On My Soapbox: Benefits Realisation Nonsense

As I sat down in my local café yesterday, I had intended to spend my time writing about something completely different. However, I couldn’t help but overhear a knowledgeable (and loud) woman at a nearby table telling her lunch companions all about her experiences as a ‘Benefits Manager’. For those uninitiated with the title – it’s someone who’s employed to ensure corporate projects actually pay off. The issue is – ‘best practice benefits management’, while well meaning, is too complex and academic to be meaningfully sustained by the vast majority of organisations.

Needless to say, I was curious about her experience, so I did what anyone else would do in that situation – I did a little eavesdropping…

Her complaints were all too familiar:

  • “people struggled to understand the concepts”
  • “they were struggling with the idea of measuring their contribution”
  • and “it was really hard to get people to do it”

Unfortunately, her tactical suggestions to her peers were still stuck in the lens of ‘making best practice work’: “We just need to give them more examples, and then run our workshops a little differently”.

Humbly, I disagree.

Instead we should stop propping up internal cottage industries built on imaginary numbers. For 95% of organisational projects we are better off leaning into simplicity not complexity.

Want a powerful project portfolio? – Stop pretending that your projects are going to save the entire world. (unless of course you’re like my friend Andrew Hollo, who is indeed working with the UN on projects that will help save the world). Even large organisational transformations typically only have 2-3 major goals.

True value is found with focus.

So when it comes to proving and measuring success, keep it simple.

  1. Why are you doing this?
  2. How will you prove you achieved the why? (What metric improvements will you point to?)
  3. Then, do as little as possible to sustainably create that metric shift.

But Brendon…

  • “My project covers the entire organisation and affects everyone differently.” → cool. What was the crux of the reason for its initial funding? Focus on that.
  • “We don’t know how to measure xyz” → ok, what can you measure? Is there a proxy or submeasure that is easier to gather? If not, then build the process for getting those measures into your project scope. If the problem’s big enough to invest in a solution for, then it’s big enough to invest in measuring improvements in. Remember we’re not after 10 measures, just one or two meaningful ones.
  • “We won’t know results until well after the project” → I hear this a lot. The problem is that the longer it takes to see results, the higher the failure risk the project is carrying. Is there a faster-feedback proxy measure? Is there another way of getting indicative feedback earlier? Can you run a pilot, a proof of concept or something similar?
  • “Best practice benefits management says we need to create maps, profiles, attribution models, etc.” → so what? Much of those are exercises in academic self-gratification. Especially once you include the fact that the numbers will always be massaged in a way to ensure that the CEO’s top projects go ahead. There’s a small number of organsiations that sustainably manage this level of rigour. For the rest of us, we shouldn’t aim for that level of complexity. We just don’t need that type of artificial rigour.

Want valuable projects? Simplify & focus in on what really matters. Deal with reality.

Question: Are you focused on measuring real success?