The event was set up primarily to explore the current state of research into benefits management and its incorporation into HE courses. The 33 participants came from a variety of backgrounds, including researchers, lecturers, consultants and practitioners in benefits management. The public and private sectors were both well represented. Some participants came from organisations that are mature in their use of benefits management, while others are just starting to explore its potential.
After a welcome from Daniel Nicholls, Research Manager at the APM, Richard Breese, a Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Business School and Benefits Management SIG Committee member, outlined the themes for the day. He referred to a 'stages and layers' model of the development of benefits management and the role of the event in promoting the fourth stage, accreditation in benefits management.
There followed three contrasting presentations, from Arnoud Franken, Senior Lecturer at Cranfield University, Ben Pinches, Managing Director of Oxford Major Programmes and Markus Laursen, doctoral researcher at Aarhus University. Arnoud spoke about the importance of focusing on benefits if business change programmes are to succeed and the range of courses at Cranfield University where this perspective is utilised. Ben summarised a major literature review on benefits management for the Department of Health that he had contributed to as part of a team from Said Business School, Oxford University, and offered his thoughts on priorities for future research in benefits management. Markus outlined his current research on project value creation and the Aarhus 2017 European Capital of Culture programme. He also referred to a Danish initiative called 'Project Half Double' (half the time, double the impact). Details of the speakers, and their presentations can be found below.
In the afternoon, there were further mini-presentations
- from Ruth Evans on benefits management in a module called 'Process modelling, benefits and change', part of the Masters in Heath Informatics at the University of Leeds
- from David Waller and Ruth Evans on the Yorkshire Benefits Management Network
- from Therese Lawlor-Wright and Charles Dobson on the inclusion of benefits management in project management courses at Cumbria University
- from Markus Laursen on his use of benefits management for students on the Masters degree in the Experience Economy, Aarhus University, Denmark
Discussion groups covered the state of benefits management research, benefits management in HE courses and the issues with benefits management in practice.
As far as research on benefits management is concerned, the conclusions and actions arising from the discussion included
- the complex relationships between benefits management and change management. the event had highlighted the importance of a benefits focus in change management, but also the adoption and embedding of benefits management is a change in itself that requires managing.
- the need for clarity over the use of terminology, such benefits management, benefits realisation, benefits realisation management and value management. There is a lack of construct clarity.
- the need to move beyond individual case studies into larger data sets for research, and establish more reference class studies
- the significance of stakeholder interests in benefits management, challenging the notion that benefits are 'out there' (more research into the politics of benefits management).
- the debates about measurement of benefits and the role of intangible benefits, which affect performance management and evaluation.
For benefits management in teaching at HE level, conclusions and actions included
- the lack of information about the incorporation of benefits management into the HE curriculum. Few project management courses have modules on benefits management or value management, or refer to them in course summaries. However, these themes may be included in the detailed module content. Benefits management may feature in teaching on business cases and on programme/portfolio management, for example.
- the significance of HE teaching including benefits management if benefits thinking is to be engrained in the mindset of the leaders of the future (catch them young!). This links to the issues on accountability (see below).
- HE teaching will influence whether benefits management as a management idea goes from strength to strength or peaks and then declines in popularity.
- the origins of benefits management in IT-enabled change mean that sometimes its relevance in other fields, both project related and in general management, is missed. Often students in different disciplines will approach benefits in different ways, eg engineering students have a different perspective from management students.
- linking benefits management to decision-making in HE courses, eg in business simulation contexts.
General issues about benefits management raised included
- the need for advice for organisations at different stages of maturity and in different industries. The diverse contexts in which benefits management can be relevant is a challenge, from the detail of projects to corporate strategies.
- the links between benefits and other project issues, such as risk, need more attention and how benefits management fits with other organisational initiatives, such as agile and lean. In local authorities, outcome-based accountability (OBA) and logic models are examples where a benefits focus is incorporated in other management tools.
- where expertise in benefits management needs to sit, in organisational structures, and wider governance processes.
- the use of stories as a means of communication about benefits management.
- the lack of appetite for benefits management at higher levels in organisations, because of the accountability and transparency in decision-making that goes with it. How do you convince a sceptical boss?
- dangers that benefits management can become a 'tick-box' exercise.
- difficulties in sustaining the focus on benefits in the transfer to 'business as usual'.
- the role of benefits management in calling a halt to failing projects to 'cut losses'.
The event ended with a willingness to continue to work together to further develop the current momentum in benefits management research and teaching, in such a way as to be relevant to the practical issues facing organisations.
Benefits Management SIG committee member
The speakers have very kindly allowed their material to be made available for viewing below and the slides are also available in our APM resources area for reference.