It’s not the first time – and probably not the last yet! – that a “successful” project is delivered only to be later known that its expected results differ from planned or that the product or service delivered never got used after all. We have all been there. The good news is that we can do something about it. Ladies and gentlemen, today I give you Benefits Realization and Benefits Management.
Project Benefits Management
Long story short, benefits are the reason why projects get started. We do projects because we want to gain something from doing it, that is, wait for it….benefits! Thus, in a project benefits management a project benefit can be described as the perceived positive and measurable impact of change by the project stakeholders (APM).
There are diverse types of benefits but the most common way to categorize them is in:
Tangible, or ‘hard’ benefits, refer to benefits that are quantifiable, usually in monetary or time terms, such as dollars saved or gained, lead time reduction, or improvements in productivity
Intangible, or ‘soft’ benefits are more difficult to measure but that does not mean that they are less important. This kind of benefits can include aspects such as increased transparency, increased reputation, or increased satisfaction, for example.
Benefits vs Outcomes vs Outputs
While benefits and benefits realization have been a hot topic in project management world, there is still much confusion in terminology, so let’s be clear: projects deliver outputs, which enable change, which in turn produce outcomes, which are measured by benefits, which help to achieve an organization’s objectives. No, they are not all the same thing!
The table below summarizes the key differences between these 3 important concepts:
Describes a feature
Describes a new organizational state
Describes an advantage accruing from the outcome
Answers the question: What are we delivering?
Answers the question: Why are we doing this?
Answers the question: What do we gain from it?
Is a deliverable (WHAT)
Is the desired operational result (WHY)
Is the measurement of an outcome. An end benefit is a direct contribution to a strategic objective (END GOAL)
Example: an e-commerce system
Example: the ability to process web-placed orders
Example: increased sales revenue of 5%
Benefits Realization Management- Realizing Benefits
First, it needs to be clear ‘why are we doing this?’, this project. We need to start with the end in mind. This means identifying the benefits that the project will enable, which should be captured in the Business Case, the key document justifying the existence of the project. Given that benefits can be of several order, tangible and intangible, the use of the 5 Case model is recommended – strategic, economic, financial, management, and commercial – to ensure that all possible areas are being thought of and covered by the project.
In addition, each benefit should have its own Profile, a document which provides basic information about the benefit such as who will benefit from it, who will be responsible for tracking it, or how and when it should be measured.
Since most of the time benefits are interrelated, it is useful to understand how the realization of a certain benefit can enable the realization of another. Such is possible through a Benefits Map, a document which functions as a network diagram, representing the sequence in which benefits will be realized as well as any linkage points.
Another key document in the BRM process - if not the most important! – is the Benefits Realization Plan. This document details what will be the approach for achieving the benefits proposed by the project, including roles and responsibilities for owning, tracking, and measuring the benefits, as well as a set of activities that need to be put in motion by an agreed date. This includes determining when to start and stop monitoring benefits realization and how to report that information to the business.
The delivery of the project will enable benefits to later be realized. Most benefits are realized just a couple of months, sometimes years, after the project is completed, thus, there are no activities related to BRM during the Execution phase. However, if working in a programme setting, some of the benefits may be realized while the programme progresses.
Once the project is finished, and outcomes produced, it is time to harvest and sustain benefits in the organization. This includes ensuring that benefits are not simply on paper but are actually realized according to the Benefits Realization Plan. Given that the project is completed by then, the project manager typically has no intervention in this phase, being a responsibility of the project sponsor, benefit owners from the business, and the PMO, to ensure that monitoring and measurement of benefits is taking place, using a Benefits Tracker.
I’m just the Project Manager, should I worry about benefits?
This is an ongoing debate in the community but most professionals agree that active benefits realization falls out of the remit of the project manager. However, this is not to say that project managers don’t have a role to play. In fact, project managers are in a unique position to be more than the middle man and bear a responsibility in ensuring that the project delivers what it was set to deliver. After all, using an analogy, what’s the point of performing a successful surgery in a patient if he dies at the end?
It is well known that BRM is an emerging discipline and that most organizations are still immature when it comes to benefits realization. It is not uncommon to find projects with overstated benefits just to get them approved – a benefits fraud, to call things by their name! – or a benefits miracle, when no one knows how benefits will be realized or if they were indeed but we do believe in our hearts, with deep faith, that all will turn out well, a pure miracle!
It’s a fact: benefits realization management is no easy task. However, it is much worse to be aware that you are wasting organizational resources in a project that will not deliver benefits and let it proceed.
Make no mistake: projects are born to realize benefits, not the other way around.