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Straight Talk on Project Management

Beyond IT

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Beyond IT project benefit realisation – benefits prioritisation

When do your IT Projects start to deliver business benefits?

Do they hit the ground running, delivering value on their go-live day or is it sometime downstream that you feel the benefits?

Or … maybe, your organisation realises benefits before the project has even been fully delivered?

Several IT Project teams I have the pleasure of working with are pulling off this neat little conjuring trick and their parent organisations are realising benefits ahead of the expected delivery date. They are doing it in such a matter of fact and casual way that the untrained eye doesn’t always notice – even my keen Project Management senses had become a bit blasé about it until I watched a petrol station get demolished and rebuilt!

BENEFITS PRIORITISATION – LESSONS IN ‘BP’ FROM AN ESSO

Recently, a town centre petrol station and car dealership were demolished near us. The petrol station had been a handy asset to the town, albeit a little run down and past its best days. There was a frisson of excitement in the town as residents speculated on what would replace it. The town centre did not have a McDonalds – so that quickly became top of most people’s hopes for the site.

Eventually, the town learned that the old Esso petrol station was to be replaced by … wait for it … a new Esso petrol station – much to the chagrin of the McDonalds fans!

Then, we learned that the Esso garage was going to be more than just a petrol station.

It would have a ‘drive thru’ KFC (which placated the McDonalds cheerleaders) and a Cooplands (a local bakery chain – I mean, who doesn’t always fancy a pasty?!). Also, instead of just a ‘petrol station’ shop, the site would have an Asda “On The Go” (to quote Alan Partidge – “Scaled-down supermarket, fits inside a petrol station. Sells pies, anti-freeze…”).

Interesting couple of side lessons there about the importance of managing stakeholder expectations (you’re NOT getting a McDonalds) and the value communicating the benefits of change to stakeholders and end users. Those who had disappointed that they weren’t getting a McDonalds (which was pure speculation, a benefit they’d invented to fill a vacuum of information) might have been more invested in the change had they known a KFC was coming. Anyway, I digress!

BENEFITS PRIORITISATION

An opening date for the petrol station was announced and, duly, the day arrived. The petrol station and the “scaled-down supermarket” opened but work on the bakery and the KFC continued – they would follow later.

Whether deliberate or not, the project managers of this construction had hit upon an often-missed bit of project management magic – benefits prioritisation.

By opening the petrol station and retail outlet, the site could start delivering a return on investment (ROI) much sooner (than had they waited for all the units to be ready). That is the difference between benefits realisation and benefits prioritisation.

Across your project portfolio, when allocating resources, you already prioritise projects on business case – but what about the individual projects themselves? Do you look at the deliverables of an individual project and ask if there are any that could go live – ahead of the overall delivery date? Do you measure the value in doing so?

A quick straw poll reveals that benefits prioritisation, like this, is not always the norm in IT Project Management. Some told me that their team used to subconsciously prioritise deliverables (almost stumble across benefits that could be released before delivery date to start generating ROI), others stated that they had a more focussed approach, another subset admitted that the more reactive post Covid environment meant they had less time to be this disciplined – but the vast majority confessed that they take a logical A to B to C approach to move toward their project’s delivery date, even if delivering “C” ahead of A and B might deliver an earlier return.

By the way, let’s be clear, delivering your project on the delivery date is a champagne popping, high-five sharing achievement! Benefits prioritisation just starts the process of returning value from to your project sooner, so an excuse for a second bottle of bubbly.

DELIVERING C BEFORE A AND B – PRIORITISING THE MONETISABLE DELIVERABLES

If the petrol station site had delayed opening its fuel pumps to the public until the fast-food drive-through was ready, they’d have lost weeks of petrol and diesel sales. Drivers need petrol, they don’t necessarily need a fried chicken sandwich, so opening the petrol pumps brought in punters who noticed the progress being made and the opening dates of the other outlets – great free advertising! There was quite a buzz about the KFC – it was packed when I drove past in its first week!

So, whether it was deliberately or not, the project leaders here prioritised the benefits of this side of the project and the business reaped the rewards. As do the IT Project Management teams that follow a similar approach.

