The Change Benefits Canvas (How To Visualize the Narrative of Business Change)


Puzzle pieces with word ‘Benefits’

“The brightest stars are those who shine for the benefit of others.” — Anonymous

Business value is simply the benefits generated for its stakeholders.

Here’s a simple visual tool I’ve created to help visualize and communicate changes and benefits better.

I call it the Change Benefits Canvas.

I’ve coached enough innovators and change leaders through it now that it’s worth sharing more broadly.

If you can master the art of visualizing and articulating benefits, you will be a much better innovator and change leader.

That’s how you will inspire stakeholders to bet on you and fund your programs and change leadership efforts.

Here’s What I Learned About Mapping Out Benefits

Benefits are the backbone of value.

To justify a change, you need to map out and help others understand the benefits.

There are a lot of existing tools to map out benefits and changes required.

You might be familiar with anything from a Benefits Dependency Network (BDN) to an Outcome Chain.

You might use variations like a Benefits Dependency Map or a Project Dependency Map.

They’re all good, they are all helpful, and I’ve used variations of them all.

While there are a lot of ways to map out benefits, what I’ve learned is that the most important part is how you actually narrate yourself and others through the story of value and the transformation.

As I’ve been coaching, I found myself explaining too much, when really there is a simpler way to talk through a business change.

The Narrative of Business Change

In plain simple terms, leaders like to know the WHY, the WHAT, and the HOW of any change to the business.

A very simple way to map out a business change is to start with the WHY.

1. WHY the Change?

  • Drivers in the market or in the business put pressure on the business and create motivation to change.
  • To respond to the Drivers, as a business leader you set business outcomes you want to achieve.
  • The Benefits you want to achieve justify the Outcomes.  You can think of Benefits in terms of better, faster, cheaper (and remember that benefits are in the eye of the stakeholder).

2. WHAT is the Change?

  • To achieve those Benefits, you are going to have to make Changes to the business.

3. HOW will you implement the Change?

  • Those Changes will require new or changes to existing Capabilities.
  • And those Capabilities in turn will require Enablers, such as technology.

To recap, as an effective innovator or change leader you need to articulate the business change in terms of WHY the changes, WHAT are the changes, and HOW will you create the changes.

The Benefits of Knowing the Narrative of Business Change

The beauty is that once you know the Narrative of Business Change, you rise above any particular tool.

You ground yourself in your ability to walk through what’s driving or motivating the changes, to what the changes will be, to what the changes require in order to realize the benefits you are prioritizing.

This is also how you can connect business and IT in a relevant way and meaningful way that’s easy to see.

Projects fail and businesses breakdown when the tail wags the dog.

This is a surefire way to hold the business priorities front and center while communicating the change.

What’s also important about this model is that it helps you play out different possibilities to change the business in response to the changing market.

It helps you think about the business in an Agile way.

And it helps you see how enabling technologies can help pivot the business.

The Change Benefits Model

Here is a simple visual of the model…


As you can see, it simply follows the Narrative for Business Change that we walked through above.

Remember that all models are wrong, but some are useful.

Don’t worry about colors.

Don’t worry about boxes.

Don’t go crazy with arrows.

You can use PowerPoint or your tool of choice, or no tool at all.

Just be able to walk through the WHY, the WHAT, and the HOW of the business change and  be able to communicate the benefits you want to achieve.

(Note that the whiteboard, physical or virtual,  is my tool of choice because it’s a fast and easy way to “show” and “share” what you see in your head.)

An Example Change Benefits Canvas

And here is an example of the Change Benefits Canvas in action…


What it’s communicating in a nutshell is that customers are looking for more personalized solutions.

And you can achieve that with the help of AI (Artificial Intelligence) you can achieve more personalized and integrated experiences for your customers.

And by doing so, you will improve your profits through more cross-sell / up-sell opportunities along the customer journey, and improve your operational efficiency at the same time.

(Obviously, you will want to get into the how much and by when of the benefits, but you’ve laid some great groundwork to step into the details).

A Deeper Dive into the Narrative of Business Change

This is really a tool for winning mindshare and sponsorship and influencing stakeholders.

It’s also a tool for mapping out changes in more detail so that leaders can really understand what’s required for the transformation.

And it’s a tool to help get agreement and buy-in on what problem you are solving and what benefits you want to achieve.

I find it helpful to keep in mind that change is a team sport and people intensive.

Leaders drive change through initiatives, programs, and projects, while systems reinforce processes and help run the business.

Your will amplify your success as a project leader, change leader, or innovator by mastering the art of value realization.

Put it another way, the better you can explain the benefits in a relevant way to your stakeholders, and show causality with the change you are driving, the more effective you will be.

The WHY Explained

Lead with the WHY to give your change effort context and a compelling reason to exist.

Slow down to speed up when it comes working through the WHY in the Change Benefits Canvas.

When you talk your way through a business change, it only makes sense to start with the WHY.

If people know WHY they are doing what they are doing, you will help shape the change in the right direction.

Drivers in the market or drivers in the business are the motivation.  Drivers trigger the need and desire for change.

This is your chance to really connect more deeply with the key stakeholders and influencers around the context and motivation for the change.

When you think of the “market”, think of your customer as a proxy for the market.

It’s their pains, needs, and desired outcomes that you are responding to that is the platform for your business change.

The market changes when consumers shift their values or regulations change or disruptive events or technologies change the market.

This is key to your cause because the art of marketing is learning how to create and capture value in a meaningful way.

This is your chance to link the deep pains, needs, and desired outcomes of your customers with the outcomes and benefits the business leaders care about most.

The WHAT Explained

The WHAT really comes down to the future state of the business.

You can articulate it in terms of how the user experience will change or how users will interact differently with your business.

This is actually a pretty key concept.

When people ask me to define digital transformation, I say that your customers have to feel your change in the market.

Otherwise, it’s not “transformation”, it’s simply internal optimization.

The WHAT is a great place to really get clear on the CHANGES you want to make happen.

With a world of technology at your fingertips, you have a change to really create compelling Changes that reflect the full power of the digital era.

Keep the phrase “business BECAUSE of technology” in mind and it will help you explore the art of the possible.

What can you do now with new technology that you could not do before to improve the customer experience or transform the experience entirely?

By linking your Changes to Benefits you will stay relevant to the business (which is key to funding and investment).

The HOW Explained

The HOW is where some of the greatest challenges may lie.

Which is exactly why you want a strong WHY and WHAT to help see you through those challenges.

The HOW is a great place to get agreement on the language around the Capabilities requires, as well as the Enablers.

There will likely be multiple paths and ways to achieve the Changes.

The Changes (or the “WHAT”), keeps the HOW grounded in terms of clear achievements that are business-driven.

Rather than a technology or solution looking for a problem, you will already have a very clear target with business justification supporting your effort.

That is a great place to be, and will help you lead through chaos.

How To Practice the Change Benefits Canvas

Practice talking your way through the WHY, the WHAT, and the HOW of your change efforts with teammates and stakeholders.

Practice visualizing in your mind the actual model for the Change Benefits Canvas.

Practice drawing the Change Benefits Canvas on a virtual whiteboard or on a physical whiteboard or even on a piece of paper.

Practice mapping out the elements of the Change Benefits Canvas on a slide, as well as your other tools of choice.

Practice asking and answering questions for each of the elements of the Change Benefits Canvas.

Focus on progress, not perfection, and know that by mastering how to map out benefits in this way, you will be mastering one of the most important skills of change leadership.

By building this muscle, you can lift yourself, teammates, and even a business to new heights and operate at a higher level, even among a sea of seasoned business leaders.

The skill of value visualization is a very special one, and I hope the Change Benefits Canvas supports you in ways you can’t even imagine yet.

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