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Benefits Summit 2016 – Keynote session write up and slides - Benefits Management in an Agile World

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In 2012 Matt Williams created the first of a series of Benefits Summits in Australia. This led to the idea of a UK Benefits Summit, and Matt presented at our first Summit in 2015, on the subject of "Benefits-led portfolio management”. For his closing keynote in 2016, Matt explored the case for adopting an “agile” approach to benefits management. 

Agile Benefits Management

He suggests that agile is arguably the leading IT project development methodology in use today, and that an agile approach has potential applicability across all business units in a diverse range of industries. He says that the traditional view is that the benefits of a project or change initiative are realised after a project is complete.

However, agile’s incremental capability delivery approach encourages benefit owners to continuously focus on the value created with each deliverable, relative to the business case which supported the project investment. The ongoing feedback from benefits focused stakeholders, when combined with project delivery teams, should provide a range of insightful performance-based lead indicators to be generated.

Matt is the co-author of a white paper on this subject with Tony Scuteri, also of Connexion Systems (the paper is available for download here). His presentation draws on this material.

A key message is that as the pace of change and digital disruption is increasing, initiatives need to deliver value incrementally, as soon as they can, in order to remain relevant and to provide a faster return from investment. By using an agile approach, he argues that we can deliver value, and measure success, earlier.

He uses three striking examples of disruptive change, with the message that unless businesses continue to adapt rapidly, they risk being overtaken by those that do, or new entrants with new operating models:

  • Amazon is the world’s biggest retailer, but operates no bricks and mortar stores
  • Airbnb is the world’s biggest hotel style provider, but operates no hotels
  • Uber is the world’s biggest taxi service, but does not operate a fleet of taxis

He shows that agile, with incremental delivery, makes practical sense as well - with a corresponding reducing profile of delivery risk and rising profile of delivered value (and greater final aggregate value).

Agile uses an iterative approach to optimise solutions, with lessons learned and applied throughout the life-cycle. It allows a staged release of funds in-line with success, and promotes a fail fast mentality.

4 step process to Agile Benefits Management

Connexion Systems have a software tool called Amplify, described as “a software platform for aligning investments with strategy, writing better business cases and realising more benefits for your organisation”.

Matt based the second half of his talk around the “amplify 4-step investment process” of Identify, Plan, Monitor and Evaluate, with the following key points:

Identify: Business value is the delivery of benefits, so it is important to identify benefits at the outset of every project. An agile approach is for incremental delivery rather than big bang. Compared to the traditional approach, agile delivers an earlier and greater Return On Investment (ROI). Matt referenced the publication “The Strategic Impact of Projects – Identify benefits to drive business results” within PMI Pulse of the Profession, March 2016.

Plan: We need to plan for early benefits realisation. Plans can take many forms, but the important point is that we need to identify ‘quick wins’ – outcomes that we can plan and measure. One method of planning is to have a combined project and benefit delivery schedule.

Monitor and Evaluate: Before benefits are realised, we need to track our progress in realising intermediate outcomes. There will be some initiatives when benefits have to be at the end, but an agile approach can still be applied if intermediate outcomes are tracked. When performance is not as required, a corrective shift in approach can be taken.

Matt believes that an agile approach allows sponsors to:

  • Review performance to date versus the business case at regular intervals
  • Check that the direction and end state are still sound (i.e. no significant shift in the market or new disruptors)
  • Determine whether the investment is still the best option for future capital investment (Portfolio Optimisation), or whether further investment is perhaps warranted to exploit the opportunity.

He explained the vital role of the Business Case, as the “mandate from the organisation to deliver value”. This should be reviewed regularly to consider internal and external factors, and particularly:

  • Are the initiatives still strategically aligned?
  • What is the delivery performance (£, time)?
  • Are the benefits likely to be realised?

And echoing words from last year, he said that “if an initiative no longer fits, have the decency to kill it”. And once again he closed by calling for “no more zombie projects”, supported by the same memorable picture of zombie-like people wandering aimlessly.

Question – Do you work in an agile environment? If so how do you manage your benefits?

About Matt Williams

Matt Williams is the Managing Director of Connexion Systems, based in Australia. He describes his company as “a provider of innovative services and systems that enable project organisations to maximise business value generated from portfolios of capital investments”. He instigated the first Benefits Summit in Australia in 2012, and has been running them there every year since.

Ned Newton
Committee member

The presentation can be viewed below and on the APM Resources page of the website.

Also available from the Benefits Summit 2016 conference:


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