Change Your Mind about Benefits Realization

The benefits-focused project manager asks not What? or How? but Why?

Now going to press, our newest white paper, Optimize Strategy Execution by Planning In Benefits Realization, explores the question: Why do strategies fail?

One answer relates to the question, often posed by project management practitioners, of why the discipline has struggled to implement benefits realization tracking and management. If strategies are expressed through programs and projects … but no one is tracking whether those projects yield the anticipated benefits … it’s not hard to see why the strategic thread is lost on the way. And there you are, wandering in the dark.

Our curiosity about how companies track the benefit derived from their projects, and establish links between these benefits and corporate strategic outcomes, led us to frame a new phase of our ongoing internal qualitative research program, focusing on benefits realization. In the past we have conducted extensive interviews with our clients and consultants in the field in order to better understand the forces at work within organizations that support or hinder progress in organizational development. What we found was unsettling because, while benefits realization management (BRM) is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, almost no one is actually implementing processes to achieve it.

This isn’t the first time we have run up against this issue. When it comes to value and performance measurement, implementing processes to baseline and measure results has always been more talked about than acted upon. For several years, improving performance measurement has always been on of the top plans for participants in our State of the PMO study. Yet in terms of companies actually doing performance measurement, the needle has hardly moved: after eight years, nearly half of respondents still are in the wishing and hoping phase.

I’m sympathetic: projects and programs are complex, companies can be labyrinthine, goals are continually being overcome by events. But, to quote one of the consultants interviewed in our new white paper, “if we can’t attribute benefits in some way, why are we doing it?”

PMI’s recent report on BRM notes that the real issue is not lack of strategic planning, or inability to set up BRM programs, but simply a cultural focus that is not centered on benefits. Changing project management’s focus from what we are doing and how we are going to do it, to focus instead on the questions “Why are we doing this? Why does it matter?” will be a big cultural shift for the profession. But we are optimistic: project management has done this before. Only a decade ago, stakeholders were an afterthought, and often described in very unflattering terms in project management literature. By encouraging us to shift our attitudes, PMI’s addition of Stakeholder Management to the standard has changed our thinking and improved collaboration and customer satisfaction.

Let’s do that again, but let’s not wait for a change in the standards. Sign up for our newsletter to get a link to our BRM white paper as soon as it is posted, and start promoting a benefits mindset right away.

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