When a project or programme is initiated, it is the desire for beneficial change that is the driving force behind the investment. Too often, however, once underway, organisations maintain a rigid focus on schedule and cost, realising too late that the benefits have been compromised.
Benefits management seeks to address this by introducing a set of practices and processes that ensure benefits are identified, quantified, tracked and optimised.
A benefits‑led delivery culture also results in programmes that are more closely aligned with strategic priorities and, due to greater attention being paid to measuring benefits, an organisation gains an improved ability to evidence success.
Benefits management requires project professionals to rethink the basis upon which they manage projects and ensures that decision‑makers listen closely to the views of stakeholders. Without the accompanying culture change, there is a risk that it is seen purely as an add‑on activity and its full potential value is not realised.
You do not need to be a benefits expert to optimise ROI using benefits management. The following five tools and practices will support the efforts of both benefits experts and novices…
1 Set up a benefits management forum
Awareness of why and how benefits management is done is key. Try setting up a benefits management forum, consisting of members from across the project delivery community, to create a sense of shared purpose, share knowledge and understand the barriers to adoption.
Engaging content will be crucial to maintaining interest, so consider inviting external speakers. Also try to get senior leadership involvement, but be cautious about using them as chair, as this can create an environment that is too formal.
Another technique for early in the life cycle is to run a benefits identification workshop, bringing together stakeholders to organically identify benefits, gain consensus of what the project is trying to achieve and what benefits they deem most important.
2 Create a portfolio benefits repository
A portfolio benefits repository can help in understanding the totality of investment within your organisation and the positive impacts you want to achieve. The repository is a database of all the benefits identified by projects and programmes.
It is important to be clear about the scope of the repository – which projects will be included, what data fields are most important and what you will do with the information. Although project documentation is generally the source of the data needed, the responsibility for keeping it up‑to‑date needs to be clear.
The repository will also highlight any gaps in the existing benefits management offering. It can provide useful evidence for a mandate to implement further process improvement and strengthen the capability offering for benefits management within your organisation.
3 Use a benefits and measurement dictionary
Typically, there is a lot of enthusiasm for benefits management at the start of a project; however, this tends to subside when it comes to the question of measuring benefits.
A benefits and measurement dictionary lists a set of common benefits, suggested measures and the data owners. When creating your dictionary, take a top‑down and bottom‑up approach. Look at organisational objectives and think: what benefits would need to be realised to achieve these? Look at business cases and pull out the benefits that have been identified. Share this list with a large group of stakeholders to gain consensus that these are the right benefits.
4 Use benefits or logic maps
The Treasury’s 2020 Green Book Review emphasises the importance of a clear understanding of a project’s contribution to strategic goals within a business case. Benefits management can help to strengthen strategic cases by identifying benefits and measurement metrics that directly align to objectives.
Benefits or logic maps are commonly used as a visual representation of these relationships and can be excellent communication tools, as they demonstrate the links between the drivers behind the desired change, the outputs required to achieve it, the benefits and outcomes that result, and their contribution to strategic objectives.
5 Apply value management
Value management is a discipline that aims to balance the best outcomes with the resources available.
For example, the needs of a local community can easily become overshadowed by the larger and nationally more significant benefits of a large project. Running value management workshops to identify ways of measuring the benefits that a diverse set of stakeholders have identified will inform benefits realisation planning and contribute to delivering a project that reaches the best outcome possible for everybody.
When assessing delivery options, evidence may demonstrate that the option providing the highest economic ROI does not deliver the outcomes that stakeholders need. This is a difficult message to convey, but combining benefits management and value management should increase transparency about why an option with a lower economic ROI is a more prudent option to pursue.
This blog is co-written by Harris Vallianatos, Laura Geddes‑Brock and Jamie King.
Laura Geddes-Brock is Head of Rail Benefits at the Department for Transport.
Jamie King is Benefits Management Lead at Highways England.