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Putting Benefits Management into Practice – the Ups and Downs Learnt the Hard Way

Many portfolios aspire to be benefits-led and there is a lot of theory setting out how to achieve this. The reality is that putting the theory into practice is really complex, energy-sapping and typically faces a lot of resistance. The result is the PMO can get distracted, disillusioned, or even dis-credited and the great strides made, start to evaporate.

In this session, you will hear some stories about how to get started, what the speakers have learned from experience and some of the pot-holes they have navigated or fallen into! The overall theme is their journey to improve benefits management practices in their respective roles and how formal training played a crucial role in achieving this.

From this session, you’ll gain practical advice including the top 6 tips gained from experience; why benefits mapping is the key to success and ways to get going (and keep going).

The PMO Conference 2023 session was delivered by Jess Richardson, Senior Portfolio Assurance Manager and Steve Blades, Senior Benefits and Business Change Manager, both from NATS ( National Air Traffic Services)


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In their discussion, Jess and Steve share their experiences with benefits management. Steve mentions that he started with benefits management in the context of a complex aviation modernisation program. He highlights how many projects often lack proper benefits management and how he decided to get formal training to address this issue. After the training, he implemented benefits management, including benefits mapping and quantification, in the program and discovered a significant gap in the promised benefits. Formal training is available with the Managing Benefits course.

Jess, on the other hand, mentions her training in benefits management and her experience working with a consultant named Gerald Bradley, who used benefit dependency charts. She emphasises the logical nature of benefits management. A recommendation for any PMO practitioner interested in furthering their knowledge in benefits management is to purchase the book from Gerald Bradley, which is called Benefits Realisation Management.

Jess and Steve discussed their experiences with benefits management and how they started implementing it in an organisation. They initially encountered challenges with trying to assess and track benefits on ongoing projects. They discovered that the benefit numbers in the business cases were often overly optimistic or not based on robust data. They realised that a more effective starting point for benefits management is not to chase existing benefit projections but to improve the process of creating business cases from the beginning of a project. Starting with more realistic and accurate benefit projections is recommended.

Benefits management has to start early – with the business case. Robust benefits identification and mapping are crucial for the success of a project. Jess and Steve stressed the significance of differentiating between financial and non-financial benefits and the importance of engaging stakeholders to validate these benefits. There is also great value in starting at the project level and working up to ensure that benefits are identified at each stage of the project. It highlights the role of clear objectives in guiding the project and concludes with the process of identifying end benefits.

Logic maps are created for projects to understand better their objectives, benefits, and alignment with strategic goals. The maps help build a common understanding and enthusiasm for the project. Projects should be started with the end in mind and not jumping to solutions right away. Jess and Steve discussed the elements of the map, including objectives, outcomes, enablers, business changes, and contributions to strategic objectives. They also mention the role of these maps in writing a business case and measuring benefits. Another point made is that benefit maps make you benefits-led, helping frame the right questions to ask when issues or changes arise in a project.

Understanding and managing project benefits is crucial and should be a primary consideration from the outset of a project. Benefit mapping involves identifying, quantifying, and tracking the benefits that a project is expected to deliver. Benefits of benefit mapping include aligning stakeholders, identifying gaps in project outcomes, and ensuring projects contribute to desired future states.

They use tools like Visio for benefit mapping, allowing them to create visual representations of the relationships between project outputs, outcomes, and benefits. They mention a company called Wovex that offers an automated approach to benefit mapping.

The presentation touches on the idea that benefit mapping can help identify missing projects and ensure project portfolios align with desired outcomes. It also emphasises the need to continuously revisit and update benefit maps to adapt to changing circumstances and priorities.

Conference Reporter Tayo Richards also gives highlights in this 18-minute recording:

About Jess and Steve

Jess has worked in PMO for more than 20 years, at all levels of P3O, leading PMO teams and developing PMO practitioners in finance, tourism and aviation. Although currently specialising in assurance, she has been passionate about putting benefits management into practice for the last 8 years.

Steve has worked in the PMO and Portfolio space for over 15 years in a range of sectors including health, justice, defence, and transport both in New Zealand and the UK. While Steve would describe himself as a P3 consultant, his current focus is developing and implementing benefits management frameworks and methodology and he has the scars to prove it.

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