What project benefits really mean for the project manager

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. (See Defeating ‘Benefits Fraud – Stephen Jenner
  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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7 Responses to What project benefits really mean for the project manager

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for What project benefits really mean for the project manager | Ron Rosenhead's Project Management Blog [ronrosenhead.co.uk] on Topsy.com

  2. Jeff Clark says:

    I think the project should focus on the desired outcome and make sure that the desired outcome continues to be needed. Focusing on an outcome (vs. scope) may mean scope management, but that is the best way to assure benefits are met.
    As far as benefits, if assumptions about benefits are well documented whether they be quality, financial, etc, and how to measure the benefit is also clearly documented, then the realization of the benefits can fall into an operational role. The project is involved at the beginning to assure the scope matches the assumptions. The realization process can go on for a couple of years.

  3. I agree with Jeff about his point. The best way to assure benefits are focusing on an outcome 🙂

  4. admin says:

    Thanks for the comments. I have no problem with identifying the desired outcomes…but clients find it so difficult to articulate what they want. This is why I have included the topic of questioning – a vital tool for project manager.


  5. John Gough says:

    Interesting discussion outcomes vs benefits. There is an Outcome Relationships Big Picture template which encourages teams to work through the relationship frm Vision to Benefits

  6. When I read delusional optimism, I thought of it as probably one of the ever-present factors that make projects susceptible to failure. Thinking too highly of expectations might be dangerous.

  7. Tony Adams says:

    Thanks Ron,
    I enjoyed this post and it certainly gave food for thought…my focus was drawn immediately to your points 4and 5, together with John Gough’s feedback.

    I think that the Project Manager has a critical role to play in aligning Project Outcomes to Business Benefits and thereafter to Business Strategy/Drivers.
    Whilst the Project will produce outcomes and/or benefits…success will only be noted where these are what the Business wants to see. Outcomes and Benefits are, of themselves, laudable BUT if the Business does not want them, then they are in a sense, redundant.

    Marketing benefits is best served where the Project makes sure that the benefits are presented such that they are aligned to the Business drivers….”the Project will deliver XYZ which will produce $ABC benefits which support the Business driver “increase product revenue by 10% over the financial year””.
    Business stakeholders are far more likely to sign up to benefit models and plans where they can clearly see how the outcomes/benefits will help them realize their own strategic plans.

    Point 5 is critical to Project success – while I agree with Jeff Clark that the ultimate benefits realization will be an operational matter over subsequent years, the Project success is predicated on the outcomes/benefits being relevant and strategically aligned. In my mind, the best way to ensure this is through, early, frequent, collaborative and iterative engagement with the Benefits owner(s) – build the engagement into the stakeholder management plan, integrate checkpoints into the project schedule…work it into the plan and manage it as tightly as possible.

    Thanks for the post.
    Regards, Tony

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