Benefits management: theory into practice

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Two key messages about benefits management are emerging
Firstly there is a direct correlation between effective benefits management and how successful an initiative is. A lack of benefits realisation maturity results in more projects failing to achieve their original goals and business intent. The Project Management Institute’s (PMI) 2016 Pulse of the Profession report regarding benefits identification attempts to quantify this by suggesting that organisations with high benefits realisation maturity waste 67% less money than those that don’t. 

Despite this, the second message is clear - we continue to struggle to manage benefits effectively. Benefits management is still an area of weakness in project and programme delivery. In the recent briefing report to HM Government Public Accounts Committee [PAC] the Infrastructure and Projects Authority were challenged to be more rigorous around benefits delivery within the Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP).

Further, the PMI Pulse of the Profession report: The High Cost of Low Performance indicates deterioration in this area.  The percentage of organisations reporting low maturity in benefits realisation appears to be trending upward - with nearly four in ten now reporting low maturity. I will leave my colleagues to debate the reasons why in their webinar in May: Benefits Management: it works, so why isn't everybody doing it? 

Learning from what works
What I’m interested in is what works. Understanding the theory is always essential but the real trick is how to interpret theory into successful practice. In his recent Blog ‘Supporting the value for money view of success’ Merv Wyeth referred to ‘pockets of good practice’ – so where are these pockets and how can we learn from them?

One answer is Swansea. I met Suzanne Richards, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) Benefits Realisation Assurance Manager, through the Public Sector Benefits Management Forum (run by Ben Ganney at Transport for London). Suzanne invited me to South Wales to understand how benefits are managed ‘the DVLA way’. So I set off in search of answers, and I wasn’t disappointed.  I could immediately tell that Suzanne was passionate about benefits management being at the centre of programme and project delivery - a passion I very much share. Suzanne and her team had prepared a detailed presentation about the benefits assurance function (see diagram for an overview), the processes and tools in place and how the function is supporting the Agency on its technology focused transformation journey.

In recent years the DVLA has fundamentally changed the way it delivers its business to customers. A new generation of customers expect everything to be online (avoiding queues at the Post Office!). The DVLA had to evolve in line with customer expectations whilst continuing to offer a cost effective service - and benefits management has been at the forefront of this important change. My observations are captured here. If you want to hear more Suzanne is presenting at the Benefits Summit on 23 June.  

Raising our game
Whilst there is no one true way to effective benefits management, there is undoubtedly learning we can take and apply from other organisations. These obviously need to be tailored to our own local circumstances, but the fundamental principles are the same. 

What’s clear from the DVLA is that in having dedicated resources with a focus on benefits is key to ensuring that benefits management becomes embedded in the organisation’s approach to project, programme and portfolio management. This does not distract from the need for the Sponsor/SRO to be accountable for the benefits, or for the business to own the benefits – but indeed strengthens the need for this accountability and ownership.

Steve Jenner, author and chief examiner of APMG ‘Managing Benefits’1 warns us against ‘creating a parallel industry that treats benefits management as a separate discipline’. I would wholeheartedly agree, but there is a balance to strike. For too long organisatons have failed to pay sufficient attention to managing benefits – instead, assuming that benefits ‘just happen’. A business case is approved and the benefits simply pop out at the end. Recent experiences have shown us that this is an unsafe assumption. 

We know we need to raise our game so that managing benefits is regarded as a distinct and central component of project, programme and portfolio management, ingrained in the culture of our organisations.

As the DVLA have found, this means establishing a formalised approach to benefits management and creating the necessary governance mechanisms to ensure this is adopted. It means investing time and effort upfront in identifying benefits and making sure these are tracked through to realisation, proactively managed and reviewed post implementation.

And of course all of this is dependent on having leaders who are committed to benefits realisation management and project professionals who understand it as an essential part of achieving desired outcomes. 

It’s good to share
The DVLA have a good story to tell. But I know there are others out there who are doing great things in this space. Some of whom will also be providing presentations at the Benefits Summit.

If you belong to one of the organisations succeeding in this area, or you have a less successful experience where you have learned from your mistakes, please get in touch with the APM Benefits Management SIG. We are keen to learn from your experiences and disseminate proven practice so that we can all ‘get better at benefits.’

 1 Jenner, S. / APMG-International (2014) A Senior Manager's Guide to Managing Benefits - 2nd Edition. London: The Stationary Office.


Posted by Anna Lay on 26th Apr 2016

About the Author

Anna has worked within public sector project management for 13 years, fulfilling a number of project and programme delivery positions before specialising in benefits management within health informatics. Anna obtained a first class degree in Sociology and Social Policy from the University of York, which provided a sound basis for working in the public sector. She was introduced to project and programme delivery during her time at the Department for Work and Pensions where she participated in the Project Management Graduate Scheme.

To support her development in health informatics in 2009 Anna completed an International Masters in Health Information Management from the renowned Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Anna is passionate about promoting the importance of a benefits-led approach to IT enabled change and is a committee member of the APM Benefits Management Specific Interest Group.

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