Sonja van Heerden reveals the secret strategy for business change to Mohamed Bray, it’s enabling business transformation through a competency-based approach.
Sonja van Heerden, who holds a MComm (Informatics) degree from the University of Pretoria, started her career as an IT Developer, then moved on to a consulting career with Accenture before joining the corporate world in Sanlam.
Sonja formed part of a team driving IT transformation, which resulted in the establishment of the Business Change team in Sanlam Personal Finance. The philosophy behind establishing this team was putting the ownership for change back into the hands of business. From here, Sonja joined Santam to lead the newly-established Business Change team.
Enabling business transformation through a holistic competency-based approach
How is Santam set up to deliver major enterprise-wide projects to transform the organisation to be future fit?
It starts with Santam leadership taking ownership of change, as well as strong partnerships between business, Business Change and IT. In recent years we have implemented significant change, and through this process created a culture of change that people embrace rather than resist. The internal consulting capability provided by the Business Change team also means that we have a permanent capability that truly understands our business and can see the change through from start to end in order to ensure the realisation of planned benefits. We also ramp up our delivery capacity in our project teams to deal with increased demand for change.
How does the change management capability interact and coexist with the implementation teams, at a practical project delivery level?
Change Managers are allocated to strategic projects in the early stages of a project. The Change Managers are part of the project teams and contribute to the planning, estimation and communication processes. They work closely with the team to contextualise the change, plan and prepare for the change, ensure business readiness before deployment and then support the business to embed and sustain the change post-deployment.
It is often noted that in smaller organisations, business analysts need to be agents of change. What do you think business analysts need to be aware of to improve their change management skills and ability to lead change?
Business analysts need to understand the bigger picture as well as the full impact of change on the business. They need to understand the real business objective of the change so that they can identify the key components of scope that cannot be sacrificed.
Business analysts need to not only understand the system changes required, but also the implications this will have on people and process.
Their skills need to go far beyond simply writing requirement specifications. They need to understand the practical implications of how people are impacted by the change, as well as how this impact can be minimised to support the business during the transition.
Are feasibility studies and business cases a key component of evaluating proposed new projects and aligning business expectations? How do you involve the Change community in these aspects of the project?
We use business cases as key inputs when making investment decisions on all our projects above R1m. The capital investment required, operating costs and business benefits are considered together with the strategic objectives they support. The ownership of the business case and the business benefits rests with the business, but the Business Change team drives the process of creating the business case and facilitating the investment decision process.
Change managers are working towards realising the business benefits as best as possible. How is Santam establishing the methods of tracking, managing and reporting on business benefits delivered by technology projects?
Our Business Solution Delivery Framework indicates a specific stage in the project life cycle that speaks to Benefits Realisation. The Portfolio Management Centre in
… Business Change has a specific focus and responsibility to track benefits and provide quarterly reports to our investment committee.
This process involves the business owners presenting the actual benefits achieved back to the investment committee from which they obtained the funds when the project was approved.
Changing lanes slightly, in the great ‘centralised versus decentralised’ project debate, where do your views sit and how is Santam structured?
Santam has a centralised structure. All project managers, business analysts, testers and change managers report into Business Change. This allows us some consistency in the delivery process and in how we manage and report on projects, etc. It also creates a bit more flexibility for us to manage supply and demand across the portfolio of projects. For process improvement, however, we follow an approach of having Lean Six Sigma (LSS) black belts in Business Change, whilst growing the number of green belts in the business in decentralised fashion over time.
In what ways does having a defined set of project, analysis and change standards add value for Business and IT stakeholders?
It brings some consistency to how we work. We have not matured all the disciplines yet, but have successfully implemented our PM@Santam and CM@Santam frameworks. We are busy implementing our Test@Santam framework and just started developing our BA@Santam and LSS@Santam frameworks. These frameworks are also helpful for on-boarding new project staff and give them an idea of how Santam works.
Do your business stakeholders truly understand the value and role of the change manager at Santam? Has the change capability helped to build their value in the eyes of the business?
The change manager is just one role in the Business Change offering. If I reflect on the collective service offering (Portfolio & Project Management, Business Process Optimisation, Business Analysis & Design, Testing, Change Management and Business Consulting), I do believe our business understands the value. It has enabled us to minimise the need for external consultants and traditional big-5 system implementers. We have a permanent capability that can partner with the business long term to drive strategic change.
It is often noted that the change programme should run independently of the implementation programme, thus distancing the implementation business analyst from the change initiative. What are your thoughts on this?
We do not have ‘implementation’ business analysts. Our business analysts are involved in the change initiatives/projects from start to finish. We do not run change programmes independently of our implementation programmes. The change managers are part of the project teams and work closely with the team to ensure they understand what is delivered when to the business. They partner with business analysts and business architects to unpack the nature of the changes (to processes and systems) and often co-create the best way to deal with it.
What do you think the future is of the Business Analysis and Change Manager roles? Do you believe there will be an intersection of these professions with a broader role definition down the line, or will specialisations continue?
I believe specialisation will continue in the bigger change environments. In small companies or projects I would imagine it is quite likely that one person can assume multiple roles and therefore a business analyst can also play the role of change manager. However, in the corporate world there is a lot more pressure on business analysts in the way business requirements are handed off to IT for development and this requires specialised skills that change managers don’t need.
The partnership between business analysts and change managers is therefore critical on big change programmes.
‘Revealing The Secret Strategy For Business Change with Sonja van Heerden‘ was first published in the 2016 Inter-View Report. You can tweet your thoughts about revealing the secret strategy for business change with @Mo_Bray.