A hybrid work model, coworking spaces, or flexible hours without full remote work.
    • Decision: If the savings from reduced overhead and the potential benefits of global hiring outweigh the setup and potential risks, the company might choose to implement remote work.
  • Corporate Training Program:
    • Problem Articulation: Will investing in a corporate training program improve employee skills and productivity?
    • Costs: Training program fees, downtime during training sessions, potential need for follow-up sessions.
    • Benefits: Enhanced employee skills, increased productivity, improved employee morale and retention.
    • Alternatives: Online courses, hiring consultants on a need basis, or peer-led training sessions.
    • Decision: If the anticipated increase in productivity and reduction in turnover can offset the training costs, the company might invest in the program.

Key takeaways

  • A cost-benefit analysis provides an objective assessment of the costs and benefits of taking a particular action.
  • A cost-benefit analysis begins with clearly defining a simple problem and identifying the costs and benefits in the context of company objectives. Then, alternatives are assessed according to the time required to realize profitability.
  • A cost-benefit analysis is a broad and holistic analysis that should include all relevant stakeholders. But it does require that businesses maintain objectiveness without reliance on historical data or pre-existing biases.

Key Highlights

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA): A process to analyze decisions based on the costs and benefits associated with making that decision.
  • Importance: CBA is essential for determining the financial viability of new projects and guiding decision-making within existing projects. It provides objective guidance, prevents unprofitable investments, and minimizes costs.
  • Steps in CBA:
    1. Articulate the project: Clearly define the project in simple terms to avoid ambiguity and confusion.
    2. Identify costs: Consider direct, indirect, intangible, opportunity, and risk costs associated with the project.
    3. Determine benefits: Assess the real or perceived benefits and check if they align with company goals and objectives.
    4. Assess alternatives: Analyze if there are more economical ways to achieve the benefits and consider the payback period for breaking even.
  • Best Practices: CBA is well-suited for policy development, capital expenditure, asset usage, and protocol establishment. It should consider a broad and holistic view of costs and benefits over the short and long term. Rigorous analysis is essential to counteract biases and subjective estimations.
  • Risk of Subjectivity: Stakeholders may exaggerate benefits or understate costs, and reliance on historical data may not accurately predict future trends. Hence, objectivity and careful analysis are crucial for an effective CBA.

Connected Analysis Frameworks

Failure Mode And Effects Analysis

A failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is a structured approach to identifying design failures in a product or process. Developed in the 1950s, the failure mode and effects analysis is one the earliest methodologies of its kind. It enables organizations to anticipate a range of potential failures during the design stage.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

Business Valuation

Business valuations involve a formal analysis of the key operational aspects of a business. A business valuation is an analysis used to determine the economic value of a business or company unit. It’s important to note that valuations are one part science and one part art. Analysts use professional judgment to consider the financial performance of a business with respect to local, national, or global economic conditions. They will also consider the total value of assets and liabilities, in addition to patented or proprietary technology.

Paired Comparison Analysis

A paired comparison analysis is used to rate or rank options where evaluation criteria are subjective by nature. The analysis is particularly useful when there is a lack of clear priorities or objective data to base decisions on. A paired comparison analysis evaluates a range of options by comparing them against each other.

Monte Carlo Analysis

The Monte Carlo analysis is a quantitative risk management technique. The Monte Carlo analysis was developed by nuclear scientist Stanislaw Ulam in 1940 as work progressed on the atom bomb. The analysis first considers the impact of certain risks on project management such as time or budgetary constraints. Then, a computerized mathematical output gives businesses a range of possible outcomes and their probability of occurrence.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

A cost-benefit analysis is a process a business can use to analyze decisions according to the costs associated with making that decision. For a cost analysis to be effective it’s important to articulate the project in the simplest terms possible, identify the costs, determine the benefits of project implementation, assess the alternatives.

CATWOE Analysis

The CATWOE analysis is a problem-solving strategy that asks businesses to look at an issue from six different perspectives. The CATWOE analysis is an in-depth and holistic approach to problem-solving because it enables businesses to consider all perspectives. This often forces management out of habitual ways of thinking that would otherwise hinder growth and profitability. Most importantly, the CATWOE analysis allows businesses to combine multiple perspectives into a single, unifying solution.

