What is meant by the phrase “outcomes of benefit” in the 5th edition of Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®)? Isn’t the word ‘outcomes’ sufficient?
Let’s begin to answer those questions by looking at the meaning of the two words: outcome and benefit. In the world of programme management, we define them in this way:
An outcome is “the result of change, normally affecting real world behaviour and/or circumstances”. A benefit is “the measurable improvement resulting from an outcome…”.
Taking those definitions a little further, outcomes happen after
- A new capability, in the form of a number of related outputs from projects, has been delivered
- The new capability is then adopted and transitioned into use, and
- Real world behaviour is changed as a result, as the capability is utilized, and new working practices become the norm.
Benefits are then the measurable improvements resulting from that situation. They are perceived as advantageous by the organizations investing in the programme. And that is the key to understanding benefits, that they must be considered to be positive advantages – real improvements.
It is benefits that drive programmes. Without the expectation of benefits, no organization should invest in programmes. And so there needs to be a strong focus on this throughout a programme to ensure that resources are used wisely, and the appropriate outputs and capabilities are created and delivered.
As this diagram shows, the vital link between those capabilities and the intended benefits are outcomes.
Now, if we consider the MSP definition of an outcome above, or a dictionary definition that says “something that follows as a result or consequence of an action”, we can see that the word is actually neutral - neither positive nor negative. And of course, we can have bad outcomes, surprise outcomes, adverse outcomes, the list is almost endless.
Without the right outcomes we will not be in a position to realize benefits. And the ‘right’ outcomes will not magically follow the delivery of new capabilities. We cannot treat outcomes as an automatic step in our programme sequence.
Lessons from programmes and projects across the world show time and time again that the delivery of new capabilities is no guarantee that we will see resultant benefits. There are countless stories of clinics, schools, and other facilities being built that have never been used in practice, leading to outcomes that no-one wanted, and that consequently served no purpose.
Outcomes need to be carefully managed, and this will include:
- Planning the changes that will be required for the new capability to be adopted
- Understanding what will be required for a successful transition from old to new ways or working
- A focus on the embedding of the emerging outcomes to ensure that there is no regression to those old ways of working.
And so, to ensure that there is a focus on the eventual realization of benefits, it makes sense that we first of all focus on the appropriate type of outcomes that we wish to see emerging. And these outcomes are not negative ones, nor neutral ones, we are seeking good, positive outcomes that will ultimately lead to the realization of the benefits that are driving the programme.
We are seeking “outcomes of benefit”, a phrase that brings clarity and purpose to our programme endeavours.