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Establishing the vital case for change

When proposing to make a change to an organisation, or part thereof, consider that the proposed vision for the future is unlikely to be the same as your stakeholders. So the case for change must be based on a rigorous assessment of the business needs relative to the existing arrangements (or status quo) and the potential scope of the proposed spend in relation to the anticipated benefits and potential business, service and environmental risks. 

Organisations should ensure that any proposed changes to business as usual operations are continually aligned with strategy direction, emergent plans and that the reasons behind the changes and the vision for a better future are effectively communicated.

Effective stakeholder management begins when people know why something new is needed, how the change is to occur and most importantly, that they are part of and can influence the change process. It is tempting to make a case by just giving people information but to truly make a case, organisations need to redress three key behavioural elements. These include:

  1. People must feel that this change is critical (Where are we now?)
  2. People must understand the vision (Where do we want to be?)
  3. People must know and be part of the change process (How do we get there?)

Stakeholder engagement is arguably the most important ingredient to enable successful programme and project delivery, and yet is often regarded as a fringe activity or one that can be outsourced to business-as-usual functions. This is despite being probably the most challenging and time intensive activities that a programme or project undertakes, particularly as programmes and projects depend on people to respond to the outputs, capabilities, outcomes and/or benefits that they deliver.

People will naturally only respond if they are actively engaged. Stakeholder management implies that people can be made to respond positively to a programme or project, but the truth is that programmes and projects frequently have no formal power of authority and therefore have to rely on proactive engagement particularly by the key decision maker to achieve agreed strategic objectives. 

So the business case, both as a baseline product and a process, provides the key decision maker with a management tool for evidence based and transparent decision making and a framework for the delivery, management and performance monitoring of the resultant programme or project. The Public Sector Business Cases Using the Five Case Model advises that the business case or justification in support of a new programme or new project must evidence:

  • That the intervention is supported by a compelling case for change that provides holistic fit with other parts of the organisation – the “strategic case”

  • That the intervention represents best value for money in terms of benefits versus costs and risks – the “economic case”

  • That the proposed deal is attractive to the market place, can be procured and is commercially viable – the “commercial case”

  • That the proposed spend is affordable and a funding source confirmed – the “financial case”

  • That what is required from all parties is achievable in terms of project management, risk management, benefits management, contract management and change management as well as arrangements for project evaluations reviews – “the management case”.

So for organisations as a whole, it’s important to recognise that effective change does not happen in a vacuum. It has a ripple effect, and where it encounters friction it will slow and eventually stop. So consider the organisation as a system in balance. When changing one part, understand and consider how the other parts will shift. Establishing a case for change is as much about balancing the equilibrium between running the business and changing the business as it is about convincing stakeholders to support an investment proposal. 

So the iterative production of the business case is a critical part of the overall business planning process, taking account of advice and guidance from business managers, users and technical specialists involved in the scheme and should not be treated as a mere governance hurdle to be jumped for approval purposes. For organisations, the following three guiding principles help maintain a sustainable budget position while implementing policies and strategies through programmes and projects. They are:

Principle 1 - Take a holistic view

Before starting a new programme or project, understand the existing arrangements. That is, the totality of an organisation’s investment (or segment thereof) of the programmes and projects in flight to achieve the strategic objectives as well as existing services and products and end of product life arrangements. At a portfolio level, taking a holistic view is about optimising the portfolio plan with those investments that clearly show the strongest strategic fit and a continued robust case for change. Any poorly performing programmes and projects should therefore be regularly assessed at key decision points for continuation or stopped, so the funding saved can be better spent on priority pipeline ideas. 

Principle 2 - Resource for success

As part of the service strategy, demand management rationalises and optimises the use of resources (ie. people, assets, materials, funding and services). It ensures that the amount of resources that has been budgeted matches the expected demand for the service. If the prediction is too low, the agreed upon service levels may not be delivered. If the predictions are too high, resources will have been allocated to a service that will not be used (or paid for).

Demand management bridges the gap between service design, capacity management and business relationship management to ensure that the predictions are accurate. Ultimately demand management is about having the capacity to introduce the proposed business change matched to the right skill set and capabilities at the right time.

Principle 3 - Co-design

Co-design is a collaborative process that can be used to create, redevelop and evaluate a product, service or system. It involves engaging with stakeholders early who are likely to be impacted by or will benefit from the process and/or the outcome, either directly or indirectly. Stakeholders should be engaged before, during and after any business change occurs so beyond reducing resistance to change, by adopting a co-design approach to the business case development process, programmes and projects can endeavour to design a more inclusive solution.

 

In summary, there will always be drivers for change acting on an organisation. These vary in nature and urgency, from external pressures such as competitive markets or changes in strategy direction to internal pressures through new working arrangements. But there will also be drivers for stability. Hence the organisational need to balance running the business, with changing the business.

As such, the iterative business case development process is key to organisational spending decisions, particularly in terms of its scoping, options selection, delivery, monitoring and evaluation. The business case, therefore, must never be perceived or used as a medium for simply gaining governance approval for a proposal, particularly without assessing strategic fit and making a compelling case for change with the support of those stakeholders to be potentially impacted by the proposed change.

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Establishing the vital case for change

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