Why do you invest in IT? Delivering the benefits of change

I’ve been a Change Manager for over 20 years, working in blue chip organisations incl Tesco, Shop Direct and SpecSavers. I have a particular interest in the alignment of programmes with business objectives and managing the delivery of benefit.

In this blog I’d like to share my thoughts & the experiences I’ve had with anyone who is similarly interested in making sure that Change programmes do what they’re supposed to. If you want to know more or just discuss the subject, feel free to drop me a message through HiveMind.

Why do I think this discussion is necessary? Well, Change Programmes are often perceived to have been unsuccessful. Frequently this is down to delivery issues, but sometimes it’s because the Change fails to achieve the original objectives. While there’s plenty of discussion about improving delivery, there’s rather less discussion on what we can do to make sure objectives are achieved.

If this is of interest, read on …

The Changes Required

The main source for identifying Changes required is of course the Business Plan. However, there will also be opportunities arising from new or improved technologies. For each of these candidate Changes an initial sizing estimate should be provided and then a prioritisation workshop held.

The MoSCoW designations can be used as the basis of the prioritisation with the following specific meanings:

• Must – without it the Business Plan cannot be delivered

• Should – pays for itself within one year

• Could – satisfies the corporate investment criteria. These candidate changes then compete with all other investment proposals

• Won’t – all others

The output from the workshop would then taken to the corporate investment board for sign off, Using these specific meanings it should be a simple matter to get approval for the ‘Musts’, Further, it’s difficult to see any investment board turning down the ‘Shoulds’, although of course the financial case needs to be robust.

Following approval, initial plans should be prepared.

Commit to Outcomes & Benefits

The next stage is to establish the outcomes – not the expected financial benefits but the direct, measurable consequences of the approved change. As examples, the introduction of a new demand forecasting process should clearly lead to more accurate forecasts; a new recruitment process should lead to vacancies being filled more quickly.

The outcomes may already be understood, but it may be necessary to arrange workshops to establish what they are. These workshops should also agree how the outcomes will be measured, what degree of change in the measure(s) will be achieved and when they will be delivered.

Next, workshops will be required to agree the intended financial consequences. Again, the workshop outputs must be absolutely specific – which budgets will be affected, by how much, and when. An essential background assumption to these conclusions is that all other variables remain the same. Although this is unlikely to be true in practice, without that assumption it is too easy to avoid clear estimates of the financial benefits.

Finally, a decision must be taken as to whether or not those benefits should be baked into the financial plans. Although there will inevitably be resistance to this step, if there is no commitment to the financial benefits, should the change be approved?

I will discuss later the process for monitoring outcomes & benefits.

Plan for Outcomes & Benefits

The next step is to prepare detailed delivery plans. Although this is a standard activity which all Change Managers know how to do, there is one important step which is often overlooked.

A Change is not complete when the processes have been implemented. Nor is it complete when the process has been handed over to Operations and is running smoothly. A Change is only complete when the objectives and benefits have been delivered. The plan should therefore include all activities up to that point.

Specifically, it should include monitoring the delivery of outcomes & benefits and any corrective steps. The Change team for this stage will be different from and smaller than at the peak of delivery but must not be disbanded.

Deliver

We all know that delivery’s difficult. It’s not the purpose of this discussion to address those difficulties. There are many alternative ways to deliver change, each with their merits and concerns. Your organisation will have its own views, strategies and standards to be followed for delivery. Just remember that delivery isn’t over until the outcomes, objectives and benefits have been achieved.

Monitor for Success

The Change team is responsible for monitoring the outcomes of the change and reporting on success or failure. The Finance team are responsible for monitoring budgets and again, reporting on success or failure.

If the outcomes are achieved as planned, then the Change can be regarded as a success whether or not the financial benefits are achieved. Conversely, if the outcomes are not achieved then the Change may have failed even if the financial benefits are delivered. The reasoning here is that ‘if the sun shines, you’ll sell more ice cream anyway’.

The point here is that the assumption that ‘all other variables remain the same’ will prove to have been invalid, and those other variables may have affected the delivery of financial benefits either positively or negatively. Your new forecast process may have failed to improve forecast accuracy. A financial benefit of improved sales may have been achieved anyway, but through good weather / good fortune.

It’s therefore essential to monitor both outcomes and financial benefits. If both are achieved, great, close the programme. If financial benefits were achieved but outcomes were not, perhaps the Change was unsuccessful. Conversely if the financial benefits were not achieved but outcomes were, perhaps it was successful. In either case, workshop the results and agree what additional steps if any are required to ensure success, implement those next steps and review / refine / revise as required.

Conclusion

What I’ve tried to do here is address an issue which I believe receives too little attention – how to make sure the intended benefits of Change are delivered. Even if we become more proficient at delivering new processes and methods, if we don’t ensure that outcomes and benefits are also delivered then Change may still be seen to have failed.

As Change Managers it’s our responsibility to deliver great value for the investment funds with which we’ve been entrusted. By following these guidelines I believe we can deliver against that responsibility.

If you’d like to know more, feel free to contact me.

I look forward to hearing from you!

(c) David Briggs

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Comments

  1. Paul Kelly

    A chronic issue for most organisations is the perceived lack of success in change management programmes. I sometimes wonder if the linear single cause (implement a prescribed change) and effect (expect different outcomes) logic serve us well in these discussions. So in addition to the sound recommendations here, is there a bigger picture view that is also required? This would entail looking at the totality of change made (or not) in an organisation and re-evaluating regularly at a holistic level. In my experience, if an individual change project has been unsuccessful it is rarely the case that trying to add additional steps to it will make a significant difference – there is usually something more deep-seated going on, especially if there is a pattern of unsuccessful changes.

  2. David Briggs Post author

    Good observation. At the level of an individual change I think planning for success can make a difference – being clear what changes to outcomes are expected, baking benefits into budgets and making sure the change goes all the way to benefit achievement. But your’e also right that planning needs to take place at a higher level – and not just up to the programme level. The Business Plan needs to incorporate the change plan over multiple years and understand the impact of the totality.

    There is then the dilemma of justifying an individual change vs understanding the holistic impact – can I only justify at the business level? How do I make sure that I work on the mist impactful individual changes … ?

    Good stuff.