Good benefits management can be lightweight

Photo by Rob ProuseDo you practise good Benefits Management? It seems like a heavyweight process, with a lot of bureaucracy, especially as I’ve chosen to capitalise the initial letters. But it need not be so heavyweight.

A short time ago I saw a presentation on Benefits Management and it certainly came across as heavyweight. A statement was made that “benefits management is most effectively practised in larger organisations”. And indeed if you asked a project delivery person whether their organisation practised good benefits management I’m sure you’re more likely to get an informed answer if they were in a large organisation. But I suspect that’s not because large organisations do it better; it’s more likely because large organisations have more room for that kind of language, which is all part of formalised project and programme management.

By contrast, those in small organisations are much closer to the customer, client or user—be it a customer paying money to a commercial organisation, or a homeless person being helped by a charitable one. That’s just the way small organisations operate. The smaller the organisation, the harder it is to hide from the end value.

But benefits management—or “getting the best value out of your activities”, as we might call it—need not be a heavyweight process for larger organisations. For me the test is where the activity drivers are, and specifically it’s about the connection between the activity on the ground and the end value.

In a large programme in a large organisation it can be easy for a project within a programme to be disconnected from that larger programme and the benefits it’s trying to realise. It’s easy for people on that project to be told what to do, go off and do it, and hope that by delivering it as expected it will produce the desired overall programme outcome. But most likely the world will have moved on since they started and their output will be sub-optimal.

On the other hand if there is a clear and simple statement of value at the top level—and ideally a quantified statement of value—then every single decision at the project level can be discussed in the context of the larger goal. And conversations at the programme level become more productive, too.

This way the activity on the ground is continually connected to the larger goal, and decision-making on the ground can be most effective. It’s not too fancy, and we don’t need to measure ourselves against Gartner’s “Benefits realization maturity levels”. But it does help us get the greatest benefit out of our work.

Photo by Rob Prouse