The Benefit of Benefits Realization

Whether you realize it or not, every project that has ever been initiated has been for the purposes of delivering a particular benefit. Early on in the lifecycle of the project a particular deliverable is chosen as the best way to deliver the benefit and thereafter it seems that the entire focus of the project becomes the deliverable.

The project is judged a success if at the end of it there is a deliverable that you can touch, use or show to someone, but what we often overlook is the benefit that that deliverable was originally intended to provide.

Great project management means that we must not lose sight of the original benefit that was supposed to be delivered by the project. We should ensure that we put a great deal of effort into defining the benefit, how we will measure it, how the deliverable will provide it and then how we will ensure that it has actually done what it was supposed to do. We should allow explicit time and money in our project planning to track the delivery of the benefit throughout the project lifecycle. After the deliverable has been produced we should clearly identify who is responsible for checking at some point in the future whether or not the benefit has been realized. For some projects benefits are delivered during the project lifecycle or immediately upon completion of the deliverable. However, for other projects benefits are not realized for months or years after the completion of the deliverables.

We must also be brave enough to evaluate projects that may be producing a great and fantastic deliverable but that no longer deliver the expected benefits, and be prepared to cancel these projects. Fantastic deliverables that do not provide the benefits that were expected as simply white elephants.

The great thing about doing benefits realization is twofold. First you will actually figure out if you delivered the expected benefits that started the whole project in the 1st place. Second, if you didn’t deliver the benefits you will learn much more about your benefits forecasting and estimation processes, which means that you may avoid approving projects on the basis of spurious and unsubstantiated benefits claims in the future.

Here are my top tips for successful benefits management:

  1. Never lose sight of the fact that the project is there to deliver benefits not simply the deliverable
  2. Clearly define your benefits in as many quantitative ways as you can, this will make it easier to measure it in the future
  3. Make it abundantly clear in all project documentation that the purpose of the project is to deliver the benefits and that the deliverable is the primary way of achieving this
  4. Allocate time and resources to benefits tracking throughout the life of the project. This may mean that you need to provide additional training to those responsible for this
  5. Require regular reporting on the achievement, or otherwise, of the benefits throughout the entire project lifecycle.
  6. Clearly identify who is going to be responsible for benefits realization if the benefits will not be realized upon completion of the deliverable
  7. Make sure that every project closure report has specific reference to the benefits and if they achieve them or not
  8. Make each and every new project initiation document refer to the lessons learned about benefits estimation and realization from previous projects, and require them to demonstrate how this affected and improved their own benefits forecasting and estimation