Welcome to the second in a four-part series exploring Benefits Management and the simple things that you can do to ensure you get the value you need from major projects.

This article recommends a couple of tools that work especially well for managing the benefits of major projects when you can’t be in the same room. We share how Benefits maps and prioritising your portfolio by benefits can close the gulf we sometimes feel within and across teams these days.

ahmed-yaaniu-lD2PZuMscsw-unsplashThe problem

In today’s socially distanced world, ensuring you get the most value from your projects and investments can be an even bigger challenge than before.

Have you been in situations where you need to have the right conversations, agree on what ‘good’ looks like and measure these benefits or ‘good outcomes’ so that everyone can understand what benefits targets they are personally responsible for reaching?

Ideally, you would discuss the status of the initiatives these benefits are reliant on and see easily where any delays or issues with initiatives or suppliers may affect benefits. And to be able to report to owners of benefits and leaders on the progress towards benefits. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but all of these conversations crucial to benefits management become harder when you are at a distance from others in a completely virtual world of work.

 Why it matters

People running an organisation must see what is essential to deliver success. This is much easier when seen in a visual and compelling way. Without a big picture perspective, how can everyone understand their role in driving business value in relation to the rest of the organisation? This overview is one of the most potent aspects of benefits management.

There is a huge gulf between having strategic objectives and understanding the part each initiative and person plays in delivering that objective. That’s where benefits management comes in. To deliver an improved line of sight of how objectives will be achieved across portfolios. This is even more important today when we have to respond fast to changing priorities and resource constraints and even harder when we aren’t face-to-face.

How to create a motivating ‘Big Picture’ of project benefits when working remotely

Two techniques I find helpful with the growing communication challenge of working at one removed from each other. Benefits Maps and Portfolio Prioritisation.

You will have, like me, spent time staring at a list of projects and thinking Are we doing the best things, and do we need to do them all to deliver the objectives? Thankfully, these are two techniques you can use that work especially well at a distance.

Benefits Maps do a better job of explaining the end-to-end flow of benefits than any spreadsheet, and they are so easy to collaborate on remotely.

Just before the first lockdown last year, I worked with a major media organisation to clarify their change portfolio. To take a benefits-led approach to help prioritise and optimise their programmes in light of changing priorities.

A benefits map was created in a workshop. This showed them everything in one place and opened up necessary discussions on each initiative. The group decided which strategic objective each initiative contributed most to. Over time this had become unclear. As complexity grows, this clarity is essential to make changes that maintain benefits whilst reducing cost.

When organisations need to change the scope of initiatives, they need visual tools. To understand, debate and capture the impact of changes quickly and in a simple way. A map is needed for all initiatives and the outcomes they will deliver, aligned to the strategic objectives. Only then can you test that you have the right portfolio that delivers the needed balance of benefits as a whole.

How a benefit Map helps

For example, looking at the ‘New Ways of Working’ initiative on the map above, this initiative is expected to be a factor in every strategic objective. You can see that benefits contribution is shown with arrows from the initiative to each of the four objectives on the right. However, say, for example, this project was initially intended as an environmental project but now is predominantly a cost-saving exercise the project plan may need to be rethought. Maybe the initiatives are no longer enough on their own to bring about the expected cost-saving, so the plan will have to be adapted.

Agility is so much easier with a clear picture to inform your decisions about what is essential. The visual perspective allows you to discuss the pros and cons of specific strategies and make sure you keep the objectives in mind at all times. Also, it helps to test that you only measure what really matters.

Thankfully mapping can be done collaboratively very easily in online workshops to decide and visualise what is most critical to delivering the benefits. If you can see enough to discuss what the benefits are truly dependent on and agree on what matters most for each initiative, this can summarise the story of the Project on one page. Maps are engaging and motivating for everyone involved and can reflect many perspectives. In virtual meetings, many voices can easily be lost, and no one’s decision making ever improved that way. So sharing a benefits map can allow inclusive discussion and ensure that every voice gets heard.

Benefits map

Example Benefits Map

How prioritising using benefits helps

Business environments are changing faster than ever. Prioritising portfolios by how much benefits value they promise can help make the tricky decisions much easier, especially decisions about which projects have to go or stay when significant factors change.

When you have new cost and resource constraints, you might want to compare different business case options anew. Using agreed scoring criteria, you can prioritise and make decisions that everyone involved will understand and get behind. Making the process as visual as possible makes this even more compelling.

Initially, you need to set some criteria for what constitutes ‘good’ to reflect your business goals.

These might include criteria for Return on Investment, Effectiveness, Strategic alignment, Risk, Acceptability or Innovation, for example.

You can set weightings for the importance of criteria in a visually accessible way. So, for example, is cost-effectiveness the be-all and end-all or do you want to find the delicate balance between cost, sustainability and social impact?

Then, you can use these criteria as the foundation of your business rules for success and benefits realisation. By adapting the criteria you can test different business case options and your prioritisation will always be based on the balance of value that you agreed. This offers you a transparent way to decide whether an initiative is in or out of your portfolios.

This kind of thinking tool and the analysis behind it come into its own when a portfolio needs to deliver a really hard balance of value. This kind of decision is possible to discuss online when opinion can be pinned down and made explicit and shared.

Benefits focused portfolio analysis

Example benefits focused portfolio analysis

These tools can make the intangible or incoherent easier to see and debate

Having virtual tools that you can use to test your decisions planning, and developing scenarios for possible new approaches can equip you to be just as agile as you were before, when we could meet face-to-face.

But the thinking tools that you use have to be easy, and they have to be used regularly to become part of your standard practices for discussion. Without something to capture all the varied criteria and changing opinions on any decision, you will be more at risk of not managing your project in a way that drives benefit value than ever before and at risk of losing momentum, motivation and collaboration.

We may find all these virtual meetings hard going sometimes, but there’s no need for benefits management to feel like pinning jelly to the wall. You just need a few good ways to make your decisions visual, shareable, and rational, so everyone can buy into how their work plays a part in the project’s wider goals and why critical decisions are being made.

Have you found any other thinking tools that help bring these less tangible decisions to life in the past year?

Do share any other ideas so that I can reflect on them in my next blogs.

Read Hannah’s first blog post: The Scope of Benefits Realisation Management

Read Hannah’s third blog post: Benefits 3.0

About the Author

Hannah McBainHannah McBain: I work with our varied customers to support them to deliver greater value from projects, programmes and portfolios. That might include benefit mapping, which visualises the impact of their decisions so that they can better deliver strategy, or building their own benefits data hub and management processes within Wovex.

Sometimes, the priority is to provide assurance and oversight. Sometimes to track and analyse the benefits delivered or to optimise portfolios and quickly uncover and address risks.  My focus is to help customers to remain agile and deliver whatever benefits they promise.

Follow Hannah on Linkedin.

Wovex: Benefits Management Automation

Wovex is the easiest way to get greater benefits for your organisation.

The global market leader in benefits management software. Customers include Fujitsu, Syngenta and major programmes such as HS2 (Europe’s largest infrastructure project). The reason you do projects at all is to get the results and value you need from them.

We bring our expertise in benefits realisation management to a simple engaging product that supports and structures the collection of your benefits information to deliver powerful insights. Wovex allows you to make better decisions and to be more successful.