VTDF Framework

It’s possible to identify the key players that overlap with a company’s business model with a competitor analysis. This overlapping can be analyzed in terms of key customers, technologies, distribution, and financial models. When all those elements are analyzed, it is possible to map all the facets of competition for a tech business model to understand better where a business stands in the marketplace and its possible future developments.

Pareto Analysis

The Pareto Analysis is a statistical analysis used in business decision making that identifies a certain number of input factors that have the greatest impact on income. It is based on the similarly named Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of the effect of something can be attributed to just 20% of the drivers.

Comparable Analysis

A comparable company analysis is a process that enables the identification of similar organizations to be used as a comparison to understand the business and financial performance of the target company. To find comparables you can look at two key profiles: the business and financial profile. From the comparable company analysis it is possible to understand the competitive landscape of the target organization.

SWOT Analysis

A SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.

PESTEL Analysis

The PESTEL analysis is a framework that can help marketers assess whether macro-economic factors are affecting an organization. This is a critical step that helps organizations identify potential threats and weaknesses that can be used in other frameworks such as SWOT or to gain a broader and better understanding of the overall marketing environment.

Business Analysis

Business analysis is a research discipline that helps driving change within an organization by identifying the key elements and processes that drive value. Business analysis can also be used in Identifying new business opportunities or how to take advantage of existing business opportunities to grow your business in the marketplace.

Financial Structure

In corporate finance, the financial structure is how corporations finance their assets (usually either through debt or equity). For the sake of reverse engineering businesses, we want to look at three critical elements to determine the model used to sustain its assets: cost structure, profitability, and cash flow generation.

Financial Modeling

Financial modeling involves the analysis of accounting, finance, and business data to predict future financial performance. Financial modeling is often used in valuation, which consists of estimating the value in dollar terms of a company based on several parameters. Some of the most common financial models comprise discounted cash flows, the M&A model, and the CCA model.

Value Investing

Value investing is an investment philosophy that looks at companies’ fundamentals, to discover those companies whose intrinsic value is higher than what the market is currently pricing, in short value investing tries to evaluate a business by starting by its fundamentals.

Buffet Indicator

The Buffet Indicator is a measure of the total value of all publicly-traded stocks in a country divided by that country’s GDP. It’s a measure and ratio to evaluate whether a market is undervalued or overvalued. It’s one of Warren Buffet’s favorite measures as a warning that financial markets might be overvalued and riskier.

Financial Analysis

Financial accounting is a subdiscipline within accounting that helps organizations provide reporting related to three critical areas of a business: its assets and liabilities (balance sheet), its revenues and expenses (income statement), and its cash flows (cash flow statement). Together those areas can be used for internal and external purposes.

Post-Mortem Analysis

Post-mortem analyses review projects from start to finish to determine process improvements and ensure that inefficiencies are not repeated in the future. In the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), this process is referred to as “lessons learned”.

Retrospective Analysis

Retrospective analyses are held after a project to determine what worked well and what did not. They are also conducted at the end of an iteration in Agile project management. Agile practitioners call these meetings retrospectives or retros. They are an effective way to check the pulse of a project team, reflect on the work performed to date, and reach a consensus on how to tackle the next sprint cycle.

Root Cause Analysis

In essence, a root cause analysis involves the identification of problem root causes to devise the most effective solutions. Note that the root cause is an underlying factor that sets the problem in motion or causes a particular situation such as non-conformance.

Blindspot Analysis


Break-even Analysis

A break-even analysis is commonly used to determine the point at which a new product or service will become profitable. The analysis is a financial calculation that tells the business how many products it must sell to cover its production costs.  A break-even analysis is a small business accounting process that tells the business what it needs to do to break even or recoup its initial investment. 

