PMI has recently released a new Pulse report that goes deep into the topic of benefits realisation, specifically around benefits identification. The introduction to that report says it’s the first in a series of deep dives into the project management area that is benefits.
The report calls out 5 questions that you should be asking during the benefits identification phase of your project. What, you don’t have a benefits identification step? That’s where you are going wrong.
Planning for Benefits
Project management is now widely acknowledged as the link between strategy and actually making change in the business work to achieve that strategy. The report defines benefits identification as a key part of this because if you don’t know what the benefits are going to be you cannot accurately assess whether the project or programme will help you get closer to your strategic goals.
The report includes the results of a survey of over 1000 project managers and shares the results. This one, in particular, jumped out at me:
When project benefits are frequently identified before the start of a project—as part of the business case—organisations experience better results: 74 % of projects meet goals and business intent versus 48 % in organisations that do not. And when organisations frequently use formal project management to address the benefits identification process, they experience greater gains: 80 % of their projects meet goals and business intent versus 54 % in organisations that do not.
Pretty compelling, right? If you spend time thinking about benefits then you are more likely to achieve them. There are a lot of reasons we can guess at for why this might be the case:
And so on.
So where do you start? You need to identify your benefits and the report helpfully provides 5 questions to ask when you start. Here they are, along with my interpretation and ideas about how you could use these to prompt discussion on your project.
The Essential Benefits Questions
1. Why are we doing the project or programme— what are the business drivers?
Understanding the business drivers will help you pin down what kind of benefits you are expecting to see. A project that is starting out because of the business driver to increase sales, for example, would expect to see benefits related to sales targets.
If you can get your executives and your project sponsor to explain the rationale behind the project is gives you all a starting point to look for clarifying benefits.
That leads on to…
2. What are the measurable benefits?
The key word here is ‘measurable’.
I would argue that it’s also fine to have non-measurable benefits, but you can’t track those really. Some people would point out that even so-called intangible benefits like staff happiness can be tracked and measured, for example by engagement surveys, so think carefully about including non-measurable benefits and don’t get lazy and avoid working out any measures. It’s not too difficult if you spend the time on it.
3. Who is accountable for the benefits?
This is a really important question because the jury is out – and has been for 20 years, according to Dr Terry Cooke-Davies’s piece in the Pulse report – about whether it’s the role of the project manager or the customer.
The truth, I suspect, is partly between the two. To avoid the “You were going to do it,” “No, you were going to do it,” scenario at the end of your project, make sure that you have some clarity around who is going to be accountable.
4. Who ensures the project benefits are aligned with strategic goals?
I imagine the answer to this question in most cases is the Project Board or Steering Group. There is a degree of ongoing governance that has to happen on any project and it makes sense to me to make that group responsible for ensuring that benefits align with the strategic goals at the start and then don’t deviate during the delivery part of the project.
You’ll have to have this discussion internally to get an idea of where your sponsor feels the responsibility sits, and if it doesn’t seem logical to you, feel free to challenge.
5. Who signs off on the benefits?
And is this different from the person who is accountable? Getting all these different roles straight is important because if anything changes through the life of the project and you become aware that reaching the benefits will not be possible, or will be challenging, then you’ll have identified everyone who needs to know.
Consider it a mini stakeholder identification exercise, because you’ll be surprised at how many people want to have a say in benefits when you start talking to the wider team and managers about them.
These 5 questions give you an easy framework for starting conversations about benefits. You can still use them, even if your project has already started. I hope you find them useful!
Read the whole report here: http://www.pmi.org/learning/pulse.aspx
I’ve written before about Carlos Serra’s great presentation at PMI EMEA this year. In this final article about my thoughts around what he discussed, I’d like to highlight the barriers he flagged that prevent organisations from effectively carrying out benefits realisation management.
1. Low levels of competence
First up, one of the major barriers to effectively measuring and achieving benefits is lack of skill. Project managers that don’t know how to do this won’t do it. Simple.
Qualifications and credentials can help, but I think you would also benefit from coaching or a PMO manager who could guide you through the processes, especially the first time you do it. It starts with a robust business case that explains what the benefits are and then carries on to go through processes to identify how they are going to be measured and then actually measuring them. It’s quite an involved process so without prior experience or a lot of support it’s no wonder that people struggle.
