Someone wants you to do something big, so what’s the first thing you do? Plan to make your decision. It’s always worth taking the time to pause and think before you jump in with a decision. The time appreciation is a method of giving you the space to think things through.

The Time Check

The Time Check is a mental tool for working out how long you can take over your decision.

This is the first thing you have to consider, is it urgent, do you have a deadline? If there’s no deadline then set yourself a reasonable one or things will drift. What is your deadline? Obviously, you are not going to be doing this in a time of crisis or emergency, like jumping out of the path of a bus. You should have at least a few minutes in which to decide. If someone is pressing you for an instant answer, then they probably know the answer they want and it’s unlikely to be a good one for you.

What’s the scope of the task? How big a job is this going to be?
Who else is involved? Is it something you can do on your own? How many other people do you have to work with? If other people are going to have to go away and do their bit then the Rule of Thirds can help you. Put aside one third of the total time for you to make your decision and two thirds is for everyone else to do their bit.
What resources do you have? What have you got that will be of use to you?
Working back from the deadline you know how much time you have to do the things that need to be done immediately.
Now you know how long you’ve got to decide and what you have to help you, it’s time to work out what to do.
Project managers work on a Q / (T x C) equation. The quality of what they deliver is a function of time and cost. Cut the time or cost and the quality goes down too. The same applies to decisions. Time and resources (cost) govern to some extent the decision quality (ok, flashes of inspiration don’t count, they’re the rare exception).
Then you have to let people know what’s coming.
The warning order – telling your colleagues what’s coming, should consist of the following things:
• Plan , a quick sentence about what the job is
• Outline , a brief description of what you’re going to do
• Objective, a short description of what you will achieve
• No move before, how urgent it is, how soon they have to start getting ready
• H-Hour, when things really have to happen
• Admin, any obvious housekeeping details that have to be in place

The point of all this is to pace your decision making and not leap to conclusions if you can spare the time and resources (brains) to think it all through. Sometime you have to act quickly so let's now look at the quick decision.

The Quick Decision

The Options Estimate

The quick decision is often made at a time of crisis. The best examples come from the military. They get to make urgent decisions in very stressful situations so they’ve developed a pretty good method to help them cope. 

At its basic level this contains:

  • Operational objectives – what you have to achieve, the task you’ve been set
  • Limiting factors – things that help or hinder
  • Options – more than one choice, don’t leap to the first conclusion
  • Course of action – the option you choose, picked for good reasons

It is a way to stop and think before making quick decisions and stops you making a knee-jerk reaction to circumstances. Even the quickest decision is helped by a pause to consider:

  • What you need to do. Work out what you’ve been given to do and what you’ll actually do to succeed. The estimate explains how what you do fits in with the things around you. Knowing what you have to do is key to understanding how you will do it. It’s not always a one-off task though. Sometimes it’s worth looking back and checking that the situation hasn’t changed enough that you have to change your mind.
  • What’s there to help or hinder you. Some things come up every time:
  • ·         Deadlines
  • ·         The business environment around you
  • ·         The competition
  • ·         Your colleagues and collaborators
  • ·         Your resources
  • What reasonable choices do you have, what are the differences between them, return on investment, timescale, who gains. At this point you should have a broad idea of what needs to be done. If all has gone well then you will have a few options to choose from.
  • Which is the best choice to take. As you work through your options, you get to see what tasks need to be done and which ones aren’t going to help you. For each option you can then work out the pros and cons, the effort and risk.

You then make your decision and it’s going to be a logical one that’s based on the analysis you’ve just done. There’s no point in putting all this effort in, just to pick your favourite or the easy way out. Now is the time to look into your choices and how you set your goals.

Setting Goals

Doing the Right Thing

The purpose behind any course of action has a direct and significant effect on the way it is undertaken. The reasons why you do something will affect the way you do it.

At first glance, the objective of a football team is pretty obvious, it’s to win the game. This isn’t always the case though, circumstances vary and the team will adapt the way they play:

  • Win at all costs when playing against a hated rival
  • Put on a show for the fans, a middle-league team that needs the ticket sales
  • Play for a draw to avoid relegation

The same applies for any project, the ends you want to achieve affect the means you use and way you go about it.

