Delivering the benefits
There is a difference between a project’s output and its outcome. This is really important to understand.
The output from a project is the actual ‘deliverable’. Once this has been put to work, the project outcome – as defined in the business case – can then be achieved.
The outcome may, and often does, occur after the project is over. So it remains the project sponsor’s role to ensure the benefits are achieved from the outcome.
One of the criticisms of projects is that, while they frequently deliver a ‘deliverable’, they less often supply the expected benefits. Partly this is because projects are often judged a success or failure according to whether they come in on time and within budget, but it also happens because the benefits usually start flowing only once the project itself is over. These two reasons affect the mindset of those involved in the project, who can easily loose sight of the benefits that were its original objective. The expected benefits should have been calculated and defined in the Business case and a good sponsor will keep the project focused on achieving them.
How can you make sure the benefits are delivered?
The only truly effective benchmark for project success is the long-term return gained on the investment in the project.
A lot of the work to achieve this must to be done upfront. Engaging the users as early as possible is a vitally important part of defining and managing a project. Whether you are producing a new IT system that will change the way they work or supplying a new company brochure for the sales department, you have to make sure that the deliverable is ‘fit for purpose’. And the best way to ensure this is to involve the users in defining what they want. If you deliver something they cannot or don’t want to use, you will have a project that has failed to meet its objective – however much it came in on time and budget!
Other things you can do at an early stage is to plan how the deliverable will be commissioned or used as it moves from being the product of a unique assignment to being part of everyday operations – business as usual. This sort of consideration should not be left to the end. It is essential to plan early for operational use and get operational people ready with training and preparations for on-the-job handover. Too often, the deliverable is ‘tossed over the wall’ to the end users, who are just left to get on with it – is it any surprise that the benefits achieved are less than was hoped for?
Recognise the impact of change
Many, many projects involve the introduction of change – whether it is a new marketing brochure that changes sales tactics, or the completion of Heathrow’s Terminal 5, that altered the way British Airways baggage was handled! Recognising and understanding the impact that change can have may go a long way toward safeguarding the realisation of project benefits.
Working with the grain and planning for the transition from old to new ways of doing things, while keeping ‘business as usual’ running, is central to managing benefits. Time and effort devoted to this will always prove worthwhile.
It helps to try to understand the newcomers who have to be linked into the project to give it a strong healthy life:
- Remember that it’s all clear to you because you’ve lived with it for weeks, months or years
- Remember what it was like when you were groping in the early stages to get to grips with the complexity of it all
- Remember that is where they are now’.
Sad, but true!
Planning for, managing and assessing the benefits delivered is very important but, sadly, the sponsor, project manager and others may have all moved on by the day of reckoning!