Benefits management: Key aspects and lessons learned

Tertiary Talk - June 2020

We set out the practical components to consider within benefits management frameworks and lessons learned to ensure the value promised within a business case is realised

Delivering value from investments is important for tertiary education institutions (TEIs) and will become even more so as we embark on the post COVID-19 environment.

Historically, investment delivery focused on time, cost, and quality dimensions, ignoring the value or return on investment dimension. If a quality investment was delivered, the benefits were assumed to be realised.

More recently, this focus has shifted to incorporate benefits management with international studies showing that organisations with mature benefits management showing greater success in delivery of projects and programmes.1

This article sets out the practical components to consider within benefits management frameworks and lessons learned to ensure the value promised within a business case is realised.

The key ingredients of benefits management

While there are a number of frameworks for managing benefits at their core, these frameworks centre on four key disciplines:

  • Identification of benefits – Identifying the opportunity for a benefit, the drivers of the benefit, and who is best placed to own that benefit.
  • Analysis of benefits – Quantifying the benefit, formalising attribution of the benefit, and evaluating the relative cost of achieving the benefit versus the value likely to be derived.
  • Planning of realisation – Scheduling when benefits are expected to be realised based on project / programme deliverables and enabling factors.
  • Monitoring and control of benefits – Reporting on benefit realisation and benefit drivers to enable proactive and informed decision-making.

Figure 1 below outlines the key aspects of a benefits management framework. In particular, benefits management occurs across the full lifecycle of a project / programme from the identification of the opportunity through delivery, and transition to business as usual.

click to enlarge

Lessons learned

Based on our experience, benefit realisation is optimised when the following lessons are adopted:

  • Treat the business case as a living document and make sure that the alignment of benefits to the strategy is regularly validated. Frequently once the business case is approved, it is ignored. Organisations that deliver the most value from their initiatives have an established process to reconfirm delivery alignment to the desired outcomes outlined in the business case. A benefit that is no longer strategically relevant should no longer be considered a benefit. 
  • Establish accountability for realisation at the senior table. Each benefit should have a single owner who is accountable for their realisation. This owner should have the decision-making latitude to address barriers to benefit realisation. Additionally, the benefits assigned to an owner should reasonably be within their sphere of influence.
  • Don’t just focus on what has been, think about what could be. Benefit measurement should include lag and lead metrics to enable proactive decision-making. Too often benefit management focusses on performance to date without consideration as to how future performance might be improved.
  • Manage the enablers of benefit realisation, as well as the metrics. In many instances there are requisite capabilities that have to be in place for a benefit to be realised. It might be a particular system functionality or behavioural change in administrative staff. Regardless, it is important to work out what needs to be in place before a benefit can be realised and to include these items in benefit realisation planning. It is common for these enablers to fall outside the bounds of a project or programme or be cross-functional in nature.
  • Attribution of benefit performance to an initiative doesn’t have to be challenging, just methodical. When selecting benefit measures, it is important to determine what business drivers there are for a particular benefit. Capture all potential drivers, even those outside of your organisation’s direct control. Assign measures to the drivers where possible. The result is a clear picture of what factors, positive and negative, internal and external, are impacting on benefit realisation. 
  • Do not treat benefits management as a standalone process. Benefits management does not occur in isolation. It should be viewed as an essential capability embedded across:
    • Risk and opportunity management: Ensure risks to benefit realisation are identified, tracked and managed as part of your organisation’s risk management framework. Importantly, identify opportunities to increase benefit realisation or potential new benefits.
    • Schedule management: Link benefit realisation planning to project delivery milestones.
    • Change control: Ensure that any change evaluation to the project / programme includes an explicit assessment of that change relative to the benefits.
    • Corporate performance management: Ensure benefits KPIs have identified data sources and is tracked in a benefit reporting dashboard and provided to senior leadership on a regular basis (e.g. quarterly).
    • Dependencies and enablers management: Ensure that the requisite capabilities to enable benefits are in place.
    • Lessons learned: Ensure that lessons learned reviews include benefit realisation and that recommendations from these reviews are incorporated into future benefit management processes.
End note

1. The Treasury - Managing Benefits from Projects and Programmes. Guide for Practitioners.

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