“Show me the benefit” – Delivering benefit-led change
August 17, 2016

Sean Worth, Executive Director


In my last blog I suggested that, to get more value out of change, organisations have to regard benefits as more than just a tick-box in a change program’s business case.

Successful change programs regard value realisation as their only purpose and ensure key activities – technical delivery, change management, risk management etc. – are directed towards that goal.

Many of us have heard of research by John Kotter and McKinsey that found that only 30% of change programs succeeded in delivering the value sought.

So what are the successful 30% doing that the failing 70% aren’t?

I’d like to share an experience of a major change program that is successfully delivering value in a transparent, demonstrable way.

Before returning to Australia earlier this year, I led benefits realisation in a large change program being implemented by Network Rail – owner, operator and maintainer of the UK’s rail infrastructure.

Network Rail is facing many challenges. The UK rail system is the oldest in the world and one of the densest. Some components of the network were built nearly two hundred years ago and demand for its use is increasing significantly, for both passenger and freight. Failure of the network has significant ramifications for the British public and the economy.

As part of its response to these challenges, Network Rail is implementing ORBIS – a technology-enabled reform program that is revolutionising how it captures, maintains and uses network asset information in order to improve network safety, reliability and cost effectiveness.

How is ORBIS going in its drive to provide value in these areas? Very successfully.

As with all programs that are developing and delivering new technologies to a large, geographically dispersed workforce, ORBIS has faced a number of technological and change management challenges. However, its approach to managing these challenges has been the key to its success in delivering value.

There are a number of key success factors at play in ORBIS:

Leadership commitment to delivering value

At its very highest levels, Network Rail is an organisation that embraces benefits realisation as the driver for change and holds people accountable for delivering that value. Change programs are not only required to articulate the value they bring, but they must demonstrate its realisation – value, not output is what matters.

As a result, benefits realisation is a key, ongoing component of change reporting and confidence in realisation is a major determinant of which programs survive and which are canned. A recent change portfolio review demonstrated commitment to this approach, resulting in a significant downsizing of Network Rail’s change portfolio; ORBIS was retained on the basis of executive confidence in its ability to deliver the value promised.

Benefits realisation is everyone’s responsibility

The ORBIS team itself lives this value-driven approach, with program leadership ensuring benefits realisation is a core component of weekly status reporting.

“Show me the benefit” is a standard phrase in all project meetings and any proposed changes to schedule and scope are considered through the lens of benefit-impact.

A number of projects develop ‘breakthrough’ tools early in the design phase to validate business impact and benefits realisation capability, and a number of these tools are then used with the business to realise benefits immediately whilst the permanent solutions are developed.

This approach binds project managers, change managers and the business to the common objective of delivering changes that create real benefit for the business.

Engagement with the business

Value is realised in the business, not in the change program.

Recognising this, ORBIS, since inception, has engaged heavily with all relevant parts of Network Rail – asset engineering, maintenance engineering, finance, administrative support, etc. – to ensure solutions are developed and delivered with benefits realisation as the focus.

Solution design and business impact is agreed with authorised representatives from across the business and benefit revalidation occurs regularly during development. Once developed, tools are refined with the business through real-world application – not only confirming business requirements are being met, but also validating the benefit provided.

The change management approach itself is business-centric, with program-funded change managers embedded across the organisation, providing the local, knowledgeable link between program and business. This effort supplements local change management capability and provides the basis for sustainable change.

ORBIS has also established regular program reviews with local business leadership to examine change progress and benefits realisation – providing important feedback into the program to ensure efforts remain business focussed.

There are, of course, other elements to ORBIS’ success in change delivery and whilst the program has yet to deliver all of the capability planned, successful delivery of benefit so far demonstrates the value of its benefit-led change approach, providing a strong model for other organisations pursuing value from change.