While higher education institutions have a good track record of delivering large and often complex projects, a study shows that there is room for improving the way that benefits realization is properly embedded at the planning stage. The Efficiency Exchange asks author Paul Wilson of Provelio about this work and to outline their strategy for optimizing benefit realization.
Efficiency Exchange: What was the key message of your study?
Paul Wilson: The essence of our message, which was backed up by several strands of research, was that the HE sector has rightly prided itself for being able to safely deliver complex and expensive projects. However, we were interested to study how effectively projects delivered benefits, as distinct from delivering an asset, for example a new building. We found that, more often than not, the project scope was defined as delivering the asset, not delivering outcomes or benefits.
Efficiency Exchange: How did your study arise?
Paul Wilson: We responded to a commission by HEFCE and delivered a report entitled, ‘Guide to the Realisation of Strategic Change and Beneﬁts: A challenge to current thinking and practice’. In our report, we promote the idea that very early definition of benefits and risks at the planning stage can help with deciding whether projects should proceed, where they require re-definition, and even when they should be curtailed.
Efficiency Exchange: That sounds like you are aiming at a root and branch change in how you assess and plan projects. Do these ideas have a wider application beyond estates and facilities?
Paul Wilson: Absolutely. We want to encourage managers who are planning projects in all professional areas within higher education – estates, IT, HR, finance, you name it – to think about their projects, and their own role in them, differently. We focus on these four topics.
- Evidence based decisions – Be persistent in using and searching for data to support your decision making. Too often business cases are constructed that look compelling, but check: is the evidence that supports the assumptions and projections robust enough?
- Critical challenge – Use the evidence to critique and continually challenge the justification for major expenditure. Too often a project takes on a life of its own and nobody thinks to check back on initial assumptions.
- Zero investment thinking – Decisions makers should ask for a ‘zero investment’ option. In other words: ‘Suppose there just is no money, how would you deliver the desired outcomes then?’ This is a hard line to take, but this is how real change comes about, and can often spur innovative thinking.
- Leadership not management – The terms are too often seen as the same thing which they absolutely are not. Leadership does the right things and management does things right. A focus on management rather than leadership will lead to poor project selection.
Efficiency Exchange: That’s a significant agenda there. Perhaps you could expand on these ideas in another post.
Paul Wilson: I’d be glad to, and I’d like to stimulate a wider discussion which could bring in views and experience from the whole sector. There will be areas where really good practice already exists – we want to hear about this as well any views contrary to ours.
Read part 2 next Monday 23 September.