Project Management

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from RebelsGuideToPM.com.

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The Evolving Landscape of Benefits Realisation

In December I wrote about benefits realisation and management, and how you get started in a simple way. That prompted a fantastic question from Markus:

 

Reflecting on your thoughts about the growing emphasis on benefits management in project management, it's clear that there's a real shift happening. It's fascinating to see this kind of evolution, where both big and small projects are being scrutinized not just for what they deliver but for the actual benefits they bring. This approach feels much more holistic, doesn't it? … What's your take on this evolving landscape? Do you feel that the focus on benefits management is changing how projects are approached in your organization?

 

So, let me dive into that a little today and reflect further on the shifting sands of benefits realisation.

benefits management


Change #1: Stakeholders

I think the first big change in the landscape of benefits management is that stakeholders are far more open to the idea that there are benefits.

In other words, they want to see benefits, they want to come along to workshops to define benefits and they want to get the credit for delivering benefits! People seem to realise that they can’t simply ask to do projects and someone on high say yes. It’s not that easy any longer.

I think part of this change has come about because there is not the funding sloshing around for pet projects any more. Going back a few years, we might have had funding for projects that didn’t really need to be justified beyond ‘sounding like a good idea’. These days, there is far more scrutiny on where the money is going, so it’s important that stakeholders are seen to be engaging with the process of benefits identification.

In real terms, that looks like a lot more commitment to the benefits identification and tracking process.

Change #2: Accountability

Having willing stakeholders prepared to go through the hassle of setting up benefits trackers is really only the start. They have to be held accountable and those tracked benefits need to be reported. And if the benefits aren’t there, that should be challenged. Perhaps there are good reasons why the benefits are delayed, and that can be factored into financial plans going forward.

Change #3: Over-reliance on benefits for funding

I don’t see this often, but there have been cases where some very good project idea has not been funded with ‘real’ money because the plan is that it will self-fund from the benefits. In reality, funding something with money that you save is really hard because you don’t get the savings until after you’ve done the work. So you either have to commit to doing the work and be really sure that the benefits will materialise, or don’t do the work because you can’t pay for it before any benefits are realised… it’s a bit chicken and egg.

I hope this doesn’t become a new benefits trend: yes, do any project you want as long as it’s self-funding! Even a bad idea could get the go ahead if that was the attitude.

Change #4: Identifying benefits

When I first started out as a project manager, we often talked about benefits, but only really listed intangible things like improved customer satisfaction generally (which we could have actually tracked, if we’d bothered enough) or staff morale, or brand reputation avoidance. Things like that.

Benefits are often a bit abstract or not immediately obvious, or you can’t take a baseline because you’re developing something new so there is no current baseline that’s easy to grab to track the difference.

I think part of the evolution is coming up with better ways to track benefits and identify them, and to be honest, I think large data sets, online tools, big data analytics and company’s interests in understanding everything in lots of detail paved the way for us to have the right approach to do this, and the data sources to back it up.

Markus went on to write:

The whole process of setting up models for benefit calculations can be quite a maze. You've got to bring in experts, wrangle with finance teams, and then there's the task of gathering all that baseline data. It's like piecing together a puzzle without having the picture on the box. Getting everyone on the same page, ensuring they understand and agree on the calculations, is a Herculean task in itself.

I certainly agree. It’s not about setting it up once and forgetting about it. It’s an ongoing effort that only starts with identification. However, the signs are there that more and more organisations are caring about benefits – probably because they have to, and that’s not a bad thing.

What does the landscape look like with you?

Posted on: February 19, 2024 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Benefits Management: How do you do it?

benefits management

I’m working with organisations who are putting a lot of thought into benefit management at the moment – more thought than I’ve ever seen in past years. I know benefits management has always been something to consider on projects, but how many project/leaders/organisations actually truly do it?

I’m sure the larger projects are geared up for benefits tracking, but smaller initiatives? Those that might only deliver a few thousand pounds/dollars of benefit per year? Are those being tracked?

I think the trend is changing, and I think there is more focus on benefits tracking, particularly in programmes. Where there is a large programme of work, even small projects get to contribute.

So how do you do it?

The first step is to work out what benefits your project is going to deliver. For example, that could be:

  • Cost saving
  • Increased sales/revenue

In fact, benefits could be lots of things (shorter cycle times, more calls answered, higher customer satisfaction) but most often they can be reduced to money. Shorter cycle times should mean more projects delivered in a year, so more value achieved, or more widgets through the process, so more sales. More calls answered should convert to more sales, so more cash. Higher customer satisfaction results in more repeat purchases and more testimonials that drive new buyers, so more cash.

Even carbon savings and sustainability targets can often be represented as financial benefits. Carbon has a financial figure associated with it, so you can translate carbon reduction into money.

The trouble comes with trying to get stakeholders to agree on how these benefits will be calculated.

More calls in, for example, might not translate to more sales for several months, depending on your business timeframes and processes. You will need some rules and assumptions around how benefit numbers are going to be worked out where the maths is not straightforward.

For example: if we outsource a service, we can reduce headcount in function and probably make a saving on the cost to serve (budgets are part of the outsourcing decision, after all). That’s a straightforward cash saving: those individuals are no longer on our payroll (even if they were moved across to the outsourced party – the UK has TUPE rules for this).

But do we count that saving as a ‘pure’ saving, or do we have to take off the cost of buying the outsourced service? How long can we claim the service for before it becomes BAU? What happens when we need to add a head or two back in, where do those costs go?

We need assumptions to make benefit calculations work, like what’s the average cost of a sale (so if we answer more calls we should convert x% and make y% extra money as a result).

This first step of creating a model on which to base benefit calculations is the hardest part, in my opinion. There are experts to consult, finances teams to engage, data to gather so we have something to use as the baseline, and lots of maths and spreadsheets to test out so we can model what the benefits might look like.

Getting agreement on how the benefits will be worked out is hard. You need everyone to agree, and more importantly, to understand how it all goes together so they can repeatedly work out the benefit using the same calculation, month after month for as long as you decided to track it for.

That’s no small undertaking, especially for organisations starting out. Especially as many projects have multiple strands and multiple things contribute to the benefits.

What’s the journey like for benefits tracking in your organisation? Let us know in the comments what the biggest challenge is for you – I’m interested to see if you agree with me that it’s the setting up and creating the assumptions and rules for calculation, or whether there is something else that is the hard part.

Posted on: December 18, 2023 08:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)
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