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Best not to be too scientific about benefits

There’s always a risk when you’re working on projects that you invest the detail of the process with a spurious, level of authority. Let’s take the example of benefit mapping. Ostensibly a wonderful tool for demonstrating causality and providing sponsors and stakeholders with a tangible picture of what you are going to deliver.

The trouble is that you need an experienced and sophisticated sponsor to be able to interpret and question the map, rather than take it at face value.

For other, less sophisticated sponsors, I suggest there are just three questions you need to ask and answer to make sense of benefits.

1. Benefits are dependent on people changing their behaviours (Bradley, 2010). So you need to spend time understanding what the desired behaviours are and how your project will encourage users to adopt these behaviours. This is true whether you are creating a new product or service; whether you are developing Government policy or simply trying to introduce new software to your business.

Ask yourself: ‘what am I expecting people to do as a result of my project? How am I expecting them to behave?’

2. Only users (customers, citizens, employees) can realise benefits (Driver, 2014). This means that you need to be rigorous demonstrating the logic behind your benefits map. For example, imagine you are mapping out a project to reduce the pressure on hospital accident and emergency departments. You have two choices: you can accept that patients want to use accident and emergency and divert resources to increase capacity. Alternatively you can develop information, services and model behaviours that encourage them to other healthcare solutions. In both cases, your benefits hinge on what patients choose to do.

Ask yourself: ‘why will people change their behaviour as a result of my project and what happens if they don’t’.

3. Project Sponsors are responsible for benefits (West 2010). Your sponsor needs to be asking the project team the kind of questions, I have indicated above. If you hold your sponsors to their responsibility, it makes project governance considerably easier. Rather than defining how and at what stages the sponsor should interact with the project team, giving them a responsibility for benefits means they need to be confident that the project, as designed, will encourage the kind of user-behaviours needed to realise the benefits. They need to work with the project team in whatever way is appropriate to assure this result.

By extension, they also need to ensure the project has the requisite resources to deliver what is needed. Any budget cuts, changes to the project or indeed, the decision to continue or close the project, should be assessed against these fundamental questions.

Ask yourself, as sponsor, as a result of this project, do I understand:

  • What we are expecting people to do?
  • How and why the project will enable and encourage them to do it?
  • What will happen if they don’t do it?
  • What the project needs in order achieve these outcomes?
  • Whether and how the value of these behaviours or our ability to influence them is changing through the project?

Don’t get me wrong. Benefits mapping is extremely useful, particularly in large and complicated projects where different individuals and different users may influence different behaviours. And these apparently simple questions won’t necessarily help you with the process, technology, raw materials and cost of your project but they are very useful check questions to help you avoid over-scoping your project, delivering outcomes without benefits and understanding whether you are still on course.

Figure 9.16

Figure 25.3


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  1. David Waller
    David Waller 19 June 2015, 09:55 PM

    Having drawn a few in my time, I have to declare an interest. I think Benefits Maps are a seriously under-used tool (but I would say that, wouldn't I). I'd hate people to take away the message that maps are there to blind with science or baffle with bull. Sadly, I have to admit they are often a misused tool as well.Done 'properly' the Sponsor will have been actively involved in the map's creation so they shouldn't need to interpret or question it because it's their map. First reality check, how often does a sponsor make the time to get so actively involved? As Merv has said, building the map is a shared experience. The map is a model of the desired end-state that shows the cause-effect nets between Means, Ways and Ends; what resources you can employ, how they will be used in practice and the results you wish to achieve. Involving the right people will hopefully flag up the business change and behaviour issues. When the project team proposes, "We give you some kit, then you use it in this way and get the result we want", the user can reply, "But I won't use it in this way, I'll do something entirely different and get the result I want". Second reality check, mapping workshops are really good for engaging stakeholders but consider that as an added bonus. The purpose of the exercise is to get a good map so make sure there's someone who can give it some quality assurance. I've seen it done where the facilitator has run a session that got people motivated (which was good) but produced nonsense (which was bad) that management was then reluctant to criticise afterwards.I may be mis-interpreting Jonathan's questions but they seem to suggest that his project objective has already been decided, now it's just a matter of making sure people behave in the right way to enable it to happen. Third reality check, often the objective has been decided and the 'benefits' are simply treats to get people to play nicely and not get in its way.They don't contribute much to any strategic intent.Done well, benefits mapping has tremendous value. It needs practice and study though. Like any other tool it depends on the purpose for which it's used and the skill of the person using it. 

