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It is usually the case that simply producing an output does not automatically realise benefits. In most cases an output is used to change some aspect of an organisation’s mode of operation or environment. Implicit within the word ‘change’ is a quantifiable improvement in one or more performance indicators to which value has been assigned.
The goals of this process are to:
- establish the current state of what is being changed;
- co-ordinate the delivery of outputs with the management of change;
- ensure changes are permanent;
- establish whether benefits have been achieved.
In its simplest form, realising benefits is about measuring current performance, helping the people who make up the organisation through the period of change (the transition) and finally, measuring the improvement in performance.
Establishing the baseline for these performance criteria is the foundation for understanding the business case. Without a starting point improvements cannot be quantified; if improvements cannot be quantified the business case cannot be accurately assessed at the start of the work or reviewed at the conclusion of the work. The data used to baseline performance must be current, accurate and relevant.
Preparing for transition will broadly cover two areas: co-ordinating the delivery of outputs that enable change and winning the hearts and minds of the people who need to use those outputs to achieve beneficial change.
Planned changes must be effectively communicated to all those affected. Firstly, project management teams need to understand that the delivery of outputs needs to be co-ordinated with change management. This is not the same as delivering as soon as possible, which is often the default position.
Secondly, the effectiveness of any change depends largely on how receptive people in the affected business areas and operational units are to the proposed change. The change management function will ensure that benefits and associated change are communicated, and the ‘readiness to change’ of all those affected is assessed.
The readiness of the organisation will dictate the ease with which change can be implemented and must be assessed for its impact on schedules, risks and costs throughout the project, programme or portfolio.
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Initiating the transition has many principles in common with mobilisation in other aspects of a project or programme. It involves the co-ordination of output delivery with mobilisation of the operational infrastructure needed to realise the benefits.
In this context, mobilisation must include establishing support for those affected by the changes being implemented. This can range from technical support for new systems to HR support for individuals and external support for varied types of stakeholder.
As outputs are accepted they are handed over to staff who have been trained and briefed on any follow-on actions. Configuration, risk and quality information is handed over and the planned operational changes are implemented. Any temporary arrangements need to be in place, such as parallel working of two systems and contingency plans should be in place should any change fail to work.
As changes take effect, the performance criteria are monitored. The full value of benefits may not be achieved during the period of change and will accumulate over a longer period leading up to the final review. However, the significant changes in performance should be observable during this period and these should also provide indications of longer term success.
During the period of change new opportunities may come to light for additional benefits, which is why the benefits management procedure has the feedback loop to the definition of new benefits.
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Benefits can easily fail to achieve their anticipated value if changes are not embedded into the organisation. New working practices can regress to the previous state if support is not provided. In a programme or portfolio where multiple benefits and associated change are planned, it is particularly important to embed and consolidate one set of changes before considering more.
As the changes take effect it will be possible to decommission the previous systems. Only once the change is well on track to become the normal way of working should the support infrastructure be demobilised.
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The timing of the final benefits review is set according to the original business case. Most benefits are realised continuously once the transition has been embedded into business-as-usual. On this basis any investment could be justified simply by counting the benefits for a sufficient period of time.
The business case should specify the period over which benefits may be accumulated to generate the value used to justify the work. At the end of this period a final benefits review should be conducted.
In many organisations business-as-usual is subject to multiple changes that interact and it may be difficult to isolate value generated by specific elements of change. Assessment of benefits should be clear and quantified wherever possible. If this is not possible, then assumptions and subjective judgements used in the review should be clearly documented.
Failure to perform reviews of benefits against business cases makes it impossible to judge the effectiveness of P3 management.
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Projects and programmes
The inclusion of this process is often seen as a clear differentiator between projects and programmes. Project management guides do not include benefits realisation on the assumption that that is the responsibility of someone external to the project, typically a client or host programme.
In Praxis, benefits realisation is something that can be part of a project or a programme. The differentiator is the complexity of the relationships between multiple outputs and multiple benefits.
Therefore, at the least complex level, a single output may lead to an easily measured benefit with little need for organisational change. This would be a project that included benefits realisation. At the other end of the complexity scale, multiple outputs create many outcomes that require significant organisational change. The change may be controversial and involve a diverse array of stakeholders. Benefits may overlap and not always be easy to measure. This is benefits realisation in a programme context.
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