The point of undertaking any project is to introduce a change that will have a resulting benefit. A benefit is the positive outcome of the project, or the thing that the project has achieved which provides something new, different or better. Without benefits, what is the point in doing the project?
Benefits are the things that the project manager and sponsor can see and measure to judge project success, and the stakeholders and end users will experience, once the project is over. It is important to be aware that in an iterative or agile life cycle, where you might have tranches or sprints of work, you might see benefits in stages throughout the project when certain aspects of the project are completed and products released.
But if we know what our benefits are going to be, why do we need to manage them? And if we only see them once the project or tranche of work is over, why should we think about them at the beginning of the project?
What is benefits management?
Benefits management involves following a process to ensure that you can achieve your benefits. It ensures that it is clear what the benefits are going to be, a plan is in place for how they will be achieved, that the plan remains possible throughout the project and that the benefits can be realised.
Benefits are established at the very outset of the project. When stakeholders present their requirements for a change, a project can be developed out of those requirements. It is also at this point that we will clarify what the benefit or result of the change will be. As such, we will know from the very beginning what the intended benefit is going to be. This also gives the project and the project team a focus beyond the project end date.
In order to get from stakeholder requirements to successful project with resultant benefits, we need to manage the benefits. If we don’t manage our benefits, we might not realise if the project is going off track and will no longer be able to deliver the benefits. Project progress and benefits management are closely interlinked. If your project is not progressing, or it changes in scope, your benefits might stall or be unable to be realised.
The benefits management process
The best way to manage benefits is by using a benefits management process. The Association for Project Management process provides a useful framework for benefits management.
The stages in the process are:
The first step in the benefits management process is to identify your benefits. What are the benefits of doing the project? There are a number of ways of doing this. You might use some of the following:
- Market research
Communication with stakeholders is important to ensure that you all understand the desired benefits of the project and how they will be achieved.
Benefits identification is usually fairly surface level. You simply want to understand at a glance what the benefits of the project are going to be.
The definition step is a more detailed evaluation of the benefits. This is where you begin understanding how you will manage the benefits. You also want to define the process for measurement, a key part of benefits realisation.
The measurement of benefits can be easier in financial terms – for example, increasing profit by 10% – but other benefits can be harder to measure – for example, increasing customer satisfaction. In the first case, you could compare financial reports with the current year with those from the previous year. In the second case, you might decide to look at an increase in customer reviews or the scores that customer reviews give.
During definition you might create a benefits profile. This will detail:
- When it will be realised
- How much it is worth
- Who will witness it
- What needs to happen
You might like to use the DOAM approach:
- Describe the benefit
- Observe the difference
- Attribute the benefit to an aspect of the project
- Measure the benefit
This is where the project manager needs to come up with the strategy for managing the benefits. It is important to have a plan for managing the benefits to ensure that the project is appropriate for achieving the benefits. It is also useful in mapping the progress of benefits against the progress of the project. You might like to create benefit milestones and align them to the project. You will want a clear understanding of exactly when the benefit will be realised, what resources are required and any processes that need to be followed.
Monitoring and tracking the progress of the benefits and when they will be realised is a critical part of benefits management, and therefore project management.
If the intended benefits cannot be realised due to the project progress, or changes to the project, then the project manager and sponsor need to be aware as soon as possible so that changes can be made, or the project reevaluated.
If benefits tracking is not undertaken, opportunities to ensure the continued viability of the project and achievability of the benefits might be missed. Benefits tracking is also useful to ensure project progress and can be a useful indication of whether the project will be completed on schedule (and the benefits realised on time).
The final step of the benefits management process is benefits realisation. This is when you determine whether your benefits have been achieved. You’ll use the measurement metrics that you set out in the definition stage to realise the benefits. Benefits realisation will take place after the project or tranche of work is finished and the deliverables are being operated.
It is important for the benefits to be realised, not only for stakeholder satisfaction but also to demonstrate that the project team has undertaken the project successfully.
The benefits of benefits management
Having a benefits management process in place allows you to ensure that:
- You have a clear vision of what the benefits are.
- You have a plan for managing each benefit.
- You have a process in place if the project, and therefore the benefits, diverge from their original intent.
A benefits management process enables the project manager to keep control of the progress towards the benefits and the project as a whole. Having a detailed insight into the benefits and their management will be a useful addition to the project manager’s understanding of the project as a whole and keep a focus on the aims and intended outcomes.
3 benefits management tips for beginners
Now that we understand what benefits management is and how the process works, here are my three top tips for beginners to benefits management.
- Follow a process.
You can use the APM process outlined above or another, but I would recommend following a process the first time (or even first few times) you find yourself in charge of benefits management. Having a structure in place will be helpful whilst you find your feet, and as you learn and grow in your career, you’ll be able to adapt and build upon this process to incorporate your experience.
Don’t try and do this all alone! Identification is one of the key places where you can make use of your project team and stakeholders during benefits management. As a project manager, remember that you don’t have to do everything on your own and that when it comes to generating ideas or thinking about the project as a whole, getting some outside input can be really useful.
- Be clear about the benefits themselves.
If you know what the benefits are, the rest of the process becomes much easier. Having a clear understanding of what the benefits are will mean that you really know your project. Spending time on the identification phase and really understanding what benefits your project will achieve will make working through the rest of the process smoother and give you a better understanding of your project, the benefits and the benefits of benefits management.
We hope that this article has shown you the importance and benefits of benefits management to your projects. Managing project benefits ensures that the focus of the project is not lost, and the whole project team is aware of what the project wants to achieve. Having a process for managing the benefits ensures that the benefits are clear and provides a system for measuring their progress alongside the progress of the project. Benefits are a fundamental aspect of any project, so it is important to not lose sight of them in amongst other project processes.