Benefits: everyone wants some, right? As with other processes – and project management in general – failing to plan is planning to fail and benefits realization management is no different. Yes, to succeed you need to start by getting yourself a plan! In the context of benefits realization management, that magic and powerful tool is called the Benefits Realisation Management Plan (not to be confused with the Benefits Realisation Plan, which covers just one stage of the benefits realization!), and it serves as a structured way of planning, monitoring, tracking and managing the collective set of benefits associated with a project or program.
Let’s find out more about the when, who, how, and what of your new favorite management document.
The key message for you: please don’t wait until the end of the project to start planning for benefits realization! Benefits might just realize after the project is closed – and indeed that is often the case – but planning should start from the offset of the project, as part of the planning stage. Start with the end in mind. Note that the benefits realization plan is a living document – that means that it should be revisited and updated at the project stage gates since any changes in the project (scope, time, or others) can have an impact on the realization of its benefits.
Being the owner of the project’s business case, the ultimate accountability for the realization of benefits lies with the project sponsor. Thus, s/he is also accountable for the production of the benefits realization management plan. In practice, however, it is likely that it will be the project manager and/or a benefits specialist to be proposing a plan. Regardless of who actually does the doing, they should seek buy-in for the plan, especially amongst the beneficial owners, to ensure that accountability is well-defined and that the plan is committed to.
The benefits realization management plan is where you describe your strategy, thus it is usually a document with some data in a table format where appropriate. It can include the detail behind each benefit (e.g. benefit profiles) or it can be understood as an aggregator and referring to the collective of benefits. This document is subject to management control and exists on its own or as a subsidiary plan of the Project Management Plan.
A benefits realization management plan outlines where the project wants to go, how it is going to get there, and how is it going to measure how well it did. It describes the management strategy to be followed for anything relating to the realization of benefits and therefore it will include:
- Benefits realization scope: following from the business case of the project, this area provides the context for the benefits as well as an overview of their contribution to the organization’s strategic objectives.
- Benefits realization accountability: clarifies who is going to be the go-to person for each of the benefits, their contact details, as well as if their responsibility stops when the project ends or if there will be an owner pre-project go-live and post-go-live.
- Benefits realization timescales and measurement: present not just the start date for measurement but also when should that measurement stop. In the same vein, regular measurement points should be established to allow for the identification of trends and to enable a quick correction if required.
- Benefits realization resources: it is not enough to want to do benefits realization management, you also need sufficient and capable resources to do it properly – people, time, tools, money. The benefits realization plan should identify that dependency to allow for the hiring of resources and/or the securing of funding in a timely way.
- Benefits realization monitoring and control: highlights how assurance is going to be performed on the benefits realization management process. This entails not just the responsibility for benefit reviews but also where and how data is going to be tracked and the reporting and escalation routes.
- Benefits realization enablers: outlines what are the pre-requisites required to facilitate the realization of the benefits – this refers to your critical success factors as well as to any other change initiatives in the organization which are critical dependencies for the attainment of such benefits.
- Benefits realization KPIs and critical success factors: in order to know if the project has successfully realized its benefits, it’s crucial that we define from the beginning what good looks like, that is, the key performance indicators (KPIs) which are going to be used. If I achieve just 7 out of 10 benefits, is this acceptable or is it a problem to solve?
In summary, the benefits realization management plan is what enables you to make sure you get the intended benefits planned for your project. Having a sound benefits realization management plan will improve the delivery of intended benefits, allow you to make better use of your resources, clarify accountability, and set clear expectations about what is needed to move those benefits from paper to practice.