Cost-benefit analysis

July 27, 2023
The cost-benefit analysis calculates the benefits of a choice or action minus the expenses of that decision or action. A cost-benefit analysis includes quantifiable financial measures such as income gained or expenditures avoided due to a project choice. Intangible advantages and costs or the impact of choice, such as staff morale and customer satisfaction, may also be included in a cost-benefit analysis. More advanced cost-benefit analysis may include sensitivity analysis, cashflow discounting, and what-if scenario evaluation for numerous choices. Everything else being the same, an analysis that yields more advantages than expenses is often a good initiative for the organization to pursue.

What is the cost-benefit analysis?

A cost-benefit analysis is a method for calculating the advantages of a choice or course of action, less the expenses related to that choice or course of conduct. Quantifiable financial indicators, such as money generated or costs avoided as an outcome of the initiative's choice, are part of a cost-benefit analysis. Intangible benefits, expenditures, or consequences of a choice, such as staff goodwill and client approval, may also be included in a cost-benefit analysis. An overly complicated cost-benefit analysis may include sensitivity analysis, reduction of finances, and alternative scenario analysis for numerous choices. Other things considered, it can occasionally be advantageous for the business to take on an initiative if the assessment shows greater advantages than expenses.

Comprehending the cost-benefit analysis

Competent executives do a cost-benefit analysis to assess all the expenses and profits a firm may produce from the initiative before starting or establishing a new firm. The analysis results will decide if the project is profitable or the business should go forward with a different initiative. The cost incurred will frequently be included in a cost-benefit analysis as part of the decision-making process. Alternative costs are advantages that might be achieved if another option had been chosen. The lost or sacrificed opportunity due to an option is, in other words, the opportunity cost.

Project managers can analyze the advantages of many initiatives by considering opportunity costs rather than just the one currently being examined in the cost-benefit analysis. The cost-benefit analysis becomes complete and helps to make better choices since it takes into account all available choices and any lost chances. To see if the advantages exceed the expenses, the outcomes of the total costs and benefits ought to be quantitatively compared.  Moving on with the task at hand would be the sensible choice whether or not the company should reevaluate the initiative to determine whether it can be modified to raise advantages or reduce expenses to make it profitable. If not, the business should probably steer clear of the undertaking.

The cost-benefit analysis process

There isn't just one cost-benefit analysis technique that is acceptable to everyone. But each procedure often includes some form of the next five phases;

·       Determine the Project Scope

Understanding your environment, identifying your objectives, and creating an outline to shape your scope are the initial steps in a cost-benefit analysis. The cost-benefit analysis's goal is established before the project's scope is established. Two examples of possible cost-benefit analysis goals are to determine whether to grow to gain market share or upgrade a company's website. The project's initial planning phase includes determining the project's timetable, resources needed, restrictions, necessary staff, and assessment methods. At this step, a business should determine if it has the necessary analysis tools. Principal stakeholders must be informed and allowed to give their views during the project scope formulation stage. Based on the results, it could be a good idea to involve people who will be most affected by the analysis' conclusion (for example, if it calls for redesigning a company's website, IT may need to recruit several extra personnel and should be involved).

·       Calculate the costs.

It's the right moment to begin analyzing figures now that the foundation is established. The project's cost is determined in the second stage of a cost-benefit analysis. The following may be included in costs. Production, inventories, raw materials, and direct labor expenses are all considered direct costs. Energy costs, managerial overhead expenses, rent charges, and utility costs are indirect. Expenses associated with a choice that cannot be measured, such as its effect on clients, staff, or turnaround times. Opportunity costs like alternative investments or the difference between purchasing and developing a factory. Cost of prospective hazards such as those posed by regulations, rivalry, and environmental effects. When calculating costs, it's crucial to consider whether an expense will be ongoing or one-time. It's crucial to determine if expenses are constant or flexible; if the latter is, consider what step costs and pertinent range will influence those expenses.

·       Identify the advantages

Each initiative will have unique guiding concepts; advantages might include the following:

Higher-income and sales as a result of additional products or innovative products. Advantages that can't be seen include higher staff morale, protection, and increased consumer contentment via better products or quicker shipping. Acquired market share or an edge over others as an outcome of the choice. For every item on the cost-benefit list, a project director should assign a monetary value, careful not to overlook expenses or overstate benefits. When putting a price on the expenses and the advantages for a cost-benefit analysis, a cautious strategy is ideal with a conscious attempt to eliminate any little inclinations when computing estimations.

Additionally, analysts must be mindful of the difficulties in identifying direct and indirect advantages. Indirect advantages necessitate predicting the market prospects, sales volume, consumer wants, and product aspirations. On the contrary, indirect advantages could be challenging to determine since there might not be a straightforward calculation. Consider the employee mentioned above happiness example. There is no method to determine the financial benefit of happy employees.

