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The advantages of a benefits culture

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The increasingly distant horizons associated with many of our major projects and programmes present a raft of well-documented problems: the continually shifting environment; the onward march of technology; the loss of expertise, experience and corporate memory as some of these very long projects outlive the teams that manage them, several times over. 

Trying to use tools from what Peter Morris would describe as the technical aspect of project management1 - the schedule, the costs - to steer these behemoths doesn’t really work. The one focus which could offer us a sustained view of where we are going and how we are doing is that of the benefits.

But we need to improve the way we integrate benefits management into what we do, if we are going to make a real difference. Current doctrine emphasises that benefits only accrue once the project has delivered, and then only through the actions of the users (employees or customers or citizens, depending on the focus of the project), whose adoption of the project outcomes generates benefits for themselves and the project owning organisation.

What if we tried to start realising benefits earlier in the cycle?

An infrastructure programme such as HS2 is designed to encourage a chain reaction amongst the businesses, communities and citizens in the Midlands and the North of England. Thanks to scenario planning and economic modelling, we should at least have some sense of what the changes that we are anticipating look like.

This isn’t going to be a ‘Big Bang’ but rather a chain of (we hope) self-supporting actions, as businesses and individuals move, new services emerge and as the aspirations and the horizons of all of those impacted, start to change their behaviour and their values.

Let’s formalise this with an imaginative approach to earned benefits; a view of the project’s progress that establishes a baseline with a rich series of indicators to anticipate and encourage the early signs of change.

At the very least it would model the kind of behaviours at a human, community and organizational level that we want to catalyse. It would force us to address stakeholder management as an organic, dynamic activity; one that genuinely seeks to democratise and involve stakeholders, rather than trying to divide and conquer them. It might enable us to develop a better common language and understanding of the processes of large-scale change and the indicators associated with them.

Developing this kind of benefits culture isn’t an easy thing to do. You can’t map the correlation between cause and effect in a complex environment, so it doesn’t lend itself to the more mechanistic approaches of earned value or earned schedule. But, if you do rise to the challenge, just think of the advantages.

Help is at hand

The good news is that there are good sources of information out there to help you get started. For example: the International Association of Public Participation suggests several levels at which you can approach stakeholder involvement2; Tony Scuteri of Connexion Systems has written on the subject of benefits in an agile world3; and my own organization, The Major Projects Association, has done work on benefits in transformation projects4.

  1. The work of Peter Morris
  2. The International Association of Public Participation’s Spectrum of Participation
  3. White Paper on Benefits Management in an Agile World by Tony Scuteri
  4. Major Projects Association Highlight Report: Scoping Transformational Projects to Realise their Full Benefits

The photo is courtesy of This Fragile Tent and is used under a Creative Commons Licence


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