Benefit realisation can often seem a daunting and complicated exercise. Realising the benefit of any business change can be difficult. With some innovative thinking and analysis it can be made easier. I would like to go through some of the key tips and techniques, which I have used and found useful when implementing business change in projects.
What is a benefit?
The simple answer actually lies in why we change anything in the first place. The benefit to me, is any (and I mean literally ANY) positive outcome that we get out of any business change. The benefits come only with change and equally, change must be sustained by benefit. Otherwise, I question the very “raison d’être” for making the change. There also lies the reason for doing benefit realisation. You have changed something for a reason, how do you know if you have achieved what you intend to if you have not measured it!
When do we start benefit realisation process?
Right from the start: Although, all project methodologies put benefit realisation phase towards the end of the project, I think it should span throughout the course of the project. When you start a project you do it for a reason as discussed above. That reason itself becomes the foundation of your benefit realisation process. I usually document it right at the beginning and get the sponsor to review and approve it. Then I put that in a separate file so that it can be tracked on a regular basis.
During the project: I haven’t worked on a project which does not diverge from its original objectives. Although, the core objectives might remain the same there is always some change. I have always found it useful to keep the benefits folder updated when that happens. It usually saves me tones of time at the end, especially with large projects.
At the end or after: Some of the project benefits can be measured immediately at the end of the project (e.g. Compliance benefits where you know straightaway whether you are now compliant), but for a lot of benefits, you will need to setup the process or framework for someone else to work upon after the project is completed and project team disbanded. Being a consultant most of my life, I wasn’t around to actually see the benefits realised for most my projects. I had to set a process in place for the sponsor or someone else, to assess the benefits over a specified timeframe.
How to approach it?
Apologies to all the cat lovers, but as the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Below are just couple of points that I have found to be really helpful.
Strategy: One of the first things I look at is the organisation strategy. The benefits aligned with organisation strategy are often comparatively simpler to justify to the board. I have also found that a lot of preliminary work for measuring those benefits would have already been carried out when the strategy is being developed. So, leveraging on that has saved a lot of my time in the past. I remember once when I was working for a banking organisation; their key strategy/objective for the next 3 years was to for reduce the operating cost for their back office operations by 30% overall. They had already established the framework for measuring this efficiency gain which made my life easier by just following it in the end.
Baselining: Quite often the most forgotten task during the life cycle of the project is baselining of existing processes/activities. Some project managers are often so focused on working on the new project that they overlook baselining the existing application/processes. However, I always make sure that I add it as a task in the project work break down. It gives me the assurance that it will be done at some point during the project and will be really handy for me when we come to benefit realisation. This baselined data will allow me to compare what the project has achieved after the go-live and whether it has fulfilled the expected benefits .
Measuring the unmeasurable
Well, the quantifiable benefits (e.g. efficiency gains, reducing costs and growth rate) are the easier of the ones to measure. There are several ways and means to work with them and measure the required benefits. I would like to talk about some of the unmeasurable benefits here. They are much more difficult to measure but fun to work with at the same time.
Staff satisfaction/frustration: This is the most common benefit that I have seen drafted in the business cases. A lot of projects then get away with adding these into intangible bucket and not measuring it in the end. However there are certain innovative ways to measure these.
How do I look? No. I am not talking about the most dreaded question every married man has faced from his wife. In the project world, everyone has their own opinion on where the icons should be placed or what constitutes an improved new process. User interface or look-and-feel is very difficult to compare, as it can get very subjective comparing new with the old.
Staff Acceptance: Although, not necessarily the primary benefit, this is always a big challenge to assess if the staff have “really” accepted the change and benefit from it.
Then, how to measure these seemingly unmeasurable benefits? One of the answers can be “Business change management”. It has served me well to tackle these intangibles in the past. In one of my recent projects, we used several little techniques to measure the before and after staff satisfaction ratings (e.g. staff online survey with innovative questions, face to face survey with straightforward questions). These survey results gave me a very tangible staff acceptance levels for the new product.
On another project for a new website, I used a very unorthodox approach to measure the look and feel. We ran a competition that measured who can navigate through various options/lists the fastest and timed the whole cycle. We then analysed staff times and showed that most of the staff were able to do it in a very short timeframe, providing us a tangible measurement of the usability of the new internal website. It also helped in creating a great staff awareness of the new site and improved overall success of the project.
Well, no matter what method you use or what approach you follow, benefit realisation is something that needs to be done. There is no right or wrong way of doing it, but it is something that needs to be done methodically to realise the real “benefit”.
I would also love to know what you have done with your projects. Have you come across any funky little techniques to do this?