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Benefits management: balancing the emotional, rational and political to achieve success

Oliver Excell and James Davis

Association of Project Management

9 October 2014

Being able to realise the full benefits from a portfolio of programmes is critical to organisational success, particularly in the current economic climate. Yet, despite extensive literature on the subject and the plethora of tools and processes developed to aid benefits delivery, businesses struggle to achieve the benefits set out in the original business case.

This is because successful benefits delivery needs more than theory. It also requires you to understand the political context, to harness emotion, and to balance these two with rational analysis. There are five critical success factors that can help to move beyond process and make successful benefits delivery a reality.

1.Harness emotion to create momentum

Individuals with a deeply felt sense of what needs to be done to protect and nurture the business can create a very powerful catalyst for change. Harness their passion, creativity and energy to create a compelling vision that inspires others and generates the momentum required for change.

2.Balance the passion of individuals with views from across the organisation

It is important to ensure that one individual’s passion for a project doesn’t distort the reality of realising the business case. The changes required to deliver programme benefits usually involve many different parts of the organisation and cannot be delivered by a single individual. 

Individuals who are passionate about a project need to engage with the rest of the business to ensure buy-in across the organisation. They must confront head-on the inevitable resistance associated with change and benefits realisation. Canvassing a range of views also provides a vital reality check on the business case and leverages the experience and wisdom of key stakeholders.

3.Understand what drives your leaders politically 

There may be some quick wins, but many benefits can only be released after the changes to the business are complete. So building enduring support for benefits delivery beyond the life of the programme is essential.

To get senior stakeholders to develop real and sustained commitment, you need to understand what drives them politically and show them how targeted benefits align with their agendas. Creating a vivid picture of the future organisation can help bring the programme vision to life for people and align their ambitions with programme goals.

4.Develop the capability to sustain change and release benefits 

We see many examples of programmes that deliver the right new operational capability but fail to sustain the benefits of the change over time. Often this is because the teams affected lack the skills or capacity to embed change or are not given time to do this. Recognising this need at the start of the programme will help get the right resource in place, either on the programme or in the wider organisation. 

5.Use qualitative metrics to provide a well-rounded view of benefit delivery

To give a well-rounded view of the change, use a mix of intangible metrics, for example staff surveys and customer satisfaction, as well as hard qualitative and financial indicators. Make sure the processes, tools and metrics used to measure benefits actually support the delivery of change and avoid unintended consequences such as people gaming the system.

These critical success factors were a feature of a recent project with the NHS in North West London to reconfigure the health services for 2 million people. We used the passion of the key clinical stakeholders around the benefits of the proposed reconfiguration to generate the momentum to land this business case. Combining compelling vision and rational analysis to gain support throughout the NHS system we were able to sustain momentum into the delivery of the programme.

Benefits management can be seen as a bit of a rollercoaster ride – high on the agenda when the business case needs to be justified, forgotten about during the programme’s delivery and panicked about at the end when people are reminded which benefits they were made accountable for but don’t have the means to deliver. However, when handled well, benefits management will help drive delivery, maintain alignment and manage senior stakeholders. The key is to move beyond management process and harness passionate emotion, rational analysis and political astuteness to achieve success.

Oliver Excell and James Davis are programme management and procurement experts at PA Consulting Group


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