IT Project examples of benefits prioritisation that spring to mind include: a team that rolled out a beta version of a software upgrade (ahead of a hard launch of the alpha version) – they got the benefit of real time feedback, end users were effectively trained on the live product and customers got the better customer experience delivered by the new system – caveated with ‘this is a beta version’ to alleviate any pressure; a retail organisation that prioritised the online orders side of a new sales software upgrade ahead of its physical stores – the online system launched just before the first Covid lockdown shut the stores; and a firm that benefitted from huge efficiencies by prioritising the purchasing and stock control aspects of a digitisation programme ahead of its sales order side (which the board wanted rolled out first), when the sales side did go live the company had a better grasp of stock levels and avoided over-ordering and carrying too much stock.     

Here’s an interesting thing. All three of the above IT Project teams, that actively prioritise benefits, had one thing in common.

They all have a Business Analyst.

THE BUSINESS ANALYST MANIFESTO

Laura Brandenburg, the founder and CEO of Bridging the Gap (who run training programmes for BAs) once created a Business Analyst Manifesto, she wrote:

Out of chaos, we create order.

Out of disagreement, we create alignment.

Out of ambiguity, we create clarity.

But most of all, we create positive change for the organizations we serve.

I’d like to add two more lines …

Out of lists of benefits, we create priorities,

Out of priorities, we create more business value.

In a Stoneseed blog in February 2021, Why IT Projects Shouldn’t Be Sheepish About BAaaS, we listed six reasons why now was ‘a cometh the hour, cometh the BA’ moment. Three of these are especially pertinent to Benefits Prioritisation.

We wrote:

BAs Create Value

“As IT project budgets tighten having a Business Analyst in place becomes more and more critical. When you consider that IT project Return on Investment (ROI) is measured by value achieved, minus the cost of implementation, it is easy to see how a BA can influence both sides of the equation. Deployed effectively, a BA will find the most cost-effective solution to your problems and challenges — outsourced BAs especially have a wider awareness and experience of cost-reducing options.”

BAs Can Sniff Out Extra Business Benefits

“I used the term ‘sniff out’ deliberately. One CIO recently referred to a BA hired through an “as a Service” offer as “like a terrier”. What he meant was that good BAs don’t just report on projects, they actively search out opportunities for aligning IT solutions with business strategy and in doing so help the IT project team realise greater potential benefits.” I’ll add now that BAs are exceptional at identifying business benefits that can be prioritised to deliver value sooner.

BAs Reduce Having to Start Over!

“I asked a BA what she thought her USP was and she told me that she was uniquely placed to help her team have a laser focus on what was important. IT projects, being subject to so many stakeholder and external forces, are prone to change. You factor this in and prepare contingency budgets, buffers and margins, but when project delays are caused by unforced errors, like poor communication or lack of clarity on requirements, it’s really frustrating. Unnecessary change, having to rework portions of the project, or even start tasks over can all be reduced by having someone effective in the BA role.”

(By the way, the other three benefits of a BA were security, flexible and transferrable skills and facilitation of up-scaling – read more about that here).

THE CAN’T AFFORD TO HAVE A BA/CAN’T AFFORD NOT TO HAVE A BA PARADOX

Arguably, it’s never been more essential to have a Business Analyst, prioritising benefits can be the difference between success and stellar success! I do also appreciate that it has also never been harder to justify the extra headcount. For many, a Business Analyst on every project may be viewed as a luxury, a “nice to have”, but not something that every organisation can afford. “It’s a capability gap, we’ve identified,” a CIO told me recently, “but not a cost we can make a strong enough case for, so our theoretical BA’s workload gets spread across the PM team, but we all know we don’t deliver the full potential.”

As with most capability gaps, there is an opportunity here for an “as a Service” model.

Stoneseed’s Business Analysis as a Service (BAaaS) works just like any other managed service.

As with its “parent” Project Management as a Service (PMaaS), BAaaS can offer fully skilled experts with a deep understanding of current technologies and methodologies that dovetail neatly with your own team – spotting those opportunities to deliver more (and earlier) value by prioritising your benefit delivery schedule.

So, if you are wary of increased cost, and don’t want to commit to a full-time hire or contractors, looking into BAaaS could be worth prioritising! 

Stoneseed’s resource on demand model allows you to dial up and down IT project resources in sync with your delivery needs giving you more control over your costs.

Find out more about BAaaS and access the IT Project support you need now! Call 01623 723910 or email info@stoneseed.co.uk.

 

Find out more about BAaaS as part of Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed