I’ve been thinking a lot about benefits recently. It was the feature of a week of discussion questions in my Facebook group, and I’m leaning more and more towards benefits being something that the project manager has to get involved with. This idea that we deliver the outputs and then the permanent organisation magics up the benefits is feeling more and more like old style thinking.
So I was delighted to get a copy of Benefits Realization Management: Strategic Value from Portfolios, Programs and Projects, from Carlos Eduardo Martins Serra even though I was a bit daunted by the length of it.
I shouldn’t have worried.
Despite looking pretty boring on the outside (I was holding it with the title obscured and a colleague said he thought it looked like a modern-day book about religion), inside is hugely practical.
Every few pages it feels like there is a table or diagram succinctly explaining a concept. Here's my interpretation of how to close the value gap by using benefits to jump you to where you need to be.
There are templates galore when you get later in the book. There’s a giant appendix on how to use the guidance, which means that what you read about you can actually do something with. The whole thing has been designed to be intensely useful. The templates are repeated in another appendix (with chapter references) so you don’t have to keep flicking back and forward or marking the pages to find the one you want.
The book starts with the ‘strategic alignment’ angle that is so crucial to project management right now, but quickly moves into a discussion of project success and how value is created in the business. That’s all tied back to benefits.
Part 2 is where you start to get into the author’s model for the management of benefits. The Enterprise Benefits Realisation Management process is explained simply. I liked the fact that there is adequate focus on the people responsible for benefits realisation: for all I said at the beginning about project managers taking a more active role in benefits, I’m aware that we can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all.
Essentially this part is a flexible framework for translating business strategy drivers into benefits and then planning how to get them and making it happen. This is a huge part of project governance – we don’t do projects for fun, we do them to get the benefits!
The book also includes a couple of case studies: a few more might have been nice but to be honest I was reading it more interested in what I could do in my projects rather than much caring about what other people did. Your own context is always more valuable, I think, when the guidance is so clear about how to implement benefits realisation management that I was always thinking about what it meant for me.
The exception to that is the worked example in Appendix C which is a (fake) case study but it takes you through all the relevant templates as they would be completed for that organisation. This is helpful because you can see what is supposed to go into each section and plan what you are going to say for your projects.
Each chapter ends with review questions. I didn’t think these added much. If you are a student and want to check your understanding, great – do them. The answers are at the back so you can check your work. But if you are a professional, reading it because you want to do benefits realisation more effectively in your organisations, then I doubt you’ll spend much more time on these than a cursory glance as you turn the page.
In summary, I enjoyed it more than I expected and I think it will become a desk reference for me on how to manage project benefits. Recommended.
Benefits Realization Management is published by CRC Press.
Last month I looked at the 5 questions to ask during benefits identification, based on information from the latest PMI Pulse report into benefits realisation.
This month I want to look at what happens next. You’ve asked those questions and got some vague but helpful answers. How do you turn them into concrete documentation that explains the project’s benefits to everyone concerned?
Luckily, the Pulse report has the answers in the form of 5 activities to do which help you define your benefits.
I’ve listed them below, along with my interpretation of what this means and how you could potentially incorporate the tasks into your project plan.
1. Defining the objectives and critical success factors
This is the same as you would do for any project, so I don’t think that you’ll need any special help here. You should set the objectives for your project and make sure that you understand how success will be measured in the eyes of the stakeholders.
Schedule the work: Set up some workshops with the right people to ensure that everyone is on the same page about the project vision. Document it and refer to it often.
2. Recognising and quantifying business benefits
In 40% of projects, the Pulse report states that this responsibility falls to the functional area VP or Director who could realistically be acting as the sponsor. Now you know the overall objectives for the project you need to think about how these translate into benefits for the organisation. You also need to know how they are going to be measured, or in what way you could assess whether you have actually achieved the stated benefits.
Schedule the work: Talk to the person or group responsible for the identification of benefits and get their views on what these should be. Start a conversation with your team about how you could build in deliverables that make benefits tracking easier.
3. Developing meaningful metrics and key performance indicators to measure the actual delivery of benefits and planned benefits
Turn those measures into a dashboard or concrete, measurable output that means something to the team and the people who are looking at it.
Schedule the work: Create a work package or work breakdown structure entry that reflects the work you have to do in order to build a mechanism for developing the metric. This could be as easy as creating new report, or it might take a lot longer and a lot more thought. Make sure you know who will be using this report (or whatever) so that you can get them to test it, and schedule in the testing activity too.
Remember that in order to see and measure a change in result, you have to have a baseline. That will probably involve doing measurement of the current state of affairs e.g. cycle time, to see if it changes in line with your expectation for benefits once the project has completed.
4. Establishing processes for measuring progress against benefits plan
You’ve got your baseline and your way of tracking, but when are you going to see those benefits and how much are you expecting at any one time? You can also think about when you are going to stop measuring the benefits – for example, you could take the benefit in this financial year and then not track it next year, considering it a business-as-usual situation by then.
Define a process – weekly, monthly? As part of that, cover off who is going to be the process owner and who is doing the work.
Schedule the work: Make sure that you have clarity about who is going to do the measuring. If it’s your project team, add time and tasks to their workload to allow for this, along with a plan for how you are going to hand this over to someone else once the project completes.
You’ll need a benefits plan to track against, so write or get one of those.
5. Creating a communications plan necessary to record progress and report to stakeholders
I don’t think it is worth having a separate plan for this as you could find that some of your comms activities are then in conflict. It’s definitely worth including benefits messaging in your normal project comms work too, so that a much wider audience gets to hear about all the great results that your project is getting.
Schedule the work: Put benefits identification and realisation communication tasks in your normal communications plan.
Hopefully this gives you some idea of the kind of work that goes into identifying benefits. It’s not rocket science but it can be time-consuming, especially if you haven’t had much experience as a company of thinking in a benefits-led way before.
Take the time and do it right, and you’ll get much better project results overall!
Read the whole report here: http://www.pmi.org/learning/pulse.aspx
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.