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The PMO and its Role in Benefits Management, 23rd June 2016

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Benefits Summit Workshop Write-Up

All in all, the Benefits Summit was full, with insightful speakers, and lots of interaction. A good day had by all.

I was one of the people tasked with running a workshop – PMO and its Role in Benefits Management. My workshop was oversubscribed (which I will take as a positive), and was geared to get the delegates talking.

We discussed the merits of understanding what value means to different organisations and the types of benefits that exist, followed by why benefits management is so hard to embed, the blockers, and political aspects of it.

The groups worked and scribbled on large paper to begin to draw a picture of benefits management. A lot of the output was similar cross table, but the interpretation of value differed widely. This piece is so important and is often overlooked in favour of the financial gains – not the driver actually in a lot of cases!

The groups were then asked to start to pull it all together and develop some strategies and ideas on how to address those hard to surpass challenges.

The findings?

What is value? Why so hard? Benefit types?
Reputation Defining what & why needed Cash releasing (short & long term)
Spending money wisely   Strategic alignment Reputation (social, recruit & retain)
Supporting local economy Measurement is difficult Health & Safety
Achieving targets Interpretation & application Performance
Maintaining world class status Dirty word  Recognition & morale
Supporting global challenges  Influence of behaviour  Company performance
Good communication  Immaturity Risk reduction
Customer experience   Involvement & Knowledge Capability & Capacity
Decision making information   Understanding cause & effect Socio-economic (environment, political)
Standard Processes   Time commitment throughout Repeat Business
Efficiency  Lack of communication  Commercial
Working & winning together  Lack of business case reviews  Asset reliability /Availability
Energy reduction & efficiency Don’t stop projects  Enabling improvement
Customer retention & growth  Post closure accountability  Efficiency gains
More for less  Accountability, consequences  Dis-benefits
People  Capacity and Priority  Statutory & Legal
Return on Investment  Focus on delivery   
Long term sustainability  Silo working culture   
  No process or plans    
  Lack of data & metrics   
  New concept   
  Not focused on embedding  
  Fear of association with failure   
  Top down support   

Just take a look at the above, no really look.

So often we go to the myriad of benefit types when defining our projects. More often we totally ignore the value question. So if people are confused by what benefit is what, and they don’t understand why it’s being measured because it doesn’t align to the organisation value perspective, is it any wonder we come across barrier after barrier? I would say no, not really.

So what can we do, to surpass some of the issues and get on with what we want to do? The groups came up with a few strategies which I have added to for effect mostly.

Sponsor Accountability is so important during the whole lifecycle of your benefits management, I cannot say it enough times. But, once a project is done and dusted, no matter how good a sponsor is they have a day job, a business to run, a service to deliver. With the best will in the world, a sponsor is too busy to co-ordinate the tracking and communication of benefits on a (let’s say) monthly basis – they are just too busy!

This is where greater PMO involvement comes in… Whether a project or programme specific PMO or a central office sticking around for longer; get yourselves involved in the benefits management piece. Support the definition, make it part of the agenda throughout the life of the activity, work with the teams who can provide the information for the measurement so the sponsor can trust that the benefits will be tracked.

If a central PMO, you can co-ordinate and communicate it up – if a temporary organisation, work with those teams to get a way of working for the future in process. Either way step out of the bubble you are currently in and use those stakeholder engagement skills to create better MI and tracking information.

This means the PMO is supporting benefits from start to finish, making sure the right measures are identified, keeping the project team honest, and supporting the sponsor to realise the value from his or her investment.

You can’t do any of that if you miss the crucial step of articulating what’s important at the start. Get to know your business and understand the value thread running through the organisation. Once you understand this you can define the metrics and KPIs that people genuinely care about and are interested in.

What you believe are Key Performance Indicators are holding you back! We need to stop tying everything back to a number and using the excuse that benefits are hard to measure. They aren’t hard to measure, you are just thinking about them all wrong…

You have financial benefits? Great! Speak to your finance team and define those.

The rest is up for grabs, so stop panicking about a number and start telling a story. People react better to stories a lot of the time anyway. Accept that sometimes your projects just make people happier and measure success in whatever way works that allows you to tell a story rather than add to the bottom line. They’ll soon stop caring about a number if they can see that morale is higher and reputation is intact.

None of this works without planning. Like project management, benefits realisation doesn’t work if you remember about it at the last minute and decide to put something in place the week before you move onto your next assignment. As said earlier, take the same amount of time and effort to define your benefits as you do your costs.

Use tooling that is appropriate – I am famously not an advocate of buying a tool that will magically make your benefits management world better.

If you are deciding on using tooling, make sure you have played around yourself based on the process that makes your organisation tick, and go to the market with what you actually need rather than what you think you need. Nine times out of ten you won’t use the majority of the bells and whistles anyway if you aren’t mature enough. If you are mature enough, get yourself a performance management process – but don’t be shy in taking the time to develop what works.

Without communication, you will fail. Let people know what you’re doing, don’t be afraid to say you didn’t quite make it to where you thought you would, and make it simple, legible, and in the right language for you organisation.

Don’t spam people, but give them enough to keep them focused.

The bottom line for me is this. PMO is consistently being attacked for not adding value. The projects are being attached for not delivering value in a visible way. At the risk of sounding like unikitty from the lego movie – why not work together for the good of the organisation (with rainbows, butterflies, candyfloss, and all that) and support change more positively? Is it easy? Nope. But nothing worth it ever was…

Emma-Ruth Arnaz-Pemberton


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