Change delivery often disappoints, but why? There are two sides to the equation:
- what actually is realised at the end versus the original expectation, and
- the cost of getting there and then staying there.
In this blog we’re going to look at the former, we’ll return to the latter later.
Begin with the end in mind
Stephen Covey, in his book ‘Seven habits of highly effective people’, stresses the need to ‘begin with the end in mind’. It’s surprising how often change initiatives don’t do this, or at least test it robustly. There may be a vision, but it’s unrealistic; or a solution has been chosen before the problem is properly understood. This is like going to the medicine cabinet and popping a pill at random, hoping for a cure because it looks pretty. In another blog (‘When does business change start to go wrong?‘) we talk about rushing from idea to solution: such enthusiasm is powerful, but often proves misguided.
Right from the start, potential benefits of transformation need to be validated, tested, and agreed by the managers responsible for ultimate realisation. If you aren’t clear on exactly how a target outcome is going to be enabled then you’re relying on luck: luck is not a strategy.
Good benefit management works at two levels: the portfolio, and the programme/project. Ideally, the latter comes first. Often a top-down approach is taken; this has hazards, because it can set a false and flawed expectation. This is viable if the strategy is survival – but if a top-down target is set, ensure that the bottom-up detail adds up to that target, and more. It’s invariably the case that there’s ‘many a slip twixt cup and lip’; benefits will degrade during a programme so add in a buffer on the upside, and also a contingency for cost.
Across the lifecycle we suggest a few pointers (we’ll talk more about these in future blogs):
- Aim high, add in that extra – not by inflating benefits, but by aiming to do more
- Project realistically: ensure each project has a robust case, not just a finger-in-the-air aspiration, and get the benefit owner’s buy in early)
- Pareto: it’s amazing how often the 80:20 rule applies, 80% of the benefit comes from 20% of the effort, and this is often true at several levels.Delivering good enough early is far better than the endless search for perfection that never arrives: remember the two sides of the equation, imagine lines on a graph – the benefit line starts to flatline, but the cost line is still headed for the stars: quit while you’re winning;
- Design reinforcement: solutions never convert directly to benefit any more than an engine converts fuel straight to motion; there is a lot of organisational change required to turn potential into reality
- Monitor and improve: once landed, don’t stop; ‘benefits often follow an ‘s’ curve, starting slowly, then accelerating, before levelling off; they are rarely explosive. Therefore, change realisation doesn’t end with the solution delivery, often the real improvement journey only starts at this point: the solution is like a seed, there is still a lot of growth, and associated care, before fruit is yielded
- Finally, don’t try to do too much: even if all the foregoing is attended to, many organisations just end up with a log jam, or an un-coordinated mess: the overall portfolio needs to be practicable to deliver.
Not every change programme is set-up to deliver critical change, but if that’s what yours is about, ensure you scope and design deliberately, and plan carefully to delivery and beyond. Landing a shiny solution no more assures the outcomes you hope for than does closing your eyes and wishing.
If you’re concerned about planning for benefits, or just want a check on whether you’re well set, please get in touch. We have a simple diagnostic that we’ll happily share with you. Given what’s at stake, a check is always worthwhile and fixing early is always cheaper and smarter than hoping for the best, or apologising later.