·       Make analysis-related calculations

You're ready to analyze now that you have the cost and benefit numbers. If the advantages outweigh the costs, the project provides a total gain to the organization. Based on how long the project will take, this may just need deducting one from the other. Some cost-benefit analyses need to be scrutinized in greater detail. It could comprise: calculating the total current worth via discounted rates. Utilizing different discount rates based on the circumstances. Cost-benefit analyses for various choices are computed. Each choice can cost differently and provide a different value. Using the cost-benefit analysis to compare various possibilities. Sensitivity analysis determines how small variations in estimations can affect results.

·       Make suggestions and put them into action

The cost-benefit analysis must frequently summarize their results before presenting them to the administration. It briefly outlines the costs, advantages, overall effects, and how the results support the analysis's initial goal. The project has more advantages than disadvantages if a cost-benefit analysis is beneficial. A business has to be aware of its restricted resources since they might lead to mutually incompatible choices. For instance, a business might only have so much money to invest, so even if upgrading its machinery, site, and storage might be profitable from a cost-benefit perspective, it might not have the funds to do so.

Not all cost-benefit analyses that provide an extra benefit ought to be considered. For instance, a business must consider the project's hazards, consistency with its corporate vision, or cash constraints.

Benefits of cost-benefit analysis

There are several justifications for doing a cost-benefit analysis. Using data to make decisions, the method bases each suggested course of action on measurable data obtained specifically to address a single issue. A cost-benefit analysis necessitates a thorough investigation of every expense. It entails considering unforeseen expenditures. As more research is conducted on the state of outcomes for the project, which gives greater backing for planned-out attempts, the conclusions from this level of analysis only become stronger. Quantifying non-financial measures is also necessary for cost-benefit analysis (e.g., the economic benefit of higher workforce contentment). It may be challenging to evaluate, but it compels the analyst to think about project elements that are more challenging to quantify. A cost-benefit analysis' ultimate output is a clear indication that facilitates decision-making.

The cost-benefit analysis's limitations

An in-depth cost-benefit analysis could be adequate to enable a knowledgeable, sensible choice for initiatives with minor to moderate investment in capital and short to reasonable completion times. A cost-benefit analysis may not consider crucial economic variables like inflation, interest rates, fluctuating earnings, and the current worth of capital for very big initiatives with a long-time horizon. One advantage of considering the net current value when choosing an initiative is that it considers a potential alternative amount of return that would have been possible if the initiative had never been started. The findings are adjusted to account for such a yield. In a nutshell, the initiative must generate at least as much revenue as the discount rate or the level of interest that might be generated somewhere else.

Nevertheless, there are a large number of projections included in any model that is used to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. Any cost-benefit analysis may employ estimates for future earnings or revenue, possible rates of return, anticipated costs, and anticipated future cash flows. The shortcomings of cost-benefit analysis are highlighted by the likelihood that the conclusions would be questioned if one or more estimates were inaccurate.


·       Demands analysis powered by data.

·       Restricts analysis to the objectives chosen in the first stage of the procedure.

·       Leads to more specific, maybe trustworthy outcomes.

·       Offers information on both financial and non-financial results.


·       It might not be required for smaller initiatives.

·       Need funds and assets to collect information and conduct research.

·       Significantly depends on expected data; if even one crucial projection is erroneous, projected results will likely be incorrect.

Cost-benefit analysis FAQs

  • How do you balance benefits vs. costs?

Cost-benefit analysis systematically estimates an initiative or investment's costs, predicts benefits, and then contrasts the two. The choice should be made if the advantages exceed the disadvantages; alternatively, it is likely, not appropriate. Opportunity costs associated with postponed or canceled initiatives will now be considered in cost-benefit analyses.

  • Which tools or techniques are used in the cost-benefit analysis?

Utilizing net current value computations, one must lower the time worth of cash flows according to the particular asset or program being examined. To sum up, all the connections between the relative costs and advantages of a proposed project, a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) may also be determined. Regression modeling, valuation, and forecasting strategies are examples of other tools.

  • Which five steps make up a cost-benefit analysis?

The general steps in a cost-benefit analysis are to create the strategy for analysis, identify costs, identify advantages, analyze the advantages and the costs, and conclude. These phases might change depending on the methodology.

  • What is the primary purpose of a cost-benefit analysis?

Cost-benefit analysis is mostly used to decide if it is worthwhile to start an initiative or complete an obligation. This choice is taken by learning more about the initiative's expenses and advantages. The administration uses a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether an initiative will be more beneficial to the firm or more harmful.

Benefits evaluation

There are intrinsic costs and advantages to conducting a cost-benefit analysis. The period required to analyze and calculate all possible benefits and expenses thoroughly is included in the expenditures. Additionally, money may be given to an analyst to complete the task. Another drawback is that several of the hypotheses must be made to construct the cost-benefit analysis, and those hypotheses could turn out to be inaccurate or possibly prejudiced. The advantages of cost-benefit analysis are to give an appropriate framework for making choices that can be measured and regulated, provided it is done appropriately using valid hypotheses. You ought to carry out a cost-benefit analysis if the results are favorable.


A corporation can utilize cost-benefit analysis whenever it is not quite evident if it's worthwhile to undertake an activity since certain complicated challenges call for further investigation. Combining a cost-benefit analysis allows a business to streamline decision-making by determining costs and defining what will be advantageous.