This article is about the new British standard: applying benefits management on portfolios, programmes and projects — A guide. There’s also a launch video recording.
This blog is the first of three that explains the story behind the standard. The other two are: a gallop through the standard, and the seven deadly sins of benefits management.
Benefits management isn’t new
Benefits management is the way we used to do things. It feels as though we have lost our way since then which is reflected in the poor project success rate (see Bent Flyvbjerg and Alex Budzier for example). By restoring the focus onto benefits, we can improve success. And if ‘what gets measured gets done’ is true, then by measuring the benefits, it’s far more likely that projects will be successful.
Everyone has their own way of doing benefits management, and everyone thinks that their way is the best method. For many people who have gained all their experience at project management in a single organisation, they can’t conceive that anyone does benefits management in any other way than the way they do it.
It’s time for a benefits management standard.
How we developed the standard
BSI has a standard process, both for deciding which standards to pursue, and for preparing them.
First, the requirement has to fall within the remit or purview of one of the Technical Committees. In this case, portfolio, programme and project management. This committee then allocates resources which mainly consists of volunteers but when the publication date nears, an editor joins the team. The volunteers that are selected represent a wide range of interests and constituencies, including the organisations and people most likely to use the standard.
Our drafting panel included both breadth (experience across different industries) and depth (walking the walk: sponsor, benefits planning and delivery). We used existing publications and took care to comply with existing standards, both UK (project management, GovS002 government functional standard on Project Delivery, IPA’s advice, Axelos and APMG courses, standards relating to the work including risk, value and social value standards) and international (ISO215xx series of standards on projects programmes and portfolio and standards relating to the work).
As well as the formal public consultation (with over 400 comments from the public), we invited the public to comment early on in the process which improved the document at each stage.
This is a guide. That means it uses the terminology ‘should’. Once it has been used and challenged for a few years, we will consider updating it to a technical specification and at that point the language changes to ‘shall’.
The guidance in the standard
A British standard has to guide people towards consistent success and away from points of weakness that would be likely to result in a disaster. This standard is no exception.
A good standard needs to be broad enough that most mature organisations are already compliant, but at the same time specific enough to distinguish good from bad. A standard should stretch aspirations, and with this guide, no one organisation manages benefits across all aspects that the standard covers. Very few organisations manage benefits across portfolios or use this to determine how to initiate new projects, or close down existing projects. And few organisations use forecasts of likely benefits realization to make decisions during project delivery.
The panel are all experienced benefits managers and/or project sponsors, but we still found some surprises in the source material.
Some we should have expected such as abuse of legitimate techniques and wanton disregard for evidence that you just don’t expect in ”your profession”. It’s mostly summarised in the next blog post, seven deadly sins.
But there were excellent approaches to benefits management. Two are highlighted below:
- Benefits management across the portfolio: projects in total should contribute to the organisation’s objectives in total, and regular reviews should consider the impact on other projects and what changes might be needed.
- Benefits management of all stages of a project: most benefits management approaches focus on the business case – planning the benefits once the decision has been made to solve a particular problem. There’s a nod to benefits realization after handover. But benefits management is needed before making a decision to explore an opportunity, and benefits management informs decisions during project delivery.
We recognise that benefits management to date has been focused on the financial benefits and, specifically, the return on investment measured in GBP. And yet the world is burning — there won’t be a return on investment if the world isn’t habitable when the project hands over its outputs. So we referred out to the current best guide to this, BS8950 social value, as well as directing practitioners to other approaches and in particular to how to put values on non-financial benefits. I couldn’t leave without mentioning the UN SDGs.
How to find out more
The standard itself can be downloaded from BSI’s shop, and I’m working on an introduction to benefits management likely to be published by APM, which gets a practitioner into benefits management quickly but without the detail — for the detail you should refer to the standard.
There are also webinars and face-to-face meetings coming up (see APM events page), and of course APM’s Benefits & Value SIG (alongside Governance SIG) has our own conference this year on the theme A sustainable future - governance, leadership and benefits. What will make the difference? Save the date 10 October 2023 in London.
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