Why Benefits Management Is Failing Your Projects — And What To Do Instead

Brendon Baker
5 min readJul 23, 2021

Benefits Management Is Awfully Unintuitive

Here’s the short of it.

Benefits Realisation Management (BRM) as it stands today is terrible. It’s unintuitive and confusing for anyone that isn’t in the ‘initiated’, (i.e., those in the benefits management industry).

Don’t believe me? Just take one look at the below benefits map (censored to protect the innocent). And Yes this is very real. I stumbled across it at one of my client’s sites. And yes, each of those boxes had one or more things in them.

But OK. Let’s say I give you the benefit of the doubt and agree that not all projects look like that.

Benefits Management is still terribly confusing. Let me show you. Sticking with benefits mapping — There are a multitude of ways to do it out there. However, I’ve found that your traditional benefits map typically has three elements in common:

  • Outputs
  • Outcomes
  • Benefits

For any of you who have tried to implement this type of mapping process into your organisations — you may have found that uptake was less than desired. Perhaps it even felt like a perpetual uphill battle?

While there are a number of reasons for this, a crucial one is the confusing use of industry jargon.

Here’s the test: If I gave a member of your project team(s) a piece of paper with three headings at the top of it: Outputs, Outcomes and Benefits — would they know what to write where?

My experience is that over 90% of the time they don’t. This is because traditional benefits realisation management (BRM) contorts the standard meanings of these words to fit arbitrary industry rules. The words lose their self-evident nature, which is a huge issue for your adoption and communication.

As a small glimpse into what I mean, let’s work through a couple of these words.

Term: Outcomes

Dictionary Definition:

A result or effect of an action, situation, etc.

How it’s used in traditional benefits management:

An outcome is a ‘loose’ description of what the project is aiming to achieve. Outcomes are the positive result of change, normally affecting real world behaviour or circumstances. E.g., Improved processing capability, Higher performance system, better User Interface, etc.

Now these definitions are somewhat close, however, outcomes in traditional BRM have a purely positive slant. So, only a minor distortion, but a distortion none the less.

But what about the term ‘benefit’?

Term: Benefit

Dictionary Definition:

Something that is advantageous or good; an advantage.

How it’s used in traditional benefits management:

The measurable improvement to the organisation as a result of achieving an outcome. It is how we know that the outcome was achieved.

And here we see one of the key challenges that traditional BRM faces. The intuitive definition of the term ‘benefit’ is essentially ‘something good’. So, when you put this term in front of an uninitiated staff member next to the heading ‘outcomes’, they will get these two terms confused each and every time.

The reality is that what industry calls ‘benefits’ is essentially just proof — i.e., it’s asking the one of the three most Valuable Questions for any Change, i.e:How Will We Prove It?”. (The other two are Why are we doing it, and What are we doing?)

So why don’t we just call it that?

Proof.

Simple and without confusion. And why do we have to have complex explanations like:

‘The measurable improvement to the organisation as a result of achieving an outcome.’

When we can just use the much simpler, and jargon free:

‘How do you plan to prove it?’.

We need to be fighting unnecessary complexity at every corner. And this is prime spot for it.

So What Should Your Proof Look Like?

After you’ve got your Core Change WHY clear, you need to answer the Second Valuable Question I mentioned above:

How Will We Prove It?”.

This means translating that WHY into real terms. Building in some more detail, enabling you to translate your thoughts into reality. A great way to do this is to develop a Proof Plan.

But there’s’ a huge warning here: Don’t over-cook it!

Here’s what you need in your Proof Plan:

First take each key element of your Core Change WHY and identify one to two ways to prove you achieved it. This could look something like this:

Then for each one of these proofs capture:

  • The historical data for your measures,
  • The future targets for your measures,
  • Who is going to own and be accountable for measuring and monitoring the proofs,
  • How they plan to track the proofs, and
  • How you plan to respond if you start missing measurement targets.

That’s it.

To give you a sense of the size of this — for a small to medium change this should only take a couple of pages to convey. Gone are the days of the 50-page benefits realisation plan!

Oh, and one final tip with the Proof Plan: make it realistic. The old adage applies. Don’t oversell and under-deliver.

The Proof Plan contains the key things that the person(s) that fund a change should hold a change accountable to. This means that your Proof Plan will only work if you keep the project accountable and ensure that the measurement goals are front of mind through the entirety of a project’s life.

This is a sneak peak from Valuable Change: What You Need To Know To Ensure Your Change Pays Off

Order Your Copy Here: https://qualityinitiative.com.au/valuablechange/

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Brendon Baker

As a leading expert in the field, and with over $10 Billion in change experience, Brendon is converting others to a radical new idea... Keep it simple.