The problem with realising benefits
The goal of many projects is to have a new product, service or business improvement successfully adopted by an organisation. And for many project managers, the buck stops there. The project is implemented, reviewed shortly afterwards and declared a success as soon as the product is accepted; the service deployed; or result achieved.
But what about after that? What about six, twelve, eighteen months down the track? Are the benefits there – and if so, how can you tell?
The problem is that benefits often do not emerge until several months, or even years, after the project has been completed, by which time, there is no one left from the project team to check that they have, indeed, emerged.
By the time the benefits emerge, the project team has been disbanded, the suppliers are long gone, and the project manager is off managing other projects (sometimes in a different organisation). There’s simply no one from the project team left to measure the benefits and confirm that the project has actually had the desired effect.
The sad reality is that the vast majority of projects, “successful” ones included, do not end up delivering the benefits that justified the investment in the project in the first place. Organisations don’t actively realise the intended benefits. This could be for a number of reasons: from resistance to change within the organisation; to poor communication; to a lack of knowledge or skills required to use the new asset.
Whatever the reason, the development of a benefits realisation plan is the first step to ensuring that these benefits are achieved and that projects are indeed effective in achieving organisational goals.
What Does a Benefits Realisation Plan Involve?
A benefits realisation plan defines what the intended benefits are; when they are expected to emerge; how they will be measured; and who will measure them. It provides a blueprint for the achievement of benefits in the months and years after the project has been completed. It is a blueprint that the project sponsor or program manager will use during the benefits realisation process, post-project.
Developing a benefits realisation plan is a way to bring focus, clarity and accountability to benefit delivery. Although benefits realisation occurs post-project, the project manager may need to include some activities during the project to support this process, such as:
- Meeting with stakeholders to determine the intended benefits of the project, such as productivity improvements, cost reduction, product quality improvements, better customer service, higher revenues, or social/environmental/health/other outcomes;
- Aligning project objectives (to be achieved before the project closes) and benefits (to be achieved after the project has closed) with the organisation’s strategic objectives and corporate plans
- Determining how individual benefits will be measured in the short-, mid-, and long-term, and identifying the monitoring and evaluation frameworks that support this;
- Identifying benefit owners and defining responsibilities for benefits realisation post-project;
- Developing an initial benchmark for each benefit, against which to measure improvement in the future.
Learn more about benefits realisation plans at one of our project management courses in Sydney.
When Does Benefits Realisation Begin and End?
It is often said that project managers are focussed on efficiency (“doing the project right”), while project sponsors are focused on effectiveness (“doing the right project”). However, even though project managers are not accountable for benefits, they often play an important role in supporting the sponsor or program manager to define, measure, and maximise the benefits post-project.
The work that the project manager and team do during the life of the project can make or break the benefits realisation phase that follows. Therefore, benefits realisation should be front-of-mind for the project manager from the beginning and throughout the entire project life cycle.
Key project management documents, including the Project Charter, Project Management Plan, Project Status Reports, and Project Closure Reports should all make some reference to benefits. This is a way of continually validating the business case for the project, ensuring that the project is still a good investment, and that it is being managed in the manner most likely to lead to the desired benefits.
At the end of the project, the benefits realisation plan and supporting documentation should be handed over to the project sponsor or program manager, to ensure that intended benefits continue to be actively managed and realised by the organisation well after the completion of the project.
How do I learn more?
To learn more about benefits realisation and how to take your Project Management Plans to the next level, book your seat in one of our upcoming project management courses in Sydney.