Benefits realisation allows organisations to plan, manage and monitor how time, effort and resources are invested into making desirable changes within the organisation. It is an essential part of project management, which invariably involves change for the better through a clearly defined, results-focused process.
Planning for benefits realisation, however, involves a lot more than identifying which benefits should be delivered and to whom. You also need a clear timeline, a plan for implementation, and a way to assess how well your actual results match up to the outcomes you planned for.
- Identify benefits.
- Define in detail what each benefit will entail.
- Assign dates for the delivery of the benefits.
- Detail the necessary implementation procedures to ensure that benefits are delivered in full.
- Plan for change management as the processes to deliver new benefits are implemented.
- Track progress at every stage of the project lifecycle.
- Develop methodologies to compare actual outcomes to planned outcomes.
Benefits realisation generally involves a complex process that can, of course, be made easier by the right project management tools. A significant number of changes implemented by public sector organisations come under harsh criticism for not actually achieving the benefits that they aimed to deliver. This can often be due to a lack of benefits management, or sometimes a lack of any robust project management methodology at all.
Identifying the benefits that you’re aiming for is the first step. Ensuring that those benefits are well defined and quantifiable is the only way to know for sure whether you delivered them or not. You may also be identifying and monitoring benefits that are not quantifiable but are observable and measurable. Let’s look at each of those in turn.
Quantifiable benefits are benefits that can be forecast and measured. They are often financial, such as a specific amount of money that can be saved (particularly in the not-for-profit sector) or made (more commonly in for-profit organisations). They may also be quantifiable in some other way, such as cutting waiting times in a healthcare setting or improving exam results in educational facilities.
When it comes to justifying a particular project, quantifiable benefits can be fundamental in persuading stakeholders of the project’s importance. They can be defined in advance and accurately tracked at each stage of the project life cycle. It’s vital, of course, to establish a baseline by which benefits will be measured, and then capture all data relevant to the benefit. Omitting data related to outcomes is where project analysis often goes very wrong!
Observable benefits are those that may not be easy to measure objectively but can undoubtedly be assessed by experienced observers. These can include things such as staff morale, ethical standing within the community, and satisfaction levels among end-users of your service. These benefits can be incorporated into your objectives for your projects, and you may devise methods to assess them, but defining their success will rely primarily on observation.
Measurable benefits are those that can be objectively measured but not easily forecast. You can identify these benefits, but they can’t be incorporated into the outcomes that you are working towards as they can’t be predicted. Monitoring them, however, can be useful for future projects. Measurable benefits can be particularly valuable for pilot projects. Not sure if a change to your inventory system or a customer service initiative will make things better or worse? It can be implemented in one office or department and expanded (or ditched) depending on what your project analysis suggests regarding measurable benefits.
Mapping benefits to organisational goals
Excellent project management techniques will allow you to map benefits to overall organisational goals. Benefit realisation rarely serves just one purpose. Customer satisfaction is linked to customer retention. Employee morale is related to productivity levels. Patient experience is connected to public trust, complaints processing and even crisis management budgets.
Innovative, solution-based project management techniques allow organisations to link the desired benefits of any given project to the overall goals of their organisation, and assess how these two elements are moving forward together (or not) at each review point throughout the project life cycle.
Direct and indirect benefits
In every project, there will be direct and indirect benefits, which is why monitoring the non-quantifiable aspects of your project is essential. Indirect benefits include those intangible benefits that can’t be easily tracked, such as reputation, image and ethical standing in the community. Many organisations use a system of benefit estimation to assess the indirect benefits of a project, along with the more tangible direct benefits.
To track and measure the indirect benefits of a programme it is essential to observe and monitor every aspect of change that occurs within a system as a project progresses. Including both direct and indirect benefits in the final analysis of any benefit-driven organisational change creates a fuller and more valuable assessment on which to base future projects. It can allow potential change-makers to justify future plans that will potentially create indirect benefits.
To make expectations clear during the project management process, it’s useful to define a benefits realisation framework. A benefits framework allows organisations to identify, deliver, analyse and sustain the benefits associated with any particular project that they implement. The framework must be driven by the strategic planning process of the organisation and, to be effective, it must become standard practice throughout the project life cycle.
A benefits framework will lay out best practices, processes and techniques to be followed throughout the transition (and beyond, to sustain the value from changes). Most importantly, the framework will present the benefits not as a random list but as a web of interrelated objectives, creating a clear picture of where the achievement of a particular benefit is dependent on the realisation of another.
Solution-based project management software is a valuable piece of the puzzle when trying to implement benefits-driven change.