Introduction to benefits management for programmes and projects

Benefits management is a structured approach for maximising good business outcomes for an organisation. It is fundamental to effective programme and project management and successful delivery.

What is benefits management?

Benefits management involves identifying, planning, measuring, and tracking benefits from the start of the programme or project investment until realisation of the last projected benefit. It aims to make sure that the desired benefits are specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time bounded. The term benefits management is often used interchangeably with the term benefits realisation.

Purpose of benefits management

Benefits management is the common thread between programme and project delivery and successful change management. The approach to programme, project and change management needs to be benefit driven to ensure maximum value from the investment in change. Ultimately an organisation’s approach to benefits realisation needs to be integrated within corporate governance arrangements to ensure a strong business focus beyond implementation of the programme or project.  

Sources of best practice 

The Association for Project Management (APM) is the Chartered body for project management professionals and is an excellent source of information on many aspects of programme and project management, including Benefits Management.

The best practice methodologies provided by Axelos, such as PRINCE2 and Managing Successful Programmes (MSP), offer good coverage of the requirement for benefits management in context.

In addition, the APMG-International organisation provides a specific benefits management accredited qualification.

The UK Government’s Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) has defined a Functional Standard for Project Delivery which includes coverage of benefits management.

Responsibilities for benefits management

The main roles and responsibilities relevant to benefits management are:

  • Senior Responsible Owner - responsible and accountable for programme or project success underpinned by delivery of expected benefits
  • Programme manager or project manager - responsible for ensuring proper day-to-day management with a strong focus on benefits realisation
  • Business change manager or benefits manager - oversight and direction of transitional arrangements into business as usual and the embedding of new capability to deliver expected benefits.
  • Portfolio, Programme or Project Office (P3O) or specific Programme/Project Management Office (PMO) - responsible for maintaining benefit documentation for the programme or project including version control; the P3O/PMO may also be responsible for support and advice on benefits management and for reporting on programme/project progress, including benefits realisation
  • Organisational board - responsible for maintaining strategic oversight of the full range (portfolio, programme, or project) benefits anticipated across the organisation.

Benefits management process 

Managing the delivery of programme or project benefits can be broken down into four distinct stages. This guidance outlines what is involved in each stage, providing context, practical guidance, useful tools, techniques, templates, and examples to demonstrate the theory. The four stages are:

  1. identifying and structuring benefits
  2. planning benefits realisation
  3. realising and tracking benefits
  4. evaluation of benefits

While this process will offer a structured approach to managing programme and project benefits, it should not imply that benefits management is simply a mechanistic activity, or a one-off paper exercise.

Focusing on the ultimate outcomes of any investment, and proactively putting in place a framework to manage and realise benefits, should be at the heart of all programme and project delivery, driving the change and helping to retain focus on the end goals.

Benefits management and business cases

In developing a business case an SRO is also responsible for ensuring that the programme or project objectives, costs and benefits are correctly aligned with the business strategy or direction. The identification of benefits and how these will be realised is important.

The business case should:

  • assess or estimate the benefits that the programme or project should deliver
  • document the process for identifying, monitoring and realising the benefits
  • ensure plans and processes are in place to achieve the benefits
  • define the baseline benefits position to allow comparison with projected benefits
  • define the boundaries with other programmes and projects to ensure benefits are not double counted

Some of these may be worked into an early version of the benefits realisation plan. If a business case is being submitted to DoF Supply for approval, evidence of plans for managing and realising projected benefits may be requested.

Common pitfalls which may arise in relation to benefits management and business case development include:

  • the initial work of identifying strategic benefits has not been expanded or developed
  • a lack of early engagement with, or commitment from, key stakeholders to realise the benefits
  • a lack of clear ownership of benefits beyond the business case
  • the lack of robust processes to manage, monitor and realise benefits
  • failure to update the business case due to changes in circumstances

Including a structured set of benefits with as much detail as possible in the business case will help clarify the underlying reason for investment and provide a firm foundation for initiating a project.

Early stage benefits identification and quantification can help identify a preferred option for investment (ie selecting the one which has the potential to deliver best against expected benefits). As benefits are developed and defined further, it is important to keep the business case updated.

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