Getting the Greatest Possible Benefit From a Project
Getting the very most from your projects.
Projects are the engines of change within
most organizations. When you decide that you need something new, or you
need something old done in a new way, a project is born. From then
on, efforts focus on planning, preparing, executing, monitoring,
and managing this project.
But have you ever had a project that ultimately didn't deliver the
benefits you needed?
A great deal of time can elapse between the time that a project is
created, and its completion. Things can change along the way as
you overcome obstacles. And even very small shifts in project
design and execution can affect whether the benefits you wanted
when you created the project are still addressed in the final
When there's a weak connection between the project's deliverables
and the organization's needs, then there's a risk that the
benefits of a project may be lost along the way. (This is
particularly the case when the project team is separate from the
project's client.) This is where it makes sense to establish a
clear case for the project – so that you can make sure that the
deliverables meet expectations, and give the organization the
benefits it expects.
Starting with the End
"Benefits Management" is the process by which you ensure that your
projects deliver what you want. Done effectively, it helps
ensure that your project's deliverables give value to the
business, and the appropriate return on investment.
In the benefits management process, you answer questions like
- Why are we doing this?
- What business objective will this project help to meet?
- Have we defined all of the benefits we're expecting?
- Have we justified the time and expense of the project?
- How will we measure the benefits?
- Is the project still valid?
- Are the benefits still relevant?
Investing your time in benefits management helps you reduce the
overall risk of the project. It forces you to look at
organizational issues that might hurt a project's success, and
then deal with those issues in the project plan. After all you begin by
knowing what you want the end result to look like, you'll likely
improve your ability to predict and avoid many potential
The Benefits Management Process
A benefit is the desired result of a project that was created to
meet a particular operational need. For example, a project
designed to reduce the time it takes to process an order has
benefits such as improved customer service, increased sales, and
reduced frustration for sales staff who have to deal with
The whole point of benefits management is to make sure that your
project provides clear benefits – as opposed to simply making sure
the project is completed within specific time and resource
limitations. So, while the success of project management is to
deliver on time and on budget, the success of benefits management
takes it one step further – to ensure that the initiative delivers
the expected results.
Here are the main phases of benefits management:
Phase One: Define and develop the benefits
During project initiation:
- Talk to all stakeholders to figure out which benefits and
outcomes each expects – and why.
- Create a benefits statement.
- List the final benefits that you want, and make sure you've
distinguished between "must haves" and unaffordable
- Identify how the benefits are aligned with the company's
strategy, and the needs of the business.
- Decide what must happen in connection with the project to
- Identify the changes, or other projects, needed to support and
achieve the outcome of the main project, and make sure that these
are in the plan. For example, do workers need extra training? Do
you need a new advertising campaign to tell the market about your
new feature? Or do you need to hire additional people, or buy new
equipment to take full advantage of the change?
- Extend the cost-benefit analysis to include the benefits you've
- Remember to look for tangible and intangible benefits.
For a list of the types of benefits which stakeholders may be seeking, see Miadanu's helpful post on the subject in the Mind Tools Club
Phase Two: Develop the benefits plan
Again, during project initiation:
- Look at the overall project plan, and make sure that the appropriate supporting activities are included, so that you can
ensure that benefits are achieved on time. Use traditional project management tools, like Gantt charts and PERT charts, to complete and track your benefits schedule.
- Watch out for gaps in benefits, as well as additional benefits.
- Identify who is accountable for delivering these supporting activities.
- Establish metrics for each benefit, and determine when and how you'll determine that the benefit has been delivered.
- Determine how the benefits will be reported. You can use milestone reports as well as a benefits dashboard as reporting tools.
- Include a benefits management summary in the business case for the project.
Phase Three: Monitor the benefits during project implementation
As the project moves forward:
- Regularly monitor your progress towards delivering the expected benefits.
- Modify the benefits plan as needed when the overall project plan changes.
- Establish a communication system between yourself and the project manager (if this is a different person). This helps ensure
that you routinely discuss and consider the benefits.
- Provide support to the project team, and use the benefits statement to encourage their work.
- Watch for "benefits creep" – make sure that people's expectations don't grow too much during the project. When you start to expect too many benefits, this can weaken the project's overall impact, and lead to disappointment when imagined benefits are not delivered. If your benefits-required list keeps growing, it's often better to create separate projects for each specific intention and focus. See more tips on scope control.
Phase Four: Complete the project, and review your benefits
Towards the end of the project:
- Identify the benefits that were achieved, and look for gaps and missed opportunities.
- Monitor your workers' ongoing needs to ensure that they continue to enjoy the benefits. Consider setting up a system to communicate future needs. This is a way to collect ideas for future projects.
- Record what went well and what needed improvement. This supports continuous learning within your organization.
Benefits are the reason any project is created and implemented.
Benefits management is all about ensuring that the hard work and
investment that's gone into the project gives the greatest possible
business return. Projects tend to change over their lifecycles,
and even small shifts can produce different results. That's why
it's important to focus on the project's benefits, and not just
its timely completion.
Benefits management forces you to stay focused on why you started
the project in the first place. And it doesn't stop after the
project ends, like traditional project management – it continues
until all benefits are clearly achieved. You can use the same
project planning framework as the rest of the project to do this,
but you'll need to build in benefit-specific milestones, as well
as establishing accountabilities clearly, and setting up
appropriate communications systems. Done this way, benefits
management can be a smart addition to a comprehensive project
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