How to solve the benefits realisation puzzle

Jul 3, 2023

You’re on holiday relaxing with your family when you spot a jigsaw puzzle on the shelf. Eager to dive in, you grab the box and… oh no, it’s a Wasgij. Who on earth designed this mind-boggling enigma? Unlike a ‘normal’ puzzle, you can’t simply toss the pieces together because you have no idea what the result is supposed to look like.  

In project management, a Wasgij puzzle is a great analogy. Winging it will cost you time and patience, and you might throw in the towel. But figuring out a game plan and using the clues to paint a clear picture will significantly improve your project success rate. It’s the same logic for project benefits.

Project mobilisation determines the actions and strategies needed to achieve a project’s core benefits. It focuses on creating milestone plans, structures, governance arrangements and processes to deliver on those benefit promises. But realising project success – and therefore delivering business value through benefits realisation – can be easier said than done. So, here’s what you need to keep in mind: 

1. Talk about benefits with the business

Unfortunately, the word ‘benefit’ might not mean the same thing to your business leaders as it does to you. So, ditch the jargon and speak their language. It’s about capturing their attention and showing them how your project will deliver tangible benefits. In other words, connect the dots between your project and their bottom line. Trust me – they’ll perk up  when they see the link between project benefits and their performance bonus..

2. From day one, measure and track project benefits

If you wait until the project goes live to assess benefits, you might as well try to solve a puzzle blindfolded. Too often, project benefits are eroded by scope creep, especially when the “can we just” stakeholder requests start flying in, and you’re forced to gold-plate the solution.

This is where measuring and tracking project benefits right from the start will help you stay focused. Remember, a systematic approach gets the best results even with the most complex puzzle.

Here’s what you need to tick off:

  • Define project benefits in the mobilisation phase.
  • Set clear objectives – the desired benefits and outcomes of the project.
  • Outline the actions and strategies needed to realise the identified benefits.
  • Establish metrics and targets early.
  • Continuously track and measure the actual progress towards achieving the identified benefits.
  • Keep a lookout for early warning signs of impending challenges.
  • Involve key stakeholders throughout the process to gain their support and insight.
  • Regularly communicate the status of benefits realisation to stakeholders, providing updates on progress and any adjustments made.
  • Be open to adapting the benefits realisation plan based on evolving project circumstances.


3.  See a problem? Speak up early

Sometimes projects will get in a messy ‘negative equity state’ where benefits become elusive. For example, consider a project focused on implementing a new customer relationship management (CRM) system. The anticipated benefits include improved sales efficiency, enhanced customer satisfaction and increased revenue. But if the CRM system lacks user-friendly features or fails to integrate with existing systems, the expected benefits can slip away – creating inefficiencies and frustrated employees.

Instead of getting another cup of tea and hoping you can find the answer with fresh eyes, toughen up and speak up! Hard decisions may loom, but facing your reality head-on is the mark of a true project manager. So, gather your courage, assemble your facts and have those difficult conversations. After all, in project management, courage isn’t a virtue – it’s a necessity.

4. Optimism is a double-edged sword

Acknowledging potential pitfalls keeps you vigilant throughout the project. Here are six sneaky ways optimism can sabotage your projects and undermine benefits:

  1. Classic overconfidence. Where the infamous Dunning-Kruger effect (a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience, tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge) kicks in, watch out for unrealistic deadlines and underestimating what’s required.
  2. Oversimplification. Oh, the temptation to rely on assumptions instead of hard facts! This can lead to lofty, overambitious goals that are unrealistic.
  3. You are avoiding pain. If you constantly convince yourself that you’ll catch up at the next milestone, you’ll never truly address the issues that lurk beneath the surface.
  4. Confirmation bias. It’s that alluring tendency to ignore the 99 signs pointing to project issues and focus solely on that one glimmer of positivity. We’ve all been there.
  5. The availability cascade. Like a broken record playing in our heads, we repeat the project’s grand vision so much that it blurs our perception of realistic expectations.
  6. Perceptual bias. When under pressure, we tend to zoom in on individual details, neglecting the crucial step of stepping back and assessing the complete picture of the project.

Good enough, is good enough …by definition

Remember, in the complex Wasgij realm of project management: good enough is good enough. Don’t let the elusive pursuit of perfection hinder your progress towards achieving the desired benefits. Instead, stick to the vision, remain focused on what you asked for, and resist the temptation to pile on unnecessary functionality that inflates costs and derails schedules. It’s delivering what was promised that truly matters.