At the end of the benefit assessment period
Probably many months after the project team has long since disbanded an independent team
look back, not at how well the project was done, but at how good the original business case was
by conducting a post implementation review.
Post implementation review (PIR)
Since the project team is long gone the post implementation review (PIR) of the business case might, for example, be run by Finance. Essentially the PIR tries to quantify the actual benefits of the thing the project delivered and assess its actual costs to establish if we're getting the expected return on investment.
Benefits can be easy to measure: if the project developed a new product how many have we sold? The product might be a physical thing or it might be something like a new insurance product where the IT system and the product are more or less one and the same thing and we can easily count how many people bought our new holiday insurance package on the web.
Sometimes it's much harder. If the project's benefit was a percentage saving in manual workload that may not be so easy to measure, but we need to make an assessment.
Occasionally benefits realisation is a major undertaking: the project may have delivered a new system that enables a company reorganisation and rationalisation, but that itself needs to be managed as a project in its own right - two projects delivering one ultimate benefit.
So, under the leadership of Finance, let's say, a team of business users count sales or measure admin workload savings or look at the headcount savings actually achieved after reorganisation and IT look at running costs, bug fixing costs and any other costs associated with operating the system. It's just like building the business case, but after the event. Having done that we compare actual benefits and costs to those foreseen in the original business case created at the start of the project. One advantage of having Finance run the PIRs is they can ensure half a dozen projects don't all claim the same benefit as theirs.
It may nominally be the (ex) sponsor's responsibility to commission this post implementation review but why might he be the very last person who wants it done? It may reveal that the benefits predicted were illusory and the original project cost estimate was hopelessly optimistic. In the worst case, what looked like a good investment for the company at the outset has actually lost us money. We do not want to do that too often.
One of the conclusions of the post implementation business case review might be that we as a company need to strengthen our business case review procedures at the start of projects to be more honest about project costs and more realistic about benefits so that the Board can make better investment decisions in the future. Indeed, it may well be that it is the Finance Director who mandates that PIRs are carried out for all large projects.
Although the PIR is primarily a financial review, we may also want to assess how well the system
(or whatever the project's product was) is performing. Strictly speaking we are not examining how well
the project was done, but if it's clear the system is not properly meeting the business needs and requirements,
there may be lessons there for how future projects might better understand business needs before charging off
and buying packages or writing new systems and hoping they'll be fit for purpose.
But let us go back a step. What is by far the most important thing to do at the end of any project? Have a party. Don't forget to invite those who were involved during the early stages who've since left the project team. Most important of all make sure the sponsor is there - with his wallet. Seeing the sponsor handing £20 notes over the bar to buy the drinks is sure to bring a smile to the team's faces.
On the more serious side the project manager has a duty to feed back to the team members' line managers how their people performed on the project. Make sure people who did a good job for you get rewarded by their boss. This, apart from anything else, is in your self interest - they'll want to work for you again.
In truly project-oriented companies there will be significant financial rewards for project managers and project team
members who bring large projects in on time, on budget, meet business needs and deliver good quality. Projects can entail
hard work, long hours, great stress and the sort of proactive, 'making things happen' approach that may not always
be needed when running day to day operations. Process-based senior managers may not always appreciate the sheer energy
that goes into setting up and running projects - particularly the energy that goes into those that as a result are made
to look easy.
In summary many of these techniques force people to crystalise their experience and learn lessons so that future projects can be even better. Things like stage end reports also enable that experience to be shared with others.
We are trying to find out what it is that prevents all projects being perfect and, one by one, address these
inhibitors so that projects get better over time.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
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