Co-chair, Change Management Institute
Digital transformation is one of the most common types of change initiatives taking place in organisations. The problem is that ‘digital’ means different things to different people, so defining the scope and requirements is a minefield of pressures from different parts of the organisation.
Avoid these problems by applying benefits-led change and not requirements-led change. This means you must start with the business value, not the solution.
By defining the benefits, you can ensure that your scoping conversations focus on what positive outcomes are to be achieved, preventing the scope becoming a mish-mash of ill-informed ‘wants’. This also gives you a strong foundation for running your initiative as an agile approach, because you can use business value as the evaluation criteria against which every important decision can be taken:
Should X be included in the transformation?
How important is X to the total success of the transformation?
How much time and effort should be allocated to X?
Benefits-led change focuses on the realisation of the benefits and recognises that there is no point undertaking the change unless it leads to measurable improvements.
How to make sure the desired change is necessary
To achieve this approach means a paradigm shift in thinking. We find it easier to define a list of things that we want because we are listing tangible things that we can imagine using. For example, it is easier to state: ‘I need a drop-down menu pre-populated with the most common values for a customer order,’ rather than to step back and say why I want this. The ‘why’ is the benefit I am trying to achieve, and it means I have to work through a longer thought process:
A drop-down menu will reduce the time taken to process a customer order…
A drop-down menu this will reduce the probability of entering wrong information…
This shorter, more accurate process means more orders can be processed by staff…
This increases productivity and cost efficiency…
This process makes it quicker to on-board new staff, reducing training time and cost.
Clearly defining the ‘why’ requires those involved in your transformation to think more deeply about what is needed, what ‘good’ looks like and how the desired result fits with the end-to-end running of the process.
Step-by-step processes clarify the benefits to clients
To make this process as easy as possible, use techniques that enable your customers to walk through a step-by-step process to articulate all of the benefits of a digital transformation. For example, you can use a ‘5 whys’ technique where, after each statement, you ask: ‘Why it is important?’
My favourite technique is the Benefits Dependency Network, which is a series of ideas that build upon each other. If the benefit is to simplify the process, it enables people to work out a simpler process takes less time, which leads to faster answers, which means more answers, which means higher productivity, leading to lower costs.
Of course, it is not easy to stop people giving you a list of features and functions that they must have, but you can help yourself stay focused on the benefits by asking supplementary questions:
‘How will this help you get your work done more easily or more accurately?’
‘Is there anything else that needs to be in place for this to be effective?’
Prioritise the benefits to stay on track during a project
Once you have a range of benefits, ask those involved to rank them in order of priority. Sometimes, this is straightforward, but other times, you will need to play pairing and ranking games, taking a few benefits at a time and asking them to choose most and least important. Do this a few times until you have a ratified list of most to least important benefits.
When additional requirements emerge as your transformation gets underway, you can evaluate what you are being asked to do against this benefits list, to know how important the new idea really is, and stay on track with your ultimate goal of improving the capability of your organisation.