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A Project Manager Should Always Keep an Eye on Benefits Realization

Managing to the triple constraint is table stakes – it’s time for project managers to go further.

The natural concern which might be raised is that in many cases a project manager has moved on to their next project while the product owner and other stakeholders are still working on the change sustainment required to achieve benefits. The project manager might have had limited direct involvement with the staff who are required to successfully adopt the changes, or might have no influence over the external factors which could impact benefits realization.

This is all true, and yet, if the project fails to deliver the benefits promised, the project manager is likely to receive some of the blame.

This is not to say that project managers don’t attempt to lay the groundwork for success after they have closed out their projects. Sometimes, the fault might lie with protective product owners who may perceive such efforts by the project manager as crossing jurisdictional boundaries. However, this is no reason for a project manager to back off. If they have sufficient evidence to show that benefits realization will be impacted, it is their responsibility to ensure that this information is acted upon.

During the project’s initiation, the project manager should take the time to understand the business case supporting the sponsor’s rationale for investing in the project. This is one of the benefits of a project manager having domain expertise. A project manager who has only a cursory understanding of the impacted business processes may be less likely to understand if some fundamental assumptions are invalid or might miss threats which would impact successful benefits realization.
While a business analyst is usually responsible for requirements elicitation and should be ensuring that the requirements gathered directly tie back to the original business case and expected benefits, the project manager should also take the time to thoroughly review the requirements baseline as that acts as a key input into many downstream decisions which may impact project success. By doing this the project manager is better equipped to support the business analyst in facilitating appropriate decision- making when scope changes are brought forward later in the project’s life.

For projects which are expected to deliver financial benefits, the project manager should not only focus on the definition of the project’s one-time costs, but should also review the incremental ongoing costs and expected revenue projections estimated by the product owner and other stakeholders. If the assumptions underlying those estimates don’t appear to be valid or if the project manager believes that a key constraint might have been missed, they should not hold back on sharing their concerns.

Once work has begun on delivering the project’s approved scope, most project managers tend to focus their efforts on keeping project delivery on track and effective managing changes to baselines. To complement the normal project delivery assurance activities, the project manager should consider taking the time to revisit the business case periodically to identify changes which may impact benefits realization.

The project manager can help to facilitate benefits reviews with the product owner by identifying and engaging the right stakeholders who can provide input into the assessment process. If the project manager and product owner determine that there has been a significant reduction in anticipated benefits, this should trigger a review with the appropriate governance body to decide whether the project should continue to be funded to avoid incurring further sunk costs.

Scope changes provide another opportunity for project managers to go beyond their traditional project delivery role. While understanding the impacts to scope, schedule, cost, and secondary project constraints are important, impacts to benefits realization should also be identified to avoid unintended consequences.

Successful change adoption and sustainment is another critical input into benefits realization. The best project deliverables will generate minimal value if operational staff don’t modify their behaviors to take full advantage of the changes.

Through regular stakeholder interaction, the project manager is in an ideal position to receive feedback from groups impacted by the change.

The project manager can support change owners in stakeholder analysis and action planning and can ensure that priority is placed on securing the necessary change agents from each impacted area. They can review change plans and help to facilitate the risk identification and assessment sessions required to understand what threats may exist to successful adoption.

I am not discounting the effort and challenges required to bring in a project within approved scope, cost and schedule baselines, but that just isn’t enough these days. Like it or not, you will likely be assessed not just on project delivery, but also on whether your projects have achieved their expected benefits.

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