A structured approach to benefits realisation and change is the key to succeeding with large IT projects

Novo Nordisk and Implement Consulting Group

11 January 2022

“Do we have the right focus on what benefits we gain from projects, the benefits for end users and the changed ways of working needed to harvest the benefits? Or are we blinded by technicalities, deadlines and deliverables?

– Novo Nordisk Quality Systems Management 

A need to look into the benefits realisation potential

In Novo Nordisk Quality Systems department (Novo QS), they had a feeling that they needed to clarify the purpose, benefits and organisational impact of their projects. Recently, they had introduced an agile framework (SAFe), and it was producing deliverables at an amazing pace – but the question was: to what end?

The management team at Novo QS experienced that the strong focus on deliverables meant that they were not having the right conversations about purpose, hard measurable benefits and the changes their projects would create for their colleagues across the world. So they asked themselves this key question:

“How might we ensure that our projects deliver both hard and measurable benefits to our organisation as well as a positive transition experience for our colleagues?”


The benefits realisation method: a new way of looking at projects

“Large IT projects are never just about IT. They are all about benefits and enabling our colleagues to change their ways of working.”

Merete Mahneke Ørting, Senior Manager

We all know that benefits and organisational change are important. But when we look at what organisations invest their time, money and energy in, it’s mostly the deliverables. Maybe this is because the production of technical deliverables is at the heart of most popular agile and classical project frameworks. Maybe because most organisations just do not have an easy-to-apply framework for benefits realisation and organisational change. No matter the reason, it is something we need to change.

Together with Novo QS, we used the benefits realisation method that provided us with a new way of looking at projects. To realise the benefits in our projects, we need to add a layer of benefit and change tasks to the often well-defined and effective technical delivery engine. This was also the case with Novo QS.

Novo QS had an important requirement: they wanted their current SAFe delivery engine to remain unchanged and the new methods to build on this framework.

They knew that succeeding would require a change. Novo QS needed to stop thinking about projects in terms of deliverables and start thinking about them as change project-driven to create benefits.

“We like that it is a proven method that fits on top of our agile project approach.”

Poul Henning Poulsen, Corporate Vice President, Strategic Quality Development at Novo Nordisk

Adding the benefits realisation method to the current project approach

Novo QS wanted to apply the same level of structure to their future ways of working with change and benefits realisation as they were already applying to their technical development effort. Inspired by the benefits realisation method, Novo QS started out by adjusting the standard approach to fit with the existing project framework.

Creating the foundationMaking it stick
  • Have active management sponsorship
  • Take your own medicine – build a benefit map and treat new ways of working with projects as any other change project
  • Update governance and roles
  • Provide easy-to-use tools and scripts

Table 1: How to create the foundation and make it stick

  • Anchor the method with method specialists
  • Use ongoing projects as pilots to train the method experts “on the job”
  • Let method specialists support projects until the new methods have become the only way of working

More ownership and responsibility for managers and project managers

We needed to make the adoption easier for managers and project managers, and one way was to make it clear how the benefits realisation method fitted into the current ways of working. However, they all needed to adjust their ways of working. The managers became benefit owners, and as such they started taking a much larger responsibility for benefits realisation and the change it required in their part of the organisation. The project managers took responsible not only for the technical solution but also for the management of benefits and change tasks in their projects.

“Normally, we don’t let external consultants interfere in how we drive projects – but this approach really creates impact for us.”

Poul Henning Poulsen, Corporate Vice President, Strategic Quality Development at Novo Nordisk

Making it stick – having method specialists became the key to successful implementation

We initially used the benefits realisation method on two pilot projects with Novo QS. The purpose was:

  • To showcase the value of the method and create ambassadors and hype
  • To train method specialists to become experts in the use of the method
  • To ensure realisation of the full benefit potential on the pilots

From the start, the benefits of applying this method were evident – it gave rise to some much-needed purpose and benefit discussions, which created unity and ownership in the steering committees and clarity for the project managers. Additionally, the change effort needed to realise the benefit was also detailed to a much higher degree than previously, paving the way for a successful change effort.

“Applying benefits realisation on our projects really challenged our way of thinking.”

Poul Henning Poulsen, Corporate Vice President, Strategic Quality Development at Novo Nordisk

Three method specialists became the key to successful implementation of the benefits realisation method in Novo QS. They were appointed very early in the process to ensure that the new ways of working were anchored in the organisation.

The method specialists were an active part of the pilots and are now owning and developing the Novo QS version for the benefits realisation method even further. They support project managers and benefit owners in fulfilling their roles as well as advise and assist project managers on how to apply the method in their projects.

The hype from the pilots created a demand from the project managers who had not been part of the pilots. They were eager to start using the benefits realisation method in their own projects, as they saw that it would help them have better dialogues with their steering committees as well as their project teams about the benefits of their project as well as what it takes to realise them.

The results: now we realise the benefits

Sometimes it can be said as short as “now we realise the benefits” – and Novo QS can prove it because after the project, they now track that they get the benefits they aim for.

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