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!
This presentation shares 5 facts from Gerald Bradley's book about managing project benefits: Benefit Realisation Management (2nd Ed).
You’ve got a great project with a ton of benefits coming your way. Everyone’s really happy. And then someone says: “Exactly how much are we going to get from this project?” Suddenly it’s no longer enough just to list benefits – you have to quantify them as well, and that means producing an accurate forecast. Ouch.
So what can you do to get that benefits forecast as accurate as possible? Here are some tips for building a more reliable outlook.
1. Strong leadership
This almost goes without saying. If you have your project sponsor encouraging you to be transparent and honest with the estimating process, challenging your assumptions and leading by example then you will get a better result.
2. Validate first
Don’t invent a way of measuring benefits (when they are realised) that you can’t test. Test your benefits capture mechanisms, and then change them when they don’t work the way you thought they would!
3. Account for them now
People are more inclined to produce accurate forecasts if they know they will be held to account. If you expect your project to deliver a certain financial benefit, put that in the right department’s budget today. If it’s a productivity benefit, build that into the team’s annual objectives or performance targets.
4. Be negative
Take the opposing view to challenge estimates. Think critically about the other side of the argument and what would happen if the benefits aren’t delivered as planned. This can help you avoid optimism bias and come up with a realistic range.
5. Get another opinion
Pick a trusted project management colleague or even someone in a different team to review your estimates. This independent challenge can give you another perspective and help you avoid getting sucked into a project team mentality in which you make unrealistic assumptions. An internal auditor could carry out this role for you, or someone from your PMO.
6. Don’t estimate alone
Use the Delphi technique or other group estimating tools – you’ll get a far better, more accurate result than if you came up with the benefits forecast by yourself.
7. Forecast a range
As with financial forecasts, predicting an amount in a range gives you more flexibility. Avoid single-point forecasts (“We’ll generate $689.52 extra revenue”) and opt for a spread of figures (“We’ll bring in between $550 and $700 in extra revenue”).
8. Review your estimates regularly
As your project progresses, go back to those estimate and make sure that they are still accurate. Your project will change and those changes could well have an impact – positive or negative – on the benefits forecast. Keep your forecast up to date and communicate any changes to the key stakeholders. A change too far in the wrong direction could mean your project is no longer viable. Linking back to the first point on this list, that’s the time when strong leadership comes into its own. It might mean cancelling the project or backing out some changes that have an adverse effect on the benefits profile.
Benefits are the reasons we do projects and programmes, so if the benefits aren’t there, you have to have a very good justification for continuing to work on the project. That’s why benefits realisation is important. More effective benefits realisation happens when estimates are good, people understand how they have been calculated and above all, they are realistic. It isn’t hard to do, but more often than not project teams and the organisations they work for don’t spend the time on the benefits planning stages to get good results at the end.
What does your company do? Let us know in the comments below.