Cost-Benefit Analysis

cost-benefit analysis

Before initiating a project, performing a cost-benefit analysis is essential. A project’s benefits to costs can help make a strong business case to stakeholders and leadership and ensure your organization pursues the most profitable or useful projects. Organizations use cost-benefit analyses to reduce revenue spillage and invest their resources responsibly.

Types of Benefits in a Project

Tangible Benefits:

To determine the tangible benefits of a project, a project manager might seek to answer the following questions:

  • What value will this project create?
  • How much money could this project save our organization?
  • How much money will it bring in from existing customers?
  • How much time will be saved?
  • How will the user experience be improved?

Intangible Benefits:

You might also consider questions about intangible benefits. These are gains that are not quantifiable, such as:

  • Customer satisfaction. Will the project increase customer retention, causing them to spend more on the company’s products or services?
  • Employee satisfaction. Is the project likely to improve employee morale, reducing turnover?
  • Employee productivity. Will the project reduce employees’ overtime hours, saving the company money?
  • Brand perception. Is the project likely to improve the company’s brand perception and recognition, attract more customers, or provide a competitive advantage?


And to determine the costs of the project, those questions might include:

  • How much time will people have to spend on this project?
  • What will be the one-time costs?
  • Are there any ongoing costs?
  • What about long-term costs?

Cost in Project Management

In the context of project management, “cost” refers to the financial expenditure or expenses associated with the various elements required to complete a project. These expenses can encompass a wide range of factors that contribute to the project’s execution and successful completion.

Types of Costs

  1. Direct Costs:

    Expenses directly tied to the project’s execution and are typically easy to track. Direct costs include items such as:

    • Labor Costs: The wages or salaries of the project team members, including project managers, designers, developers, analysts, and other personnel directly working on the project.
    • Materials Costs: The expenses associated with purchasing materials, components, equipment, software licenses, and any other physical items needed for the project.
    • Equipment Costs: The cost of renting or purchasing equipment, tools, or machinery required for the project’s activities.
    • Subcontractor Costs: If an organization outsources certain aspects of the project to external contractors or vendors, it considers their fees as direct costs.
  2. Indirect Costs (Overhead Costs):

    Costs that cannot be attributed directly to a specific project activity but are necessary for the overall operation of the organization. Indirect costs include:

    • Office Space and Utilities: The expenses associated with maintaining the office environment, including rent, electricity, heating, and cooling.
    • Administrative Staff Salaries: The wages of administrative and support staff. Though they provide essential services, they are not directly involved in project tasks.
    • Office Supplies: The cost of supplies such as paper, pens, computers, printers, and other materials used by the project team.
    • IT Infrastructure: The expenses related to maintaining and operating IT systems, networks, servers, and software used by the project team.
  3. Contingency Costs:

    Reserves set aside to cover unforeseen events or changes in the project that may lead to additional expenses. Contingency costs act as a buffer to handle uncertainties and risks.

  4. Opportunity Costs:

    Opportunity costs are potential benefits or revenues that could have been gained if the resources allocated to the project were used for an alternative purpose.

  5. Cost Allocation:

    Assigning the direct and indirect costs to specific project activities helps determine the overall budget for the project. This budget guides resource allocation, procurement, and financial management throughout the project’s lifecycle.

How to Perform a Cost-Benefit Analysis

cost-benefit analysis
The benefits of a project should always outweigh the costs, so it is important to consider these questions early on.

ROI or return on investment is the term used for calculating costs and benefits. There are many ways to calculate ROI but to compare the ongoing costs to its benefits over time, we can use the below formula.

(Gain-Cost) / Cost = Return on Investment

For example, suppose a project costs $7,000 plus $35 per month for 12 months (equals $420 per year). You estimate that the project will bring in $12,000 in revenue in that year. Using the formula above, ROI is calculated as ($12,000 – $7,420) ÷ $7,200 = 0.62 = 62%

This might indicate a strong ROI and worthwhile to pursue the project.


Performing a cost-benefit analysis in the initiation phase of the project helps organizations make well-informed decisions about project investment. If the analysis indicates that the expected benefits justify the costs, the project is more likely to receive the necessary approvals, funding, and resources to move forward. If the analysis shows that the costs outweigh the benefits, stakeholders might opt to revise the project’s scope, objectives, or approach to make it more financially viable.

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