Getting to grips with benefits management and delivery within the PMO

Despite the best efforts of many project management offices (PMOs), most are still struggling to get benefits management and delivery – a crucial part of ensuring that the business sees a return on its investment – successfully in place. So says Daléne Grobler, PPM executive consultant at Project Portfolio Office, who explains that despite valiant attempts, benefits management remains an elusive goal for many PMOs.

She lists the top challenges faced by PMOs in this space as:

    1. A lack of buy-in and support to manage benefits delivery, stemming from an out-of-date culture focused only on hitting budgets and deadlines;
    2. The perception of benefits management as being bureaucratic and time-consuming;
    3. A lack of clarity on benefits management roles and responsibilities, and a resulting lack of ownership;
    4. Confusion over terminology (for example, what is a benefit?); and
    5. A general view that benefits are used for appraisals only, due to the length of time that can elapse before realisation.

“PMOs are definitely not alone in this struggle,” she explains. “Many businesses face the same challenges, and even when the process is in place, gaining commitment and accountability from stakeholders can feel like an uphill battle. It’s frustrating, demotivating, and all too often, a pledge never fulfilled. But what if there was a way to make benefits management and delivery a reality?”

Benefits management was the topic under discussion at the most recent PMO Forum event, a quarterly invitation-only interest group falling under the umbrella of Project Management South Africa (PMSA) and sponsored by Project Portfolio Office.

Here, a forum comprising three project management experts, namely Louise Worsley, author, former chairperson of the South Africa PMO Awards, judge of the Global PMO Alliance since 2018, and director on the board of the PMO Leader; Frank Einhorn, author and course convenor at Wits Business School; and Carlo Baptista, director: head of strategic portfolio management and change risk at Absa, looked more closely at some of these common challenges, obstacles and opportunities within the benefits management and delivery space, providing solid advice.

Achieving benefits from business projects

Einhorn’s discussion centred around the essentials needed to reap business project benefits, namely the definition of people’s roles, and a concise business case.

For a business project specifically, it can take months and even years after project completion to gain business benefits, he stated. “Often the focus on a project falls more onto the lifecycle, but for benefits management, the entire lifetime is important. The business sponsor is the person who most needs the benefits to happen, which thus makes them the owner of the project throughout its lifetime, even after the project manager has moved on to the next project.”

The business case is vital for proper benefits management and delivery, Einhorn explained, and should be a short document that includes the benefits, costs, risks, and supporting assumptions.

“There must be a designated business person for each benefit – otherwise how do we know if we have achieved the benefit? – as well as some type of measurement. Monetary measures are important, but benefits should be stated in business terms too. For example, if there’s a project aiming to enhance the image of the company, it’s difficult to put a value on this, so it could be measured using a positive gain in a client satisfaction survey.

“Also key to delivering benefits are strong sponsorship and committed business people, as well as competent project managers who understand and talk to the business, and can adapt with changing requirements.”

What makes for a good benefits analyst?

Worsley looked specifically at the traits that should be sought in a good benefits analyst, such as ensuring that all stakeholders buy into and understand the value of the benefits management framework, as well as a consistent approach.

“There’s often concern within organisations that benefits will frequently be achieved only after the project has been completed, so a good benefits analyst must find measures to identify how to ascertain whether they are moving towards benefits, and whether the team is using the benefits framework.

“A good analyst should have broad experience across the business, as well as the ability to speak the business’ language and create measurement systems. They should be resilient and curious, with the right level of gravitas, allowing them to sit in front of anyone in the organisation, and make stakeholders comfortable,” she added.

The Absa benefits management journey

Baptista then took PMO Forum attendees through Absa’s journey towards benefits management, explaining that, at the end of 2019, conditions within the bank were ripe for the start of benefits management and realisation, after the recent delivery of most of a major separation programme with Barclays.

“This was achieved on time and within budget, so using this positivity, as well as improved maturity, Absa decided to tackle benefits management, a core project and portfolio management (PPM) capability. At the same time, the organisation’s internal auditors had just assessed its benefits management capability and found that, while there were pockets of capability across the organisation with varying degrees of maturity, it was ‘off track’ or ‘at risk’.

The implementation of the benefits management capability required a human-centred design, creating a working group with participants from across the bank; an integrated plan covering all areas of the bank affected by benefits management and delivered iteratively with clear, regular communication; and support from stakeholders at all levels.

Successes achieved by Absa on the implementation of a benefits management capability have included:

  • The achievement of 98 percent of planned benefits for 2022 (as compared to 26 percent in 2019);
  • Training of more than 1,000 colleagues in the Benefits Management Masterclass over the past two years
  • The ability to show expected revenue, cost reduction or quantifiable and qualifiable benefits for each of Absa’s five strategies, allowing the company to look at the portfolio quite differently as a result;
  • A real increase in the rigour relating to monitoring, and oversight and management of benefit management performance, due to buy-in across the organisation;
  • A significant uptake in the benefits captured over time, while also introducing new types of benefits, like capital management in 2020;
  • A noteworthy improvement in the allocation of benefit management roles to initiatives – from 10 percent in 2019 to 90 percent at the end of 2022;
  • A sharp increase in the benefit data managed on Absa’s toolset;
  • The creation of a community of benefit management champions across the organisation to sustain the change;
  • And finally, addressing the risk raised by the audit committee in 2019.

According to Baptista, Absa’s recommendations to other PMOs wanting to delve into benefits management include:

  • Wide collaboration with teams to understand their challenges, while partnering to provide tailor-made solutions, gain buy-in and increase adoption;
  • Mandating and supporting the benefits management team in managing the capability;
  • Aligning around a ‘single version of the truth’ (achieved through tooling);
  • Reporting performance, adding value through contributing insights and celebrating successes;
  • Integrating benefits management across the organisation in activities such as strategic planning and performance reviews;
  • Investing in resources to maintain and enhance the capability;
  • Leveraging specialist skills to drive benefit activities;
  • Being relentless in continuously reviewing and improving the capability, by conducting regular maturity assessments and measuring progress against the baseline; and
  • Seeking advice and guidance from industry specialists.

Do topics like benefits management resonate with you? Are you a PMO leader interested in attending the next quarterly PMO Forum event? Click here for more information and to register.

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