When an organisation starts on a change programme, or project, through major investment in information systems, there is usually an initial period of analysis or reflection on the current state required, together with an attempt to form a picture of the desired future state. This, in turn, leads to an appropriate level of justification for the proposed investment –a strategic look at the organisation and a business case.
The business should include answers to some specific questions – does the project make sense, what, if any, are the alternatives, what will it cost and importantly what benefits will it deliver?
This can be thought of in terms of:
- Identifying the desired destination – the vision, objectives and benefits
- Identifying the enablers – technology, business process and environmental changes
- Measuring the outcome of the change journey – benefits measurement
Planning for the programme or project therefore needs to take into account the achievement of benefits, and the earlier these can start to be realised the greater the return on the overall investment being made.
The process of benefits management can be defined as
- the identification of potential benefits
- their planning and tracking
- the assignment of responsibilities and authorities for delivery and their actual realisation
Types of benefits
Some of these benefits will be measurable financially; a direct cost saving in terms of manpower hours, reduction in operational costs, increased revenue from subscriptions or memberships, for example.
Other benefits will be more intangible or qualitative, and therefore more difficult to measure, such as an increase in efficiency, moral or skills level, or environmental impacts.
There will also be a set of emerging, or unexpected benefits that will become apparent through the development and implementation lifecycle of the programme or project. As these are identified they must be taken into account and treated similarly to the initial planned or expected benefits.
Finally, there will also be a set of disbenefits – those things that arise as a result of the change process which result in an unfavourable outcome. For example, a system which is planned to produce the benefit of increasing membership or subscriber numbers may also result in the need to increase the size of the support team to deal with an increase in the number of enquiries or activities generated by those new members or subscribers. This would be an operational disbenefit but must still be accounted for and managed to reduce the impact or cost.
Planning for the benefits
One of the tools available to increase the return on investment is to adopt outcome planning based around the benefits, using benefits mapping. This involves planning that starts with the end goal and creates a route map from the enablers, through the changes required to the outcomes (benefits). Ideally this should take place before the project starts, during the initiation phase.
This will, early in the project lifecycle, facilitate:
- Sharing of knowledge and across the senior leadership
- Understanding of the links between the benefits and the strategic objectives
- Clarity of and understanding of the benefits that are expected to be delivered
- Maintain focus on the delivery of these benefits throughout the programme or project lifecycle
How to do benefits mapping
There are many good sources which explain the process of benefits mapping, and also tools to aid the exercise, but it can be done simply, using traditional sticky notes or flip charts on walls.
- Map the enablers that lead to the objectives of the programme or project
- List the dis-benefits as well as the benefits
- Identify all secondary benefits that arise on the journey from enabler to objective
A key element of making the case for the investment into the project is understanding the benefits it will bring. Consider and plan for the realisation of the benefits at the early stages of your project; the earlier these can start to be achieved and the greater return on the overall investment.