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When is a project really complete?

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By Chanel van der Westhuizen – Project Manager, CoLAB

When can a Project Manager celebrate project completion? Most people will agree that it is when you have completed scope, time, cost and quality within the expectations of project stakeholders.  But do we as project managers consider what is happening after project completion and after the product or service has been delivered to the business owner?

This raises a concern. Do we place too much weight on project outcomes and do these outcomes on their own deliver specific benefits?  Studies have shown that over 70% of business improvement projects fail to deliver their expected benefits.  For this reason we need to ensure that value is created and sustained and that benefits are realised even after a project has been completed.

Why plan for measureable benefits and not just project outcomes? 

Project Managers need to understand which projects tie directly to expected benefits and protect these requirements against undesirable changes.  When we measure benefits, we increase the quality of our project deliverables and ensure that the project is aligned with strategic objectives.  This also allows the Executive Committee to reprioritise the projects that add greater benefits to the organisation.

Having worked on many projects, I have come to understand that benefits realisation needs to form part of our standard project management methodology.  This is a concept that requires more maturity and presents a great opportunity for us, as Project Managers, to implement this practice within an organisation that is new to the idea.

The Benefits Framework Plan needs to be integrated within each stage of the project management lifecycle, from Study to Closeout:


Study Stage:

During Study Stage, we not only need to draft Functional Requirements and Conceptual Design of a project, but also identify the core needs that contribute to the strategic objectives of the company.  These can focus on saving costs, generating revenue / profit or customer satisfaction. Ensure that the stated benefits are embedded in the Business Case for each project and that these benefits are compared with benefits from other projects.  This will assist with the prioritisation process, ensuring that the projects with increased benefits value will gain priority.

Initiation Stage:

Within the Project Management lifecycle, a Project Manager needs to draft the Stakeholder Analysis and Project Charter. The Project Manager also needs to ensure that the Business Case with the project benefits sets the tone for the way forward and that the stated benefits are included in the Project Charter.  The benefits message needs to be refined into a statement that is clearly communicated to all project team members.

Planning Stage:

The Project Manager will deliver the Project Management plan during the planning stage of the project.  Within this stage, the Project Manager needs to set up the appropriate governance and structures that will drive the focus to meet  the end benefits as defined in the Business Case.  We further need to ensure that the scope of the project relates to the end benefits.

The benefits can also be mapped to people’s performance for the duration of the project. This will ensure that the project team focuses on the right tasks and knows the end goal as well as its strategic themes and measurements.

Execution Stage:

In this phase, the project team builds the project deliverables and presents milestone certificates to the Project Sponsor for signoff. The Project Execution Phase is usually the longest phase in the project lifecycle and typically consumes the most energy and the most resources. Hence we need to remind the project team via communications, meetings and change management of the core focus of the end benefits.

Closure Stage:

Within this phase, the project manager conducts different types of reviews, from project reviews to lessons learned sessions. The purpose of these sessions will be to determine whether the project has kept to its original intention and to assess the readiness to start realising the intended benefits.  I firmly believe that is also the responsibility of the Project Manager to ensure that the benefits plan that needs to be implemented is in place, as the project is ready to achieve and track benefits.

Operating Benefits Stage:

This is a crucial stage that needs to be added to all projects, post-closeout.  However, in most cases, the Project Manager has already been assigned to another project and all benefits that need to be measured are long forgotten. The Benefits Implementation Plan should be executed during this stage, to ensure that benefits are delivered as planned, progress is tracked, and that the benefits justify the actual cost.


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