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OpenStrategies, Operational Research, Project Management

Are you sure your Project will “deliver Benefits”?

Project-Miracle-Benefits 2I was running a workshop recently for a group of public sector Operational Researchers and Economists and we had a useful discussion about the extent to which their projects could “deliver benefits”. This was part of a session on creating an effective Project Initiation Document (PID), a topic which I have written about several times before.

Many of the projects these people have to manage are actually part of a wider programme, for example to develop and implement new government policies. So, their projects might be to:

  • Create a new supply/demand model
  • Conduct some research to gather views of a particular group of citizens
  • Build an Excel tool to analyse a range of policy options

None of these can create direct performance improvements (benefits) as they are simply enablers of a wider programme. I guess you could argue that somebody using these projects’ outputs benefits from an enhanced capability, for example to make an informed decision. However, it would be wrong (and foolish) to create a PID for any of these projects that claimed benefits such as “Reduced cost”, “Increased income”, “Reduced time”, “Reduced energy consumption”.

What is surprising though is that often these types of project do claim such benefits when you look at their PIDs; often because their sponsors feel the need to “build a case” for doing them. I suspect the mistake they are making is seeing them as stand-alone projects and not enablers in a wider programme. The claimed benefits are for the programme, not the contributing projects.

The discussion moved on to look at whether ANY of their projects could legitimately claim to result in benefits. The answer depends, of course, on who is the end customer for the project. So, they might have improvement projects with objectives such as:

  • Reduce the time taken to generate a report on xyz
  • Improve the accuracy of a forecast on xyz
  • Reduce the cost of producing xyz analyses

All of these start with some baseline data (“As Is Performance”) and aim to achieve a quantifiable level of change as a result of doing the project. As such, they do result in benefits, albeit mostly for internal customers rather than for citizens.

The key messages from this discussion were:

  • Don’t claim performance improvement benefits for your project if it is only creating outputs for a wider programme
  • If the result of your project leads directly to an increase or reduction in some aspect of performance, then it is legitimate to claim some benefits

For more articles on Benefits-thinking, visit my OpenStrategies page.

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