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Let’s be realistic – benefits don’t just happen; benefits don’t just get realized by themselves.  In fact, benefits from programs and projects are often not realized unless they and the required business changes are proactively managed during and typically post-initiative closure.

We have all seen it, the dilemma when a program or project is closed out: resources, decision makers and funding are all disbanded, but the benefits are not yet realized.  Benefits take time, money and resourcing to be realized.  But whose role is it?  The project manager is onto the next project, other resources are consumed elsewhere and senior management’s attention is focused on the next challenge.

So yes, we need to get better at understanding and managing benefits, regardless of size or type of organisation.  It isn’t about finger pointing but rather recognizing that benefits management is an integral element of strategy, portfolio, program and project management.  To be successful it needs to be incorporated throughout the business change life cycle.

5 tips to embarking on benefits management

  1. Be pro-active. It is not enough to just document expected benefits in a business case and then get signoff. Ongoing questions need to be asked and reviewed: are we going to realise the benefits originally expected?  Are there potentially new emergent benefits?  Are there threats to achieving benefits?  Have any benefits been diluted?
  2. Transparency, transparency, transparency. Easily said, but harder in reality.  Yes, reports and benefit forecasts need to be open and honest.  Yes, realism needs to prevail – be aware of being over confident and over-optimistic in benefit forecasting.  Ensure at all times there is the link back to strategy: the why.
  3. Forward-looking focus. For many organisations, benefits management is still relatively new, and let’s face it, maturity levels for benefits management tend to be low.  We need to focus on learning and continuous improvement of benefit management practices as opposed to a culture of blame.
  4. Roles, responsibilities and ownership. Working backwards, who is the benefit owner?  Who is really going to ‘benefit’ from the benefit?  Who is responsible at a program/project level for ensuring that benefits are understood, planned and reported?  Who is accountable for the initiative meeting its objectives and being setup to optimize benefit realization? Benefits management requires clear and agreed accountabilities and responsibilities.
  5. Think value. The focus should be on benefit optimization, not necessarily maximization.  Optimization of benefits considers constraints and potential other uses of funding.  Realizing 80% of potential benefits for an initiative may, for example, be greater value for money as opposed to spending additional budget to achieve the last 20%.  Understanding value is a crucial element of successful benefits management.

“Benefits management should be coordinated with, and integrated into, the organization’s strategic planning, project and program management and performance management systems…”

Managing Benefits, Steve Jenner (APMG International)

Contributed by;

Tracey Copland, Head of Best Practice, PM-Partners group.