Before I go into the detail, let’s understand some of the terms I’m going to use.

Goal – result with a purpose, so be clear about the purpose, what’s it worth? The purpose affects what you do.

Means – the things, people, and time you have to use

Ways – how you use things, what you have to do

Ends – the results you want, the outcomes, benefits and goals you want to achieve

Stakeholders – who’s involved and what do they want?

Drivers – external things that make you act

Objective cascade

'Goal’ defined

There is a whole string of words that get used in these circumstances to mean almost the same thing; aim, objective, result, end, outcome. For the sake of consistency here I’ve chosen to use ‘goal’.

A goal is the end result you want to see happen because it has a worthwhile purpose.

The purpose is what makes it differ from a result or outcome. They are things that happen. They don’t become goals until you give them some meaning. If the result of the football match was a 2 – 0 win, who was it for, the fans, the team, or the chairman? What was their objective and how well was it met?

Goal types

Naturally, life is much more complex than this simple example. We have goals. The people around us have goals. Some are obvious, some are subtle, some we don’t even recognise. They can define your life or simply get you through the next five minutes. They can be the product of genius and deep analysis. They can be dumb. They can even be downright perverse. Sometimes we choose our own goals and sometimes they are thrust upon us.

Our goals are the things we want to see happen, whether we appreciate them or not. What we need is a method that helps us:

  • Recognise that the goal exists
  • Analyse whether it’s a valid goal or not
  • Select the right goals from the many options we face
  • Plan what has to be done to realise our goals
  • Do what has to be done to realise our goals

The goals come in all shapes and sizes. They can be:

  • Tangible / intangible – have lots of money in the bank or be surrounded by happier people
  • Time-bound (quick / long term/ indefinite)
  • External / internal, who's it all for? Whose goals are we working towards?
  • Owned / imposed – are we doing what we are told or using our autonomy to choose our own goals?

We choose the goals that best meet the things outside, the drivers. It’s rarely a simple one to one relation of one driver to one goal though.

Recognising the right Driver

We have to understand the drivers if we are to choose the right goals for ourselves. We also have to recognise that the drivers may not be set in stone. We can negotiate and change the drivers. And do more than simply react to them.


Now you know what has influenced your choices it's time to see who gets what out of the decisions you make. What's the value of your project? Who gets the benefits?

Selecting Benefits



Proving the goals

We’ve looked at the goals. Now we have to put some value to them, to find out what it’s all worth. Here it is a matter of choosing the right things to do, for the right reasons and then doing them. It’s about choosing things that add value, not take it away.

'Benefit’ Defined

The word ‘benefit’ gets misused an awful lot and your plans won’t get far if no-one can agree on what a benefit is so it’s worth taking the time to explain what it actually means.

A benefit is a result that a stakeholder perceives to be of value. 

The emphasis here is on the stakeholder and what their perception. Make sure there is a clear statement of the benefit, i.e. what makes it worthwhile. We have to make a clear distinction away from features and outcomes. Here’s a dumb example: 

  • Feature - my car is painted ‘Police Car’ white
  • Outcome - people move over for me on the motorway so I get home for 6 pm
  • Benefit - I improve my inner calm by watching The Simpsons on TV

Clipart police car

In this case, I’m the stakeholder and I think the best value for me of getting home early is a calming episode of my favourite TV programme.

If you were working on a project in a hospital it could be something like this:

  • Feature – a useful function of the system, e.g. high bandwidth, resilience, small size
  • Outcome – a result that can be used to gain some benefit, e.g. time saving
  • Benefit – the valued use to which you put the outcome, e.g. using saved time to see more patients

We should be talking about improving patient health, reducing waiting lists, stopping un-necessary procedures, not improving network performance, reducing down-time and stopping legacy information systems.

Choosing the Right Stakeholders

Picking the key stakeholders. Who has the biggest impact on you, who gets the biggest impact from you?

Managing the relationships with them. 

A benefit is a result that a stakeholder perceives to be of value (“What