What 'benefit' really means

I had a long and protracted email ‘conversation’ with a project manager based in Europe. He was adamant that the prime reason that anyone ran with a project was to deliver benefits. Our email ‘conversation’ went on for some time and we both agreed that there was not enough emphasis put on benefits management and benefits realisation in projects. 

Our emails covered many aspects including what benefits realisation means to the project manager. We finally agreed that at its simplest, it means ensuring project benefits are clearly identified and articulated and realised in projects. 

So, what does this all mean for the project manager? 

  1. Establishing clear project benefits early in the life of the project: these need to be clear and realistic and need to take account of “delusional optimism.” This is over-emphasising projects’ potential benefits and underestimating likely costs, spinning success scenarios while ignoring the likelihood of possible mistakes.

  2. Asking questions: easy questions, difficult questions and dumb question of your stakeholders. The project manager needs to tease out the real business benefits. and to do this you need answers to questions; answers your stakeholders will often find difficult to answer. On our project management training courses we talk a lot about developing questioning skills and you may find this helpful   

  3. Developing clear measurement criteria: too often I hear project managers talking about project benefits they have identified. When challenged there are no measurement criteria against them and no process in place to check that the benefits have been achieved post project. Do remember ‘delusional optimism ‘in point 1 above 

  4. Marketing the benefits: we have had many comments from people on our project management courses that say something like “we cannot get finance on board” or “HR do not want to buy into this project”. If the benefits were packaged and sold to them effectively then maybe, just maybe they would come on board or buy into the project  

  5. Ensuring benefit management is integrated into your project: is the focus on delivering the project or the project benefits? You may argue they are the same however we have seen people drive delivery without the inclusion of project benefits! Project management benefits are integral to project management, not an ‘add on’ 

  6. Recognising that benefit realisation can be a staged process: if the project is to say save money or improve quality then the project to deliver these may have ended before the savings or the quality improvement are realised. An analysis of project benefits may need to be picked up some months after project closure, maybe it is a project in its own right 

  7. Making recommendations; project managers often complain of not enough resources (time, money, and people). There is pressure to deliver more with less however sometimes the project manager must be able to suggest or recommend to their sponsor that certain projects take priority over others. Rather,why not use clearly identified and measured benefits to help you do this. Compare and contrast one set of benefits against another. Of course, the priority decisions need to be made by classifying project benefits it can help

There is a clear trend for more emphasis on benefits management. This will mean project managers developing realistic benefits that add real value to projects. Project managers will need to sell benefits to stakeholders including project sponsors and ensure effective monitoring takes place. Don’t forget, a benefit may take some time to be realised so you need to have a process that follows up; often some time later. 



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