Can change initiatives deliver value? Views from the front line

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Posted by APM on 20th Dec 2011

The Benefits Management SIG welcomed Paul Summers and Ivan Rout to their meeting in London on 15th December. Paul and Ivan shared their experiences in developing a ‘benefits culture’ at Portsmouth City Council and for Network Rail. Their views from the front line provided insight to how benefits realisation management can improve project success rates and support change initiatives in delivering value. Both speakers observed that previously project failures had been addressed by increasing the bureaucracy involved in project governance. The introduction of benefits management offered a new approach which changed the focus of projects and provided the key to project success.

Craig Higton set the scene with a brief outline of the Benefits Management SIG and its mission before introducing Paul Summers winner of the 2011 Post Graduate award.

Paul argued that benefits management is the keystone of project management. He described how despite employing many trained project mangers the Portsmouth City Council had an embarrassing history of project failure. He identified a number of causes for this failure and explained how these could be addressed through the introduction of benefits management and systems thinking. Using benefits management to define the purpose of change programmes improved the selection of projects in the first instance and helped project teams to focus on why projects were being delivered as well as what and how. To embed the benefits culture, Paul had created a Community of Practice within the council to support project managers. They used a Project Management Maturity Model to demonstrate success and help them identify areas for further improvement. This fundamental change has resulted in impressive improvements in the public perception of the council as well as project delivery. Paul concluded his presentation with some reflections on what was important; understanding the organisational culture to win hearts and minds and to talk, talk, talk and talk more about benefits! Paul’s presentation was based on his prize-winning paper.

In the second presentation Ivan Rout addressed the question “How do we engage senior managers in benefits management?” Ivan shared his experience as a ‘benefits journeyman’ within Network Rail. He argued that estimating benefits from a change programme is as important as estimating the costs and setting the budget and that there should be a clear link between the problem (or opportunity) being addressed, the programme outcomes and the overall benefits to be delivered. He emphasised the importance of being able to demonstrate that the benefits contribute to the strategic aims of the business and described how the use of an Investment Logic Map was generally welcomed by programme sponsors and enabled them to use benefits measures to drive continuous improvement. Ivan concluded by saying the answer to the question “Can change initiatives deliver value?” was a qualified YES …with the right people leading business change and investment performance and if the benefits are expressed in terms which have persistent value to the business.

A common theme covered in both presentations is the need for the organisation to approach change from a learning perspective and to be prepared to ask basic questions about the purpose of the projects and how they fit organisational strategy. The discussion session built on this with comments on looking at the broader picture and getting the project mandate right at the outset. Craig Higton was able to show us an Investment Logic Map. He explained how this represents the rationale for investment in a single page and provides a communication tool. He agreed that this was only part of the picture and that the risks and assumptions associated with the project and benefits were also important. An interesting question was raised on the definition of benefits that satisfy both end users and financial investors, as in energy performance contracting. Readers are invited to contribute to this discussion here

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