I’m not sure of any qualifications that particularly address the detailed processes of benefits realisation management, but I’m sure there are some.
2. Out-of-date culture
A culture that ranks projects on their project management performance (i.e. did we hit the budget and deadline?) instead of their overall contribution to business strategy is one that doesn’t value benefits management. Ideally, the business culture should evaluate projects on their outcomes, not their output, but that requires a change of mindset and a longer term vision – or an awareness, at least, of the longer term.
I feel it is hard to change culture, especially at the top, but at least if you are aware that success is being measured in ways that don’t tangibly relate to benefits then you can work accordingly.
3. Lack of integration
Integration across all areas of the business helps: no one gets much done in an organisation that is riddled with silos. For example, in the area of benefits management you’d want to be able to link the processes of:
with benefits so that you can track them through the whole project life cycle and the whole business from conception to delivery and beyond.
Integration at this level requires a degree of maturity that I don’t see very often. If you don’t feel that you have the business integration across the whole piece that would successfully lead to good benefits realisation, then I would recommend you start with what you can influence and see what difference that makes.
4. Poor processes
Poor processes are a barrier to getting most things done and benefits management is no exception. When there is a gap in the process for managing benefits then you’ll find things fall down through the holes.
Carlos pointed out in his presentation that one of the common areas for poor processes is in businesses that provide products and services to external customers. I can see why it is harder perhaps to track benefits in companies like that, but if you want to make sure that your project management division is achieving company-wide benefits, it should be an end-to-end process, even if the end is external.
Setting up robust processes must take time: I imagine a fair amount of time as it requires a deep level of organisation maturity, at least in that area if not in all areas of managing projects and project selection.
5. Lack of leadership
This one comes up time and time again, doesn’t it? If benefits management is not taken seriously at the highest levels in the organisation, then the lowly project manager (or even quite a senior project manager) doesn’t have a chance at being able to adopt good practices on his or her projects.
Benefits realisation needs to be led from the top, with a focus on a suitable culture, mature processes and a corporate overview that stresses that projects are done because of the outcomes that the business receives.
I really enjoyed learning more about benefits from Carlos. I hope you did too!
And find Carlos’s blog online here: Projectizing.com
I really liked what Carlos Serra had to say at last month’s PMI Global Congress EMEA about managing the project management benefits processes and I have a few more titbits from his presentation to share with you today.
One of the things I find the hardest about project management methods is that often they specify what to do without actually giving you practical steps for how to do it. Stakeholder management falls into that category (and is one of the reasons I wrote my book, Customer-Centric Project Management). Benefits management is another. I think benefits management is so hard to codify because project managers don’t really know if it falls to them or the senior managers or operational teams or someone else, so it disappears through the cracks and isn’t given the attention it deserves.
Hopefully these bits of advice will help address that.
Tools for benefits realisation management
What practical tools have you got at your disposal for benefits realisation and managing those processes? Carlos discussed several:
Roles and responsibilities for benefits realisation management
Carlos covered the roles and responsibilities expected from a benefits realisation exercise within a company.
If you want to implement successful benefits realisation management in your own business then this is what you should look to get set up:
Programme and project governance
This covers the normal governance functions of any project management activity including having the work aligned to overall strategy. You should also make sure that you have the work prioritised and that there is executive leadership in place to support you.
Done by: Project Sponsor
Programme and project management
Here you’re looking to be able to deliver the required outputs, ensure everyone knows what success looks like and manage stakeholders’ expectations with that in mind.
Done by: Project Manager/Team
Finally, you want someone to take responsibility for owning the benefits when they are delivered. They are the people who receive the outputs and whisk up their magic to turn outputs into tangible business value.
Done by: Project customer
All this strikes me as vastly similar to the rest of the project management techniques that we have available to us. That’s good news, because it means that benefits management is not difficult or scary and that project managers have the transferable skills to be able to put all this into practice already.
The presentation reassured me that much of what I am doing to ensure my projects deliver tangible benefits is good and solid practice. The theme of value ran throughout the Congress and it’s great to see that (finally) project managers are waking up to the idea that delivering value is not something that someone else does.
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.
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!