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Benefits Realisation

I’m surprised to find myself writing about this. When I first started formal training in Project Management I honestly thought ‘Benefits Realisation’ was pointless jargon. As a profession, I wondered if we really needed something to describe the most fundamental part of Project Management. Surely the whole POINT of a project was to change something in order for the end user to realise some benefit? I questioned if ‘Benefits Realisation’ (and indeed Benefits Management) really justified its own unique name and training? It’s uncomfortable to admit but as it turns out, it does.

What Is It

Benefits Realisation is important, but not revolutionary. The Association for Project Management says it is ‘the practice of ensuring that benefits are derived from outputs and outcomes.’ Obvious, right? When conceiving a project, its goal is to provide a positive or necessary change. If you identify what is positive or necessary about this change, in effect you identify the benefits.

However, Project Benefits should not be confused with Project Requirements. One is what you want to achieve and the other is how you will do it. For example, installing a boiler in an office block is a project requirement whereas providing adequate working temperatures to (Australian) office workers in the (deepest, darkest, British) winter is a project benefit.

The Problem

Benefits so often get lost over the lifecycle of the project.

I have managed or been involved with hundreds of projects and programs of work. They range from 4 week UPS battery replacements to 3 year fire safety upgrades. Previously, I had considered every one successful when the scope was achieved as per the contract. In hindsight though, I’m not sure every Client would agree. How many times have you achieved project completion only to hear those cringeworthy words from your Client;

‘That’s not what I wanted’

‘This doesn’t do what I need it to’

‘It’s not how I pictured it’

In the past I put this down to a failure of the Client or end user. My reasoning was that the Client is ultimately responsible for the Business Case and so they should make sure the reasons for change are maintained throughout the project. Regardless of the inevitable changes to the scope, project requirements and working environment, the Client should champion the benefits. In contrast, I thought that the Contractor’s focus should always be on delivering the project requirements. I was convinced that good contracting meant being flexible and reactive, adapting to changing requirements with minimum impact to the Client’s budget and programme.

Benefits Realisation Gone Wrong
When Project Requirements don’t deliver Project Benefits

I was wrong. Contractors are often the people who understand the practical and likely outcomes of a project. Whilst a Client may need to set the project strategy, it is the job of the Contractor to help the Client visualise the end result and decide if the project requirements really will deliver what they want.

The Solution

Benefits Realisation deserves a great deal of focus. Ideally, project benefits are clearly communicated in the Client’s Business Case and are then translated in the Contractor’s Project Plan (tangible or otherwise). At very least, Contractors should understand the benefit the Client is trying to achieve and warn them when scope creep might hinder the ultimate goal of the project. All project team members including designers, contractors and end users should constantly revisit benefits during the project lifecycle and flag any risks.

Complex projects may even require a Benefits Management Plan. This details exactly how benefits will be realised, who owns each benefit and how success can be measured.  

However, if a project or programme is less complex, benefits management can be as simple as this:

  1. Ask the Client the reasons for undertaking change and what they are expecting at completion (i.e. the Project Benefits)
  2. Check that the contract will deliver these benefits
  3. Tell the Client when changes to the scope threaten realisation of the project benefits

Whether they realise it or not, most Contractors worth their salt already have some version of Benefits Realisation in their arsenal. However, producing a tangible Management Plan will really put this fundamental, essential practice at the forefront of every Contractor’s thinking, providing genuine value to their Clients. If you need a steer on how to start, or more dedicated assistance to put together a specific plan or template, get in touch. As a convert to formalising Benefits Realisation, I can help.