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Turning outputs into outcomes and benefits - the perilous journey of an output

Blog posted by: Michelle Rowland – Director, A&J Project Management, 08 November 2022.

In today’s world of high inflation your customers/service users are experiencing a cost-of-living crisis.

As an organization, you will be experiencing the same price hikes as your customers, from increased cost of utility bills to higher prices for raw materials. As a result, there is pressure to increase your prices to maintain profit margins, putting even more pressure on your customers.

But is there something you can do instead? Having worked with many different organizations, I see repeatedly investments in projects and programmes going to waste, by not ensuring that benefits are fully realized.

Both PRINCE2 and Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) advocate creating a benefits management approach, which includes actions and reviews to ensure outcomes are achieved, benefits realized and what needs to be measured, when and how.

From creating capabilities to embedding new ways of working

To realize the full value of your investment in change, you need to make sure that a project or programme delivers the right outputs. These outputs, when combined, deliver the capabilities that will go into operational use.

But often, this is where organizations lose their way. Benefits – measurable improvements in business performance – will only be realized if those capabilities are used effectively by operational staff in the way that they were intended. This requires the project or programme manager to work closely with the business representatives (senior user or business change manager) to ensure a smooth handover to operations of what the business wants, when they want it.

The business needs to have had adequate time to prepare in terms of communication, training, dealing with resistance from impacted staff, changing terms and conditions and winning hearts and minds. If the business is well prepared, then the new capabilities will be adopted and become outcomes. This is when the operational ways of working have been changed to the new required ways of working.

But does it all measure up?

But the work of the project or programme doesn’t end there. Measuring the benefit and proving the difference you have made needs an accurate baseline/measure of business performance before the capabilities go live. This may require measuring current performance over an extended period to make sure that the baseline is accurate and not just a “blip” (either higher or lower than the average).

And after the outcome is achieved, the improvement also needs to be measured. This is relatively simple if the benefit is realized during the lifecycle of a programme, when programme staff are on hand to do this work. However, benefits are often only fully realized after the project or programme has closed.

MSP requires a benefit profile detailing each benefit, what needs to be measured, how and when and who is responsible for realizing the benefit. These documents should be created early in the project or programme lifecycle and kept up to date throughout. This ensures that, at initiative closure, these documents can be handed over to the portfolio office (if one exists) or to the finance/performance management departments for follow-up.

To measure the benefits after initiative closure it is good practice to set up a small team involving staff from operations, finance and project/programme management. This team will use the benefits management approach and benefit profiles to determine what to measure, how and who to involve.

The senior user/business change manager should lead this work to ensure that benefits are reported accurately to prove whether costs have been reduced or sales increased. This can help maintain your organization’s profit margins and lessons learned for future initiatives to ensure they are even more successful at turning change initiatives into real business value.


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