Welcome to our 7 step checklist to realising your project benefits.
This article contains seven proven steps that will help you turn your ideas into deliverable projects that can drive genuine change within your organisation.
Here’s what’s included:
1: Setting Expectations
2: Assigning Responsibilities
3: Accurate Benefits Measuring
4: The Benefits Plan
5: Quality Gates and Benefits Changes
6: Evaluating the ‘Disbenefits’
7: Measuring Intangible Benefits
So if you’re ready to start helping your organisation to realise their project and programme benefits then let’s dive right in.
Most projects start life as an idea and need to be evaluated to see if they pass organisational hurdles to become actual projects.
The majority do not pass this hurdle and never become projects!
The typical ‘hurdle’ is the level of expected benefits that the project will deliver to the organisation.
These benefits need to be evaluated and steps taken to ensure that planned benefits are realised.
However, all too often, project benefits are vague and once the project is completed the benefits are not measured or actively realised.
This is irrational!
The key reason you initiate a project or programme is to deliver benefits, so let’s look at how you can plan and realise them effectively.
Before we dive into the key steps in planning / realising benefits, Let’s start with a definition of what a benefit is:
“A benefit is an outcome of change which is perceived as positive by a stakeholder”
Reference: Benefits Realisation Management by Gerald Bradley
This is a good definition as it is broad enough to cover both intangible and tangible benefits.
Too often benefits are only considered as financial, which is not only too narrow but also incorrect.
When planning your benefits, too often there is a vague statement like: “will decrease departmental costs by x %”.
This is a classic benefit statement but in reality, it’s a bit ‘finger in the air’.
What is needed is a more granular definition of the benefit.
A more granular statement can be challenged – in a positive way – and can be measured more easily.
Too many projects get approved with this type of benefit statement and some would not have been approved if a more granular benefit statement was articulated.
It is also hard to measure a vague benefit statement like this.
It is the Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) or sponsor who is responsible for delivering the benefits; it is not the project manager.
The overall accountability will be with the SRO but the responsibility of delivering the benefits is likely to be across a number of people, i.e benefit owners.
Too often, in projects and programmes, the sponsor, who may be new to project management, is not aware that they are accountable for delivering the benefits promised.
It is good practice for the project manager to brief the sponsor on their accountabilities regarding benefits delivery.
Sometimes different projects are counting the same benefit, i.e., they are double counting.
For example, an organisation may have a target to save money – saving of £100,000 on subcontractor fees.
A number of projects may be initiated that will contribute to this £100,000 saving, but there is the danger that these projects double count the benefits so that the organisation is led to believe that the saving of £100k has been achieved but in reality, due to double counting, the benefit target is not reached.
One way of ensuring that there is no double counting is again to be granular with the benefit descriptions.
For example, which contractor salary savings is project x and project y contributing?
In our PPM tool, PM3, we have the ability to measure organisational benefits. Here, ‘global benefits’ are defined, and rather than each project create their own name for a benefit, the project manager selects the correctly named organisational benefit from a dropdown list.
This allows you to run reports that show all projects that are contributing to the defined organisational benefit of, for example, contractor saving.
The sponsor or senior stakeholders can then interrogate the project teams to make sure that there is no double counting.
If all the projects have similar but different names for the same benefit it is hard to work out whether benefits are being double counted or not.
Typically, when a project is initiated a rough plan of benefits is created. This could be in the form of target, revised target and actual by month.
The benefits could be realised after the project has been delivered or they could commence when a milestone has been reached.
As we all know, projects can slip in terms of their delivery dates.
It then follows that if the project schedule slips then the benefits plan also needs to be rescheduled.
The benefit plan and the schedule need to be linked. If this is not the case, then the project could be delivered late, but the project team will still report that the benefits have been delivered as originally planned.
In PM3, we link each benefit with the milestone that triggers the benefit.
The milestone that triggers the benefit could be the ‘go-live’ milestone or an earlier milestone.
We create this link so the system flags to the project manager when a milestone that triggers a benefit has been delayed or re-scheduled.
This is a reminder to the project manager to replan the timing of the benefits when a ‘trigger milestone’ has been pushed back.
This process ensures that the organisation has an accurate view of when the benefits will be realised.
Quality gates have been a focus of many of our blogs.
They are a very powerful project control mechanism!
One of the purposes of a quality, or stage gate, is to keep checking whether the project is still viable and should still be progressed.
It is too easy to take the mastermind view of projects: I’ve started so I’ll finish!
This is not a good approach, as the predicted benefits may have reduced to such a level that valuable resources could be used to deliver another project that does deliver sufficient benefits.
At each quality gate the project team needs to reassess the benefits plan and update it if necessary.
The quality gate will need to be reviewed by a governance body and the revised benefit plan reassessed.
Using quality gates in this way will give the sponsor confidence on the level of benefits that will actually be delivered.
Some projects will have a number of benefits that are planned to be realised.
But remember that one or more benefit may have a consequential negative effect on the organisation, i.e., a disbenefit.
For example, an NHS organisation worked out that all glaucoma referrals were being sent to A&E, but only a very small percentage actually had glaucoma.
To save money patients were directed to a local eye hospital and not A&E. This saved money at A&E which was expensive but did increase the cost at the local eye hospital. The net benefit was however positive.
For this project it would be easy to claim all the savings at A&E, but the more accurate benefit would be the savings at A&E minus the extra cost at the local eye hospital.
This extra cost is a disbenefit and needs to be included in benefit plans otherwise you are overstating the actual benefit.
Some organisations assume that the only benefits worth tracking, and measuring are the financial or tangible benefits.
There is an argument that all intangible benefits ultimately lead to a financial benefit.
This may be true for private sector companies, but it is certainly not true for public sector organisations.
A benefit for a local council could be a citizens’ satisfaction with the council services.
For the private sector, it could be staff satisfaction – measured by a survey.
Improved staff satisfaction may indeed lead to improved productivity and profit, but it can be hard to make the causal link and there could be a significant delay in the link between productivity and staff satisfaction.
It is therefore important to include intangible benefits in your overall benefit plan and to include some measure(s) of how you will measure and ultimately realise these benefits.
All organisations want to realise their project and programme benefits, but not many take the 7-step approach outlined in this blog.
Taking these steps will help the sponsor and project team deliver the predicted level of benefits that the organisation is expecting and ultimately deliver more successful outcomes for you and your organisation.