What is a project benefit?
A project benefit is an outcome of the project that is seen as a positive change by one or more stakeholders. It must, by definition, be achievable and approved by key stakeholders.
Project benefits are not deliverables (e.g. a computer system, dam or carpark). The deliverables are the means by which the benefits are provided.
All projects start as an effort to achieve project benefits, outlined in the business case. The proposed deliverables are linked to organisational needs and goals so as to produce desired benefits. Realised benefits will provide a return on investment and contribute to strategic planning objectives.
To assess its successful delivery, a project benefit must be able to be measured.
Types of project benefits
Benefits can be tangible and evident (‘hard’ benefits) or intangible (‘soft’ benefits).
- Hard benefits might include measurably better teamwork, shorter production times, more cost-effective software, improved on-the-job skills, increased representation at conferences, reduced travel time and so on.
- Soft benefits might include an enhanced professional reputation, influencing industry on a major issue, fostering corporate change and so on.
Why are project benefits important?
As indicated, project management is more than just about providing deliverables. It is about ensuring that those deliverables provide the identified and intended benefits.
Hence, identifying, planning, monitoring and managing benefit delivery is a crucial component of project management, especially so for large projects with substantial financial investments.
Actively managing project benefits as part of project management:
- provides an ongoing focus on them during a project’s life cycle
- better enables management response should there be changes in benefits required or investment capability
- helps to shape the roles and responsibilities needed to deliver benefits
- provides a base against which the success of a project can be measured.
Securing project benefits
The whole point of identifying benefits is to ensure they are delivered. They are goals to reach. A project may be completed on time, within budget and of the quality required, but benefits management takes it further – it ensures that the project also delivers the expected results.
Identifying project benefits gives the funding organisation confidence that its investment will be returned. It also helps to reduce project risks; knowing a benefit before a project starts helps managers to more precisely define risks to it, and hence to plan to avoid or mitigate them.
How to identify and manage project benefits
Identifying and then managing the delivery of project benefits involves:
- communicating with stakeholders to identify benefits sought
- undertaking cost–benefit studies to narrow options to those benefits that can be realistically achieved
- including benefits management as a key part of the Project Plan
- nominating who will be accountable for what
- deciding how benefits with be measured, and what means will be used throughout the project life cycle and beyond to monitor their delivery (e.g. surveys, before-and-after data, audits and so on).
Managing project benefits forces an ongoing focus on why the project was initiated. And it doesn’t stop after the project ends – it continues until all benefits are clearly achieved (and if not, why not).
So, it is an integral part of a project’s management. It informs the business case that leads to the project’s initiation through to the post-delivery reports that review the success of the project in achieving what was intended.
This weblink provides, by way of example, the project benefits identified for the regional rail link project in Victoria.