Straight Talk on Project Management

Deep fried BRie

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Deep fried BRie – A Lesson in IT Project Benefits Realisation

I was at my friend’s house for dinner the other night, on the menu his legendary deep-fried brie, breadcrumbed and served with caramelised red onion marmalade and home-made, lightly peppered potato wedges. To die for!!

As we sat at the table, glass of wine in hand, a small plate of ping pong sized breadcrumbed balls were placed on the table with a selection of dips.

“What are these?” I asked.

“Try one,” replied our host.

Well, we didn’t need a second invitation. OH MY! Delicious. After biting into the crunchy outer shell, my tastebuds sensed fried egg, black pepper, onion.

“Seriously, what are these?” I asked again.

“They’re just egg, breadcrumbs, grated onion and black pepper.”

Genius! Simple and delicious. “Where did you get the idea from?”

“To be honest they’re the left-over breadcrumbs and egg from the brie and the ends of the onions grated, all mixed into balls and fried. You need a decent bowl of eggs to dip the brie in and a deep bowl of breadcrumbs to coat them, I just hate waste.”

Honestly, they were AMAZING!

My friend isn’t in project management, he’s a radio presenter, but with such an eye for Benefits Realisation – if ever he fancies retraining, I think he’d have a natural flair.

That’s the one thing that most projects that add extra value to their business have in common – a well-executed Benefits Realisation Management (BRM) framework. In fact, most projects that deliver intended value (let alone bonus benefits like delicious, breadcrumbed balls) also have a BRM plan.        

I’ve seen BRMs laid out in a number of different ways, but all have central pillars around identification, execution and sustaining of project benefits. Interestingly, one PM friend sums up their organisation’s process as ‘The four P plan for Project Benefits Realisation’.  The four Ps being Pinpoint, Produce, Perpetuate and Prolong, it’s worth sharing because it illustrates nicely the necessary framework.

‘The four P Plan for Project Benefits Realisation’ – Pinpoint, Produce, Perpetuate and Prolong.

1 – Pinpoint Benefits

Pinpointing the expected and realisable benefits at the start of a project delivers better change outcomes, allows space to avoid outcomes that are not in sync with your business needs and crystalises the mission ahead – and even gives you the insight required to decide whether the project is worth embarking upon

At the Pinpoint Benefits stage, you determine the value you expect your project to deliver before you start.

Here, you’ll identify whether the expectations you have for your project are achievable and really nail down what results it can produce. Some outcomes are not desirable, this stage intuitively allows you to avoid them. Sometimes, projects will not deliver the results you need – this stage gives you crucial insight, ensures stakeholders are on board and aligns benefits to be realised with your organisation’s strategic goals and business vision.

2 – Produce Benefits

Producing benefits is all about execution, here you’ll establish the practices that will become your framework to benefits realisation and how you’ll perform the work to deliver the required benefits.

At this stage your Benefits Realisation Plan will really start to take shape. I’ve seen many variations on the theme, but all variants have certain key elements:

  • A list of expected and intended benefits.
  • Assumptions (events you assume will happen along the way; resources you assume you will have at your disposal).
  • Procedures – how will you go about delivering the change and benefits you intend.
  • Metrics, define what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will measure progress.
  • Roles and responsibilities, establish who will do what and when to manage and deliver benefits.
  • A plan for sustaining the benefits.
  • A communication plan, establishing how you’ll report progress to your team and stakeholders.
  • A defined process * for discovering new benefit opportunities.

* This last process is often overlooked in BRM plans. A Project Leader colleague, Malc, calls it the Marmite bit of the process, not because you either love it or hate it, but because it’s where you can really deliver business value by having your eyes open to new opportunities. Marmite, as a biproduct of the beer brewing industry serves as a great metaphor. Amusingly, I think it’s a metaphor that has a double meaning, depending on your opinion of Marmite – it’s a metaphor for the extra value a process can yield, or those unintended results that are not aligned with your business goals! It’s here where your deep-fried brie leads to eggy, breadcrumb balls of heaven, so it’s worth having a disciplined framework set up to mine those extra benefits!   

As I say, I’ve seen this stage, where benefits are executed, laid out by project managers in a variety of formats, from roadmaps to timelines.

This is the stage where work on the project starts, where you take the steps to realise the identified benefits and communicate progress to key stakeholders – it’s crucial that you’ve nailed down that communication plan – but, again, it’s another element I often see neglected or left to chance in a BRM plan.

3 – Perpetuate and Prolong Benefits

This stage is all about sustaining benefits, it’s the stage where you evaluate the results and your team’s performance to ensure that your organisation can continue to enjoy those benefits. Talk about what went well, what not so well, ways to improve and do it with everyone involved with your project! The insight that this stage gives you, post implementation, is priceless and will ensure continued improvement. Amazingly, the more you do this post-delivery analysis, the better your habits become during execution – the simple act of noticing something that worked, makes you much more likely to repeat it!

Among other questions, you should ask:

Have you optimised all the benefits? Tangible, intangible, short-term, long-term, intended from the outset and those breadcrumb balls – leave nothing out!

Have project outcomes been handed over to operational teams?

How are realised benefits being measured against business need and sustainment plans?

Are the actual benefits being delivered within the timeframe of the benefits realisation plan? If not, why not? If they are what can you repeat to ensure similar success in the future?

Were all lessons learned, properly captured and documented to ensure that they’re properly learned and habitualised. Were they properly communicated? Will a new team five years from now be able to access your lessons?

Have unanticipated benefits been realised and, if they have, have they been captured for the future too?

Evaluating how your project went – and communicating this as part of your comms plan delivers amazing future value.

Before I leave you, a couple of “as always” notes.

As always #1, the PMI has a useful resource (Benefits Realization Management Framework | PMI) to help create a BRM plan.

As always #2, Benefits Realisation Management is something that Stoneseed can help you with, drop me a message or call the team on 01623 723910.

We can help with everything you’ve read about here, apart from deep fried brie, for that you’ll need a radio presenter!