How can benefits realisation be managed?
Earlier this month I wrote about Carlos Serra’s presentation on benefits realisation at the PMI Global Congress EMEA in London. He had some great practical advice about managing the benefits realisation process, the highlights of which I’ll share with you now.
Carlos talked about the four things that are required in order to actively manage benefits realisation. These are:
An organisation-level benefits strategy, of which the first three items form part.
The benefits chain
Carlos explained the benefits chain. It’s the reason why you need a benefits strategy and an organisational level, and that underpins everything to do with benefits realisation. It’s actually quite complex, but it looks a bit like this.
He didn’t share what a benefits realisation strategy would look like but said that the formal strategy defines the process and sets the organisation’s approach for benefits realisation. Part of the strategy is a detailed exploration of the other three elements.
Planning the benefits
In this step you decide what the expected outcomes should be and write a clear definition. You also get the business case approved if it hasn’t been already. This is important because it gives you the reference to identify project success at the end.
Having clearly defined strategic objectives are essential to being able to realise any benefits and create value for the business.
Review and measure benefits
You and the team need to acknowledge that reviewing and measuring benefits is not a one-off activity. You’ll have to find ways to continually do this, so create mechanisms that are repeatable or you’ll be reinventing the wheel all the time. Decide how frequently you are going to be carrying out reviews and make sure you are resourced appropriately to do so. I would go for once a month, but it really does depend on the type of benefits you are expecting to see. With something like sales, you can track these monthly but if your project is delivering improved employee satisfaction you may be better off measuring this with a quarterly survey or something even less frequent. It’s impossible to provide a hard and fast rule unfortunately.
At each review take time to look at whether the outcomes are planned and expected and in line with the business case predictions.
Then communicate the outcomes to the stakeholders. They have a vested interest in what is happening and can play a valuable part in helping correct the course if you aren’t seeing the benefits you expected. Many businesses, Carlos said, stop tracking so they never know if they are successful or not. You’ll have to decide when to stop and when those benefits become ‘business as usual’.
Realise the benefits
‘Realisation’ is a set of activities that ensures the project outcomes are fully integrated and monitored after the closure of the project. It isn’t done, Carlos said, by the project team, but in my experience project managers have a large part to play in making sure this part is set up correctly, even if they don’t manage it day to day. Realisation is the organisational work required to make sure the benefits recorded in the business case actually happen.
As you can see, the benefits realisation management process is both part of the project and not part of the project. The early steps around strategy and process definition are either the work of the sponsor or PMO, as are the final parts around realisation. The bit in the middle is where the project manager and team can add value.
On a programme, things might look slightly different as programmes (and portfolios) often include an element of BAU work, such as keeping a project deliverable operational while waiting for the rest of the projects to be delivered and a final handover to operational team members at an appropriate stage.
Either way, the project manager has to play a full part in this so it’s important to fully understand the process to know where you fit in. It helps you ask the right questions:
And I’m sure you can think of others.
I really enjoyed this presentation, especially the section on the tools you can use to manage benefits. That’s what I’ll be writing about next, inspired by Carlos’ presentation.
|In this video I discuss the three reasons why you should write a business case for your project, even if you work in an organisation that doesn't normally pay much heed to that kind of paperwork.|
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This community is full of experienced project managers - this course won't be for you, but if you are mentoring or coaching someone who might benefit then please suggest it to them.
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Benefits Realisation: The Basics Explained
Benefits can either be certain and quantifiable (like generating more money) or less quantifiable (like improving employee satisfaction), according to Carlos Serra, who presented on the topic at the PMI Global Congress EMEA 2015 in London this week.
“Benefits are a result of action and behaviour, and they provide something of value to someone,” he explained.
Benefits come from change
Each change we do as part of a project delivers benefits. We need those benefits because projects are supposed to move the business forward in terms of its strategy. Each benefit helps fill the gap between where the business is now and where it wants to be. Project benefits are little (and sometimes big) jumps towards hitting the ‘desired state’ of the business.
He showed a graph a bit like this:
In other words, the delivery of incremental benefits over time shift the organisation from the current state to the desired future position. And projects deliver those benefits.
Carlos then went on to explain the term ‘benefits realisation’ and said that it wasn’t easy to understand. He’s from Brazil but now based in the UK and in his native Portuguese there are three different ways to translate ‘realise’. Even in English there are different meanings of the word including:
He asked the audience if other languages held the same difficulties and there were nods from around the room. Arabic, Dutch and Spanish speakers all confirmed that ‘realisation’ didn’t really translate easily.
