Welcome to the first 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 first article explores six areas of work that major projects work hard on but not always with the Benefits at the forefront of their minds. We share how our experience in major projects and organisations demonstrates how benefits can be at the core of these six areas to driving value.
The six areas that Benefits Management can help you with
If you, like many people we work with, are trying to get clear on where benefits management fits in with your work, then the six important areas of work I’ll cover will help.
Which of these six activities do you do today with benefits value in mind?
If you want to have benefits-thinking as central to your work, these six areas can help you focus on what to tackle first.
1. BUSINESS CASE MANAGEMENT
Many of our customers think of benefits management as related to business cases development, and this is often when organisations define the benefits of their work. Benefits Management should be used when creating a business case. HM Treasury in the UK and the PMI (Project Management Institute) and APM (Association for Project Management) all provide guidance for this. For example, how to identify benefits, and evaluate both the value expected from programmes and the risks to those benefits. This is especially important as you move from project brief to full business case. Do your business cases have benefits maps as standard to visually understand and agree on benefits? This is one great way to show how the business case is aligned with specific strategic objectives.
But I rarely meet people who use the information in their business cases to start their benefits planning without writing everything up again in a new language. Often it needs to be redefined in a way that can be a practical foundation for benefits performance tracking as we advance. Business Case development is usually a very disjointed process. Different people work on each stage. This can be improved if you agree at the start how benefits performance will be tracked and managed. Identifying measures that can be practically used as evidence of success for projects, businesses and supplier teams. Benefits management is most effective when carried out from idea identification right through to after projects are evaluated, sometimes many years later. This is not any more work it is just that a different mindset is needed to consider the end-to-end process of benefits management from the outset.
A key aspect of Benefits Management is to identify the projects and changes needed for benefits to be successfully delivered. And these are usually specified pretty thoroughly in the business case. But once projects are up and running at the scale needed it can be hard to keep up to date with whether each project is truly delivering what it was expected to. Especially when you have a mix of non-financial and financial benefits to oversee. The ability to calculate values, use formulas and set standard calculations, such as those for environmental impact, should not be demanding but set up early and used for planning.
Everyone who cares about delivering their benefits also needs to consider the risks to benefits and secure the benefits you stated at the start. With clear, live benefits plans and dashboards, changing priorities can be spotted and plans changed to reflect them.
The right Dashboard, no matter how simple, can help achieve the right balance of benefits from a portfolio of projects and ensure that your plans will achieve your objectives and goals.
3. DELIVERY MANAGEMENT
There is the day-to-day delivery of benefits. This includes the collection of data on the actual performance of measures from across your organisation, possibly requiring entry by multiple users and teams. Being able to turn this data into a comprehensive set of summaries that provide oversight of the expected benefits to share with managers, owners, and formal reviews is central to benefits management.
This is an area where I often find projects and organisations fall down. Processes can be haphazard and inconsistent or overly detailed. Anyone involved in benefits management can spend significant amounts of time chasing good data. Time is better spent helping people see what the status of benefits means for the organisation, identifying risks and supporting decision-makers.
But when set up well, the projects, portfolios, areas and supplier benefits will have dashboards providing up-to-date views of expected performance. Dashboards help to surface key issues and highlight priority actions required to keep the benefits delivery on track and drive consistency and protect benefits.
Project governance should always have sight of risks to benefits, assumptions, dependencies and their potential impacts, and benefit dashboards of some kind as a minimum.
Ensuring initiatives are or will deliver the most significant benefit for the cost, is a core area of Benefits Management. The priority of projects, changes and investments should be judged using a mix of flexible criteria. Can you currently assess how strategically aligned your projects are side by side? Can you have an informed discussion about the non-financial benefits expected from each initiative alongside traditional financial ROI, NPV and payback values?
When benefits management is embedded in your organisation, you will be able to make well-informed decisions based on the value of the most important benefits to each area of the business.
Benefits Management needs to be trusted and part of your broader control mechanisms that ensure successful delivery of benefits. You need the benefits information to be part of your reviews to ensure that projects and benefits are on-track and help to identify needed actions. Once you have embedded benefits thinking in your assurance you can pat yourselves on the back.
A summary of delivery status can focus sponsors on the level of confidence they have in delivering benefits. Also, on the impact expected if each benefit is not successful. Risk scores can help to drive a focus on what needs the most attention and upcoming milestones first.
But without a consistent process to assure delivery and the risks to benefits side-by-side it is hard for benefit owners to have honest conversations and to focus everyone on delivering optimum value. It doesn’t need to be much, but it does need to be consistent.
6. PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT
A Benefits Management process is there to enable the performance of projects to be improved – ensuring that benefits are delivered and goals met more consistently. Benefits Management supports managers and teams to review the delivery of benefits and provide evidence to demonstrate this.
Evidence of performance includes comparing different types of benefits side-by-side – achievements, challenges and next steps. This information can then be published or included in board reports and as part of governance processes.
Any Dashboard will allow each person tasked with meeting objectives and targets to see the status of all the projects that contribute to the targets and see a ‘golden thread‘ of value delivery. Trends can help identify if targets will be met, based on the status of initiatives and the size of benefits expected. Managers can identify areas of risk early and take pre-emptive action to avoid issues.
Maybe you can make just one of these areas a focus for the next month to ensure that the value you are delivering is baked into your processes and decisions?
Here’s to a 2021 that is more beneficial for everyone!
About the Author
Hannah 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.
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.