  2. Merv Wyeth
    Merv Wyeth 19 June 2015, 10:38 AM

    Hi Jonathan,I am very grateful to you for your thought-provoking post.I personally believe that the experience of creating a benefits map is one that is best done together. It is the fact that it is shared experience that produces buy-in with key stakeholders – ideally including sponsors and Senior Responsible Owners, who are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the benefits are actually delivered.One of my favourite sayings, which I recently saw hung on a toilet wall, is “if you want to go fast go alone but if you want to go far, go together.” [African Proverb] Maps help you go on a project journey, or life-cycle, together!As you suggest in your article benefits don’t just happen. Driver [2014] objects to the use of the term 'benefits realisation.' It is the job of the project / programme team as producers to ensure delivery project results. They do not of themselves, realise benefits. Their results will be ‘orphaned’ unless consumers actually use them. Benefits maps can be particularly helpful in providing a logical representation of the relationship between the producer and consumer.I am a great believer in the power of imagery and visualisation to ensure that everyone is on the same page – including those that may not have been originally involved / in the room. A long list of bullet points and/or lengthy documents simply cannot engage the brain in quite the same way and certainly doesn't do it for me!As part of next week’s #apmbmsummit we will hold several workshops to help participants practice creating maps together. In addition, at our conference on 25 June we are planning to use a mind-mapper to record the day and create useful collateral. I believe that this record of our ‘shared experience’ will help to provide a legacy of our inaugural summit, and most importantly lead to changes in participant behaviour [see my own post entitled Change Behaviour if you want to create value from events #eventroi]Thanks again for knitting these thoughts together. It has certainly got me thinking!Merv

  3. Jonathan Norman
    Jonathan Norman 18 June 2015, 08:17 PM

    Neil, sadly the illustrations were merely eye candy, drawn from Gerald Bradley's book. The actual content of the benefits maps was unrelated to the post. You raise an interesting question and highlight one of the reasons why I am suspicious of overly detailed benefits maps. Ultimately benefits are about human behaviour and, allied to that, human perception and motivation. It can be worthwhile documenting assumptions about intermediate benefits, if this encourages you to record your assumptions behind the benefits map. You then have a reasonable basis for reflection, if reality starts to diverge from the map. But beyond that, I don't see the value. How far does your apportionment reflect the perception of the beneficiaries ... or your desire (and consequently weighting) for the benefit to be realised. I am very happy to be corrected on this and to admit my ignorance if I have missed the point! I think benefits maps provide us with a visual representation of the causal psychology behind a project; the expected cause and effect between action and reaction. They are always an artificial construct but extremely useful, nevertheless.

  4. Jonathan Norman
    Jonathan Norman 18 June 2015, 08:17 PM

    Neil, sadly the illustrations were merely eye candy, drawn from Gerald Bradley's book. The actual content of the benefits maps was unrelated to the post. You raise an interesting question and highlight one of the reasons why I am suspicious of overly detailed benefits maps. Ultimately benefits are about human behaviour and, allied to that, human perception and motivation. It can be worthwhile documenting assumptions about intermediate benefits, if this encourages you to record your assumptions behind the benefits map. You then have a reasonable basis for reflection, if reality starts to diverge from the map. But beyond that, I don't see the value. How far does your apportionment reflect the perception of the beneficiaries ... or your desire (and consequently weighting) for the benefit to be realised. I am very happy to be corrected on this and to admit my ignorance if I have missed the point! I think benefits maps provide us with a visual representation of the causal psychology behind a project; the expected cause and effect between action and reaction. They are always an artificial construct but extremely useful, nevertheless.