Selecting Good Benefits
- Published: Sunday, 19 May 2019 13:17
Proving the goals
We’ve looked at the goals. Now we have to put some value to them, to find out what it’s all worth. Here it is a matter of choosing the right things to do, for the right reasons and then doing them. It’s about choosing things that add value, not take it away.
The word ‘benefit’ gets misused an awful lot and your plans won’t get far if no-one can agree on what a benefit is so it’s worth taking the time to explain what it actually means.
A benefit is a result that a stakeholder perceives to be of value.
The emphasis here is on the stakeholder and what their perception. Make sure there is a clear statement of the benefit, i.e. what makes it worthwhile. We have to make a clear distinction away from features and outcomes. Here’s a dumb example:
- Feature - my car is painted ‘Police Car’ white
- Outcome - people move over for me on the motorway so I get home for 6 pm
- Benefit - I improve my inner calm by watching The Simpsons on TV
In this case, I’m the stakeholder and I think the best value for me of getting home early is a calming episode of my favourite TV programme.
If you were working on a project in a hospital it could be something like this:
- Feature – a useful function of the system, e.g. high bandwidth, resilience, small size
- Outcome – a result that can be used to gain some benefit, e.g. time saving
- Benefit – the valued use to which you put the outcome, e.g. using saved time to see more patients
We should be talking about improving patient health, reducing waiting lists, stopping un-necessary procedures, not improving network performance, reducing down-time and stopping legacy information systems.
Choosing the Right Stakeholders
Picking the key stakeholders. Who has the biggest impact on you, who gets the biggest impact from you?
Managing the relationships with them.
A benefit is a result that a stakeholder perceives to be of value (“What’s in it for me?”).
First we have to identify which particular stakeholder we are looking at. A stakeholder is an individual or group who feels the impact of what we do. They in turn can have an impact on us. We have to know who are the stakeholders around us and the significance of the impact we have on each other. The key stakeholder in all this is ourselves.
Second, what do they perceive as being valuable? It may not always be the rational and obvious choice. It may even appear to be perverse, e.g. sacrifice or even self-harm. Perceived value will vary between stakeholders and will change over time. What we see as valuable now may change as our circumstances change.
We can use benefits as a way to select our goals. Why do we want to do something? For the reward it brings. We’ve chosen a goal that sounds impressive in a high-level, grand design sort of way. When we start to analyse the benefits we can see if it really is as good as we first thought. The benefits give us the proof that our goal really is worthwhile.
Sometimes, as we analyse the benefits to see who wins we may find that someone has to lose. If I get to save my money, you might have to lose your job. We have to weigh up the balance of good and bad results, who loses for our gain? What are we giving up for the benefit of those around us? Does the appropriate Stakeholder get the benefit?
Everyone knows of activities that bring no benefit, that waste our time and resources because we are doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason.
We need a rational framework to enable better decisions to be made and good benefits to be delivered. We need a structured approach that will:
- Prove the link between what we do and what we want to achieve
- Maximise the benefits from the things we do
- Gives us solid reasons to back up our choices
- Gets all the right people involved
'Benefits Management’ Defined
Benefits Management is the overall set of decisions, processes and activities that makes best use of what you have to deliver the right benefits to the people you’ve chosen to get them.
The purpose of any Benefits Management method is to identify, quantify, prioritise, select and manage benefits from business change. Benefits Selection takes us through the first four items. It is the technique to create a rational and logical understanding of the:
- Business Change
Once we have this understanding we can select benefits that are appropriate, feasible and of optimum value for our circumstances.
Experience has shown that the identification and structuring of benefits is rarely straightforward. There is a common tendency to slip back to the features of the new system; it’s faster, cheaper, etc. This leaves the benefits undefined. Everyone agrees that the new system is a good thing but no-one can say why it’s good, how good it is or who it’s good for. The technique of Benefits Selection brings some rigour to process.
By using the technique of Benefits Selection you will produce a set of benefits that:
- Support your goals
- Have the most significant impact
- Are agreed by all stakeholders
- Are manageable
The benefits management approach is an iterative process with loops within the loop. It’s essential if the benefits are to be optimised that there is permission to step back and reconsider. Obviously, this has to occur within rigorous change control.
This BM approach maps onto the Deming Loop, “Plan, Do, Study, Act” cycle. Note that it starts with Act, not Plan. The first act is likely to be a choice to do something. The plan will then be a quick consideration of what to do and how to do it. The first iterations around the Deming Loop are very swift and informal so there’s no need to get too pedantic about the start point.
Remember, it’s an iterative process between stages as well as the whole process.
This represents a virtuous circle.
Pick Good Benefits
It uses the technique of Benefits Selection described below to create a list of desired benefits that have been identified, quantified, prioritised and selected. In our project context this will be first the Benefits Plan and later the Benefits Realisation Plan.
The process is scaleable. At its smallest, it is a good way to make rational individual decisions. At its largest, it’s a method of determining major policy and strategy decisions and the programmes that deliver them. So much hangs off this process that it is crucial that it be done properly. The right amount of time and resources must be devoted to it and the right people involved.
Plan for Benefits
In an ideal world there would be the one project plan for the realisation of benefits and the technology implementation would form a sub-set of work packages within it. This realisation plan would use an appropriate project management methodology like Prince 2. In reality however, it is more likely that the realisation plan will run in parallel with the technology project plan so it will have to cover both business change activities and the interfaces to technology implementation activities. It will include reviews of the plan at key stages of the project delivery and also the benefit measures, their links to business performance measures and measurement procedures that will be used.
A Benefits Realisation Plan should be prepared for each unit of implementation. The plan conforms to the usual work package supports project supports programme hierarchy.
It feeds into the PRINCE2 Project Initiation Document (PID).
Benefits Realisation Plan
A benefits realisation plan is a single entity consisting of four inter-dependent components:
- Goals & Benefits
- Implementation Plan
- Benefits Measurement Plan
- Stakeholder Management Plan
These are described in detail in section 5 BM Products below.
Get the Benefits
Any plan is worthless until it’s executed successfully. The Benefits Realisation Plan needs a series of project performance reports to show how work is progressing to plan, like any other project. Prince 2 or a similar project methodology will provide a suitable reporting mechanism.
Benefits Management requires additional management and reporting to prove that programme / project activity is on track to deliver the expected benefits and to supply information on which to base decisions to change the plan if necessary.
Benefits work package owners will report back via project highlight reports to the project’s Senior Responsible Owner. These reports will show early benefits being delivered if possible. More likely, they will show the progress made on the features and changes being delivered that will enable future benefits to be realised.
Owners will ensure that actual benefits are tracked against targets and that the impact of change on benefits is controlled.
Look for Further Benefits
Remember that Benefits Management is an iterative process. See what is being delivered, review and adapt as circumstances dictate. Look to improve on what has gone before.
A benefits orientated post project review should be performed after a suitable bedding-in period of live service. The review will report on the actually delivered benefits compared with the proposed benefits in the realisation plan. What was the difference between forecast and delivered? What were the reasons behind this difference? The aim of the review is to identify potential new benefits from:
- Improving the newly implemented processes
- Triggering brand new projects and programmes
Questions that should be asked include:
- What effects have we now got, relative to the previous situation?
- Are we getting the benefits?
- What further benefits can we now get?
- What further actions are necessary to get the potential benefits?
The output from the review is a report on potential future benefits to be used as input to the next round of benefits identification.