Have you been following all the discussion around the benefits of the HS2 Rail Link in the news? It’s intriguing that this far down the line (pun acknowledged), the National Audit Office is still warning that the benefits are unclear.
It’s disappointing; but it’s not often that I see robust business cases, where the groundwork has been done to clearly show how what is being delivered will result in changes that lead to the desired benefits.
The government quotes that the HS2 project will produce “quantifiable benefits to society” in excess of £48 billion. The cost estimate is almost £26 billion. There are lots of assumptions behind this estimate, which are well documented, but the NAO claims that the business case has been “poorly articulated” and that the project has a significant “funding gap”– it seems the dots simply haven’t been joined up.
While some benefits have a clearer, more direct, link with what is being delivered (e.g. where a change of supplier provides the same service but at a lower cost), benefits realisation usually requires additional management action, to make better use of a project’s outcomes. If any of you have ever bought an exercise machine you’ll know exactly what I mean. Just because you’ve gone to the trouble of purchasing it and setting it up, this doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get fitter or lose weight. It’s only by using it on a regular basis that you’ll see the value – unless of course you think of its being used as a clothes’ hanger as a benefit.
In the Managing Benefits manual, written by Steve Jenner and used as the basis of the new Managing Benefits qualification, clear distinctions are made between outputs, outcomes and benefits. For example a project may deliver a new sales system – this is an output – and although the new system is capable of processing orders quicker and with more accuracy, it’s what people do with the extra time that determines whether this turns into a measurable benefit.
If they use the extra time to just have longer breaks, then there is no benefit. Extra management intervention is needed to ensure the benefit is realised. This could, for instance, take the form of raising sales targets or assigning additional work that adds value.
The problem is that much of this additional activity is considered to be outside the scope of the original project, so it’s easy for it to not be thought through carefully, and it becomes disconnected from the project objectives and the planned benefits.
The new Managing Benefits training course encourages us to be aware of the critical areas that may appear to be outside the scope of the project, but will significantly affect its benefits. It provides the tools and models needed to ensure that the additional management actions happen in practice.
Joining up the dots, and connecting goals, benefits, and the actions needed to realise these, is worthy of the time needed to think things through.