The goal of a thorough cost benefit analysis (CBA) is that it gives a window into likely profitability and risk of a proposed decision, project or operation. Cost-benefit analysis is done when there is significant uncertainty as to which of several avenues to take with the financial resources, expertise and available. The cost benefit analysis can help managers and owners make a wise decision. However, any CBA is inherently limited in accuracy when it comes to very complex projects or long time frames.

Here we will go in-depth into the dynamics and utility of a CBA as well as the benefits of regularly performing CBAs.

What Is a Cost Benefit Analysis?

A cost benefit analysis is a close look at the fixed and variable costs of a proposed project or decision. These costs are then added to less concrete, though still significant costs. Some of them are the possible turnover, chance of loss/mistakes, and so on. On the other side of a CBA lies the benefit. Benefits of a given project should be at least as certain as their costs. Speculative revenues/profits pitted against certain costs and obligations can turn into a losing venture if the revenues don’t come in as planned. As with costs, some benefits can be hard to quantify initially but can certainly yield dividends over time. These can go from better brand name for successful completion of a project, to better institutional expertise.

It helps to have control in the form of a completed project or operation similar to that under scrutiny in a CBA. The control should have had a CBA done on it prior to execution. Then, actual results should be compared to the expected CBA projections. This gives more credibility to a CBA in the face of skeptical investors or other managers.

Who Needs Cost-Benefit Analysis the Most

Any business typically faces several choices when it comes to using their resources. The strengths of a cost-benefit analysis are obvious. It provides an insight into which of several possible uses of time and resources will give the best return on investment.

CBA weaknesses refer to the effect of long time frames: less accuracy in any data or information gathered for a CBA and an increased number of significant variables that come into play and are difficult to account for. Even fixed cost or revenue projections become more and more speculative and prone to significant error. This is because market conditions are more likely to change in unforeseen ways.

How Much Is Spent on Cost Benefit Analysis

The investment in time and expertise to carry out a cost benefit analysis will vary. This is due to different businesses, management styles and industry types. As a guideline, one can say that businesses with consistent, predictable clients and revenue streams will likely invest little in cost-benefit analysis. This is because they stop at exploratory analysis into occasional speculative projects that fall outside core competencies. The reason is that businesses value stability. Management should know what to expect in terms of cost/benefit from a reliable track record, and if keep executing more or less the same operations. Then, a reliable CBA will tell pretty much what one may guess intuitively. The cost-benefit will remain within narrow bounds of past experience.

On the other hand, there are businesses that run project by project and try to diversify their core competencies. Their customer base or internal expertise will be wise to spend more on cost-benefit analysis of various projects and operations. In this case, there is much less in the way of reliable experience. This is because one project may have a different scope, customer/client relationship or technical focus than another. When these variables fluctuate, it is better to zoom in on each project and do a case-by-case CBA. All of these are necessary to minimize loss, risk, and client dissatisfaction.

businessman calculating

2 Reasons Why You Should Consider a Cost Benefit Analysis

This list is by no means exhaustive. But it should help spur decision-makers to take at least a cursory look at cost benefit analysis for operations.

  1. Better knowledge of useful projects: A cost benefit analysis forces managers to dive into the nuts-and-bolts of a proposal or project. This will almost certainly come as a relief to employees and others supporting or advocating that project. This usually happens as management and owners are typically receive critics for being distant from the revenue-generating ventures they plan and manage. In addition to giving better insights for CBA use, take a close look can reveal inefficiencies, shortcomings, and frictions. You can also discover other serious issues that don’t show up on paper when looking at the big picture and key deliverable of a project. As long as management empowers subject-matter experts handle the fine-tuning, the steps needed for a successful CBA can be a tremendous boom to project execution and completion.
  2. See existing and likely ROI from a variety of investments and decisions: As you have seen before, ROI from a course of action is a very important number to determine accurately ahead of time. Let’s say that quality cost benefit analysis data and calculations combines with one or several similar control case studies. Then, there should be no reason to hesitate from using the results of a CBA to get ahead in the marketplace. All such calculations like cost benefit analysis will entail uncertainty. But decisions makers should keep in mind that uncertainty and risk can also fall to the upside. Consequently, they will give better-than-expected results.

Final Thoughts

A CBA is a very useful tool for small and medium-scope projects. Cost benefit analysis can be successfully used by virtually any industry, business type or sector. This is since variables of cost, benefit and risk are universal throughout all enterprise. Once again, it helps to remind readers that a CBA has its limits. Time compounds the number of relevant variables while accurate information dwindles with more and more extended time horizons. So, eventually and inevitably the CBA loses touch with reality in the limit of long time frames.

Those with experience or opinions on the use and limitations of a CBA are welcome to comment.

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