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Business change manager – why you need one and only one

  • Update: 04/07/2021

An essential part of best practice programme management, as expressed in Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®), is to ensure that the outputs and capabilities created by the programme’s projects and other work are adopted into the day-to-day business operations of the investing organizations. Although it may seem odd to suggest that the desired outcomes and benefits might not automatically follow, turning successful projects into business success is a reality that many organizations struggle with.

Challenges include:

  • Unrealistic expectations about the capacity and ability to change
  • Failure to engage and influence stakeholders
  • Difficulties in balancing change and ‘business as usual’ work
  • Keeping effort focused at the right level of detail
  • Lack of sustained focus on outcomes and benefits over time.

The role of the business change manager in MSP is designed to address these and other challenges related to the ability to change ways of working across the organization.

What does a business change manager (BCM) do?

Their main responsibilities include the successful adoption of new capabilities and supporting the business areas to enable the realization of outcomes of benefit. They will also be responsible for establishing the approach and guidance for organizational change management.

While the programme manager is leading the work to deliver new capabilities, the BCM is preparing the business for change, and (with the programme manager) planning the transition that will take place once those capabilities are delivered. The BCM must be able to confirm that the business operational areas are ready and prepared for the changes that are to take place. As a result, successful BCMs are often from the business – they have skin in the game as a recipient of change and their secondment to the temporary programme team is to make sure the programme has sufficient senior operational focus.

Why is a separate role needed?

You might think that the programme manager should be able to fulfil that role. While it is true that the programme manager and BCM should work together to coordinate the necessary work, there is a vital point to be made about the need for a BCM.

Far too many programme teams adopt a mindset (albeit unwittingly) which includes the belief that they are delivering new capabilities, and therefore change, to the investing organizations. A better mindset, and one that reflects best practice, is to consider the programme to be a service to the investing organizations: The outcomes and benefits are being ‘bought’ from the delivery organization and achieving the optimal return on the investment of scarce time, money and skills requires collaboration. Viewing programme work through a collaborative lens, the programme manager and BCM together are co-creating outcomes, benefits, and value for those investing organizations.

Without an appropriately skilled and experienced BCM it is easy to slip into this ‘doing change to the organization’ thinking. With the right BCM in place, we are empowering the ownership of change by the organization, thereby increasing the chances of the successful achievement of the desired outcomes of benefits.

MSP does not mandate that the role of the programme manager and the role of the BCM needs to be done by two different people – the roles could be combined into one job. Experience highlights however that there are significant risks associated with a combined programme manager/BCM. Therefore, the sponsoring group should consider this carefully as part of the governance approach.

Only one BCM

MSP 5th Edition says there should be only one BCM even though the organizational change may be huge and require multiple business change experts. So why is that?

It’s true that very large change programmes will have lots of work to do to prepare the organization to adopt new ways of working, embed outcomes and track the realization of benefits over time – far too much work for one person. The situation is a parallel to the programme manager, who has a team of people spread across projects and other work. But the programme manager is the single point of responsibility for delivery as part of the programme board. In the same way, the BCM is the single point of responsibility for preparing the organization for change, embedding outcomes and realizing benefits as part of the programme board.

The BCM may well have a large team of change experts and change champions, but single point responsibility is needed because there will inevitably be trade-offs to make about where deployment of scarce resource is the highest priority. Within the temporary team, the programme manager and BCM have equal status, reporting independently to the senior responsible owner (SRO), yet requiring a collaborative approach to ensure that the programme does not just deliver successful projects, but also delivers business value.

The role of the BCM is key to providing that essential bridge between the programme and the investing organization(s). Experience demonstrates that the list of challenges mentioned earlier are more likely to impact a programme when the BCM role is poorly defined, or even absent, within the team structure. Together the BCM, SRO, and programme manager give us the team structure that has the best chance of success in a programme.

Discover more about MSP 5th Edition and why it's the go-to guidance and certification for programme managers, business change managers, and aspiring project managers.

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News by John Edmonds – PPM Portfolio Development Manager

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