What is Benefits Realisation & How to Make It Work For Your Business
Benefits realisation can be the difference between skyrocket and damp squib for your organisation's projects and future. But what is benefits realisation, and how can you maximise the value it brings? In this blog, we explore some myths and truths of this project management strategy and demonstrate how it helps businesses navigate toward better, faster, and more innovative practices.
You've seen it before.
A large and highly demanding project is finally finished, without going over deadline or over budget. There's excitement in the air, but as the weeks go by, the joy gives way to a slow and terrible realisation: the project hasn't really changed anything. Old problems still crop their heads up, along with brand new ones.
Benefits realisation is a project management tools that’s designed to avoid the “on-time and under-budget means success” trap that many large projects fall prey to. Rather than use simple metrics to assess a project’s success and long-term value to an organisation, benefits realisation takes a long-term, holistic approach to project planning, implementation, and assessment. It takes a deep look at all of an organisation’s moving parts, processes, and goals, and figures out exactly how projects should be designed and executed to bring real, tangible, and lasting value to a company.
Benefits realisation isn’t a total new style of project management; however, it is a somewhat misunderstood one. Let’s take a look at some of the misconceptions and realities of this multi-layered project approach.
The Myths of Benefits Realisation
Before you start thinking about how benefits realisation can unlock tangible value for your organisation, a few undeniable myths and facts need to be outlined.
Myth #1: All successful projects have benefits.
Even large “successful” projects that meet their stipulated project criteria and outcomes can yield no benefits at all to the organisation, or worst, cost the company hundreds of thousands of euros in unnecessary expenditure, or programs that do nothing to make business better.
Perhaps the most famous example of this was shocking research from Gartner published in 2002, which demonstrated how the average company wastes 20% of its IT budget on misguided and inefficient spending1, over-specified hardware, and inconsistent licensing policies for software, leading drastic waste in their IT investment.
Benefits realisation is a lot more blunt than other project management tools: identifying and understanding projects that don’t add growth or value is a difficult but key part of creating a business strategy that does.
Myth #2: Any project that is completed on time, under budget, and as planned will automatically yield benefits.
Some of the most successful projects a company can run end up doing little to nothing for their operations, organisation, and future. A 2016 IBM report based on research from ARC Advisory Group’s Enterprise Asset Management and Field Service Management Market Study demonstrated the danger of fruitless “successful” projects; their research exposed that as much as 50% of all preventative maintenance in companies is wasted2, and that only 18% of assets had an age-related failure pattern, while a full 82% of asset failures occur randomly, making preventive maintenance performed on these assets ineffective and a waste of effort, time, and resources.
Benefits realisation understands this, and sets project goals that are more meaningful and more closely intertwined with the businesses key objectives and mission.
Myth #3: More resources means more successful projects.
The overwhelming majority of projects don’t follow a linear ratio of inputs to outputs. Simply put, a project isn’t guaranteed to be successful (or any more successful) just because you assign more teams, more money, more time, and more resources to it. At best, this style of project planning leads to wasteful expenditure and unsustainable project costs. At worst, it leads to a sunk cost fallacy when unsuccessful projects don’t quite hit the mark.
Benefits realisation understands the dangers of ill-defined goals and poorly scoped project requirements. With its multi-stage, multi-layered assessment and project planning, benefits realisation identifies smarter, more business-beneficial methods of using resources sustainable and strategically to avoid wastage.
The Truths of Benefits Realisation
Truth #1: Benefits realisation starts early in the project progress.
A body of research into project management and benefits realisation3 demonstrates the importance of building your projects around the value you hope to achieve, making this process a vital of the planning and pre-implementation stages of any project. Benefits realisation recognises this and makes it a core function of its strategy: project planning looks far beyond just what the project needs to be successfully completed, to what the project needs to truly help the business.
Truth #2: Benefits can be realised even after the project has closed.
The holistic and long-term outlook of benefits realisation is a pivotal part of long-term benefits mapping. Some projects yield the greatest portion of their value in the mid- and long-term, making benefits realisation vital to avoiding short-term or blinkered change management strategy. What’s more, benefits realisation keeps a tab on even projects that have long-since been completed, to ensure that the changes they introduced are still benefitting the company’s bottom line and processes.
Truth #3: Benefits realisation affects all parts of the organisation and project pipeline.
Benefits realisation does help to define and guide large projects, and it ensures that the value these projects bring to the organisation is tangible and high. However, the outcomes of this process, and the additional layer of top-down project management awareness allows teams far above the direct project managers to take stock of project management practices, resource expenditure, and other business factors, allowing the business leaders to refine operational strategy and optimise their other (and future) projects and processes.
How To Make Benefits Realisation Work for Your Projects and Business
1) Think about how you measure success.
Every project manager wants their projects to be a success, but what does "success" actually mean, and what does it look like? By foregrounding success metrics that are first and foremost measurable, you bring your project management a lot more agency and reporting potential. At the very least, you put facts and credibility that can support the general feeling of improved quality of life and easier work that follows a truly successful project: you can take generalised statements like "it's easier for staff to log overtime and people can get their admin finished faster" and turn them into data-driven success metrics that yield better insights into ROI, employee time savings, and customer journey optimisation.
2) Assess your communication plans and structures.
Knowing what's going well or poorly in your organisation is all about talking to your people. No employee or stakeholder should be considered "not important" in assessing the processes, workflows, and factors that underscore your daily business objectives. In many cases, large projects lose sight of what's important by spending too much time and effort on 'high level' stakeholder input, while ignoring the workers, staff, and clients who have a deep and personal understanding of what's bad – or great – about the work you do. Among the first project changes you should make is a close assessment of how to improve your communications structures, to ensure that you're getting key insights for a comprehensive understanding.
3) Rethink your past "project failures" — and "successes".
That project you finished a few months ago that everyone thought went poorly... what if it was exactly what you needed to make things better? And that project you're dumping overtime and weekends into now — what if that's actually setting you back six months?
Often, the biggest flaw in assessing the success or failure of a project is in your approach and definitions. Like we've said above, if budget and deadlines are your most important measures of success, then you run the risk of enjoying "incredible successes" that stem from simply cutting corners and rushing work.
By reconceptualising the ways you think about, measure, and report success, you'll totally revolutionise the impact and efficiency of your projects.
In short, benefits realisation is a powerful way to know exactly how your expensive, months-long, and demanding projects are having a positive effect on the way your organisation runs. For over 2 decades now, we at OpenSky have used benefits realisation to deliver real, tangible, and lasting benefits to some of Ireland and the UK’s largest government and public sector organisations, them do what they do better, faster, and more easily.
Click below to find out first-hand how will guarantee the same high-value tangible results for your organisation, even years after your project has successfully been closed.