Decision Analysis

Stanford University Professor Ronald A. Howard first defined decision analysis as a profession in 1964. Over the ensuing decades, Howard has supervised many doctoral theses on the subject across topics including nuclear waste disposal, investment planning, hurricane seeding, and research strategy. Decision analysis (DA) is a systematic, visual, and quantitative decision-making approach where all aspects of a decision are evaluated before making an optimal choice.

DESTEP Analysis

A DESTEP analysis is a framework used by businesses to understand their external environment and the issues which may impact them. The DESTEP analysis is an extension of the popular PEST analysis created by Harvard Business School professor Francis J. Aguilar. The DESTEP analysis groups external factors into six categories: demographic, economic, socio-cultural, technological, ecological, and political.

STEEP Analysis

The STEEP analysis is a tool used to map the external factors that impact an organization. STEEP stands for the five key areas on which the analysis focuses: socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political. Usually, the STEEP analysis is complementary or alternative to other methods such as SWOT or PESTEL analyses.

STEEPLE Analysis

The STEEPLE analysis is a variation of the STEEP analysis. Where the step analysis comprises socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political factors as the base of the analysis. The STEEPLE analysis adds other two factors such as Legal and Ethical.

Activity-Based Management

Activity-based management (ABM) is a framework for determining the profitability of every aspect of a business. The end goal is to maximize organizational strengths while minimizing or eliminating weaknesses. Activity-based management can be described in the following steps: identification and analysis, evaluation and identification of areas of improvement.

PMESII-PT Analysis

PMESII-PT is a tool that helps users organize large amounts of operations information. PMESII-PT is an environmental scanning and monitoring technique, like the SWOT, PESTLE, and QUEST analysis. Developed by the United States Army, used as a way to execute a more complex strategy in foreign countries with a complex and uncertain context to map.

SPACE Analysis

The SPACE (Strategic Position and Action Evaluation) analysis was developed by strategy academics Alan Rowe, Richard Mason, Karl Dickel, Richard Mann, and Robert Mockler. The particular focus of this framework is strategy formation as it relates to the competitive position of an organization. The SPACE analysis is a technique used in strategic management and planning. 

Lotus Diagram

A lotus diagram is a creative tool for ideation and brainstorming. The diagram identifies the key concepts from a broad topic for simple analysis or prioritization.

Functional Decomposition

Functional decomposition is an analysis method where complex processes are examined by dividing them into their constituent parts. According to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK), functional decomposition “helps manage complexity and reduce uncertainty by breaking down processes, systems, functional areas, or deliverables into their simpler constituent parts and allowing each part to be analyzed independently.”

Multi-Criteria Analysis

The multi-criteria analysis provides a systematic approach for ranking adaptation options against multiple decision criteria. These criteria are weighted to reflect their importance relative to other criteria. A multi-criteria analysis (MCA) is a decision-making framework suited to solving problems with many alternative courses of action.

Stakeholder Analysis

A stakeholder analysis is a process where the participation, interest, and influence level of key project stakeholders is identified. A stakeholder analysis is used to leverage the support of key personnel and purposefully align project teams with wider organizational goals. The analysis can also be used to resolve potential sources of conflict before project commencement.

Strategic Analysis

Strategic analysis is a process to understand the organization’s environment and competitive landscape to formulate informed business decisions, to plan for the organizational structure and long-term direction. Strategic planning is also useful to experiment with business model design and assess the fit with the long-term vision of the business.

Related Strategy Concepts: Go-To-Market StrategyMarketing StrategyBusiness ModelsTech Business ModelsJobs-To-Be DoneDesign ThinkingLean Startup CanvasValue ChainValue Proposition CanvasBalanced ScorecardBusiness Model CanvasSWOT AnalysisGrowth HackingBundlingUnbundlingBootstrappingVenture CapitalPorter’s Five ForcesPorter’s Generic StrategiesPorter’s Five ForcesPESTEL AnalysisSWOTPorter’s Diamond ModelAnsoffTechnology Adoption CurveTOWSSOARBalanced ScorecardOKRAgile MethodologyValue PropositionVTDF FrameworkBCG MatrixGE McKinsey MatrixKotter’s 8-Step Change Model.

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