Carlos defined benefits realisation like this:
“Benefits realisation is a process to make benefits happen and also to make people fully aware of them throughout the entire process.”
Benefits realisation management defined
Benefits realisation management is the third term that Carlos explained. This is a set of processes required to deliver benefits.
He said that the realisation life cycle starts way before the project and happens mostly after the project so the processes are far-reaching in terms of alignment with the project life cycle.
Finally, he concluded by saying that because of this it is not possible for the delivery of benefits to only be the responsibility of the project manager or team.
Actually, that wasn’t his final conclusion. He went on to say a lot more about benefits realisation management and I’ll be covering that in another article. Watch this space!
The PwC Global PPM Survey talks about the different levels of portfolio maturity. There are five levels:
Level 1: Tactical
At this introductory level investment decisions are made locally, and based on a case-by-case analysis. There’s no overall resource management and resources are allocated to projects and programmes at departmental level. There are governance controls but these are only around capital expenditure.
Level 2: Controlled
With a little bit more effort, companies can move to Level 2 on the maturity scale. Here, investment decisions go through a defined governance framework. There are businesses cases produced that justify the expenditure and someone keeps a master list of all the major capital projects that the company is doing.
Level 3: Managed
The biggest jump on the maturity curve is between Levels 2 and 3. At Level 3 you’d expect to see a standard method for measuring how aligned projects are to the overall business strategy. There is a central governance structure which includes the discipline of ‘portfolio management’. When projects are put forward, there is an initial risk profile done which helps prioritise the work in the portfolio and contributes to the decisions around whether a project should go ahead.
I imagine most companies fall into this category, or at least would like to.
Level 4: Optimised
Taking it further, at Level 4 you’ll see quantitative evaluation of initiatives using a standard model. Projects and programmes are prioritised taking risk and return into account, with a model based on numbers instead of gut feel. Planning future work takes capacity and constraints into account along with risk assessments.
Level 5: Maximised
Finally, the most mature organisations have a structured, consistent and integrated process for managing their portfolios. Initiatives have what PwC calls “multiple delivery versions including in-flight exit versions” (which I looked up and am still none the wiser but I assume means they are planning for what happens if the project has to change course and close early). The PwC model also says that businesses at this level map their portfolios against an “enterprise efficiency frontier” (which I also had to look up and believe means the tradeoff between risk and return).
Why portfolio maturity matters
While it’s nice to be able to point to the curve and select your level and know that you aren’t at the bottom, there is more to portfolio maturity than that.
In 2012, PwC reports that as many as 30% of programmes were in conflict with the overall business strategy. That means that one in three projects were delivering something that was contrary to what the business wanted to achieve. That’s a waste of money and a waste of resources. Even if you’re the best project manager in the business, you can’t help the company achieve its goals because you’re working on the wrong project: one that fundamentally doesn’t and can’t contribute to the future of the business.
In 2014 the picture is much better. The figures from last year show that almost 80% of projects are aligned to strategy, so the number of conflicting initiatives is dropping. That still means that one in five projects isn’t fully aligned to strategy.
I suppose we should ask whether being aligned to strategy is as important as all that. Does it matter that 20% of what we do isn’t strategic? Doesn’t that cover the smaller projects that keep things ticking over, the tactical initiatives, the departmental priorities that improve work/life balance but don’t necessarily contribute to the big ticket items set out in the annual report? Without knowing the details of which projects aren’t considered by the project managers to be ‘aligned’ we won’t know if they are incorrectly categorising their projects. Perhaps they don’t fully understand the strategy and can’t adequately make the call as to whether the projects are aligned or not.
We can continue to monitor the outcomes of surveys like this and see if portfolio maturity and alignment to strategy improves over time. I think it will: it will have to as companies cannot continue to work in a way that puts key resources on initiatives that don’t add any long term value. However, statistics like this are missing a lot of key context. I’d like to know how mature these organisations are and how large they are because I imagine this is something that mid-size firms find particularly difficult to get right. Small businesses do it by default almost, larger ones through design, and medium ones will struggle to fit their governance processes to their size in an appropriate manner.
I speculate… What’s your experience? Let us know in the comments.