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Why a project is not an island

Adeline Teoh ed.
November 5, 2012

I used to think project management was all about realising benefits until I observed that the aim of a standard project was really about delivering that project. A project is not an island but enveloped in a benefits realisation process. So where do those pesky benefits fit in?

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Benefits Realisation Summit in Sydney. Delegates included a wealth of consultants alongside project, program, portfolio and PMO managers all looking to improve their ability to identify, manage and realise benefits.

I was surprised, then, when event host Matt Williams, who launched Connexion Systems’ Maximiser benefits realisation software, said: “The assumption is that projects deliver benefits. Projects do not deliver benefits. It’s not the responsibility of the project manager to deliver benefits. The project will finish and we hope magic happens and we get a benefit.”

Here I was thinking that project = benefit/s. Otherwise, why do we run projects? But it dawned on me that for too long, projects have been treated as a parcel of work handed down from the powers-that-be. Project managers accept this parcel, do what they need to do with it, and deliver it to the intended. Job done.

But the more mature project-managed organisations have cottoned onto the fact that no project is an island. Project managers need to be included earlier in the conversation about why the project exists rather than simply being paid to do a task on the whim of the project owner or sponsor. Project progress must therefore run in parallel to benefits tracking to ensure that the capability or product delivered at the end will benefit the organisation.

So Williams is right, considering the way projects are run today, it is not the responsibility of the project manager to deliver benefits. But from now on it should be, once we correctly align and equate the delivery of projects with benefits to the organisation.

What’s your experience with benefits management on the projects you run? Good, bad, ugly?

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Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of ProjectManager.com.au. She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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