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Realising the benefits of programmes

Author: David Powell, Operations Director

The first two articles in this series by my colleagues Cameron Tonkin and Shane Forth showed why it is important to distinguish between project and programme management and the different skills and capabilities they demand. Both made the point that the evolution of programme management has stemmed not only from the bid for more efficiencies but to produce more benefits for all stakeholders.

This leads neatly to a closer examination of just what role the discipline known as benefits management should play. As programmes become increasingly more complex, costly and time-consuming, a properly-structured benefits management strategy and plan can make all the difference. Why? Because it helps to tie the outcomes from the individual projects within the programme to the ultimate strategic objectives. It supports sound decision-making throughout the process.


The emergence of benefits management as a discipline

Interestingly, the concept of benefits management has been around in various guises for a quarter of a century. But it has only really gained momentum as a recognised practice in the last few years with the growing realisation that we needed a more structured and managed approach to measuring whether programmes actually achieve desired change.

Consider some statistics from the former Office of Government Commerce in 2010 which found that between 30 and 40 per cent of public sector change projects provided no evidence that any business benefits had been delivered.

Although the problems associated with failure to use a benefits management approach have been measured and documented for over a decade, little seems to have improved. A survey into benefits management conducted last year by the Association of Project Management (APM) found that almost 70% of respondents agreed that benefits management was very relevant to achieving goals in project, programme and portfolio management. However, fewer than a quarter believed that there was a strong or very strong benefits focus in the wider approach to management in their organisations, from strategy to operations.

Having being involved in this discipline for some time, I have seen two re-occurring challenges for realising benefits. Firstly, benefits management can sometimes become overshadowed by the day-to-day delivery demands and tight project timelines that inevitability require the attention of the project and programme teams and key stakeholders. A means of overcoming this can be to ensure a clear and well communicated benefits plan throughout the programme. This works well when in place from the very beginning with senior-level commitment backed by stakeholder sponsorship. Early engagement and buy-in to this benefits management approach (as articulated in the strategy) will support realisation, while commitment to benefit ownership and measurement (as articulated in the plan) at board level is also critical.

The second reason is premature ending of benefits’ tracking. Benefits management doesn’t just stop when the last project within the programme has delivered its outputs; some deep-rooted benefits can take years to emerge once a programme has ended.


Prerequisites for success

The first step is to draw up a clear definition of the end benefits of the programme. How this works becomes more understandable if you look at the simplified benefits map. 

Programme management benefits map
Benefits map

The process should begin at the planning stage with the vision/end goal and strategic objectives (see the right-hand side). This could involve anything from increasing revenues/profits to reducing overheads to improving customer service.

These are then fed back into the programme of appropriate projects to meet the objectives. Those project outputs should produce outcomes which will lead to the defined benefits. It is important that each benefit has a nominated owner, a baseline value and a robust method of measurement.

The good news is that there is growing recognition in both the public and private sector that cutting corners when it comes to benefits management never works. In fact, the government –backed MSP programme management methodology puts the discipline at the heart of successful delivery because it drives many aspects of programme management.

These include ensuring that the blueprint is aligned with the proposed organisational changes, defining results, planning, stakeholder engagement, governance, cost control and risk management, among others. Yes, it demands resources, time and commitment to implement properly. But, increasingly, the question is: why wouldn’t you make benefits management a core part of your programme’s framework?


This article is part of a programme management series and first appeared in www.Infrastructure-Intelligence.com 

If you would like to contact David about this article please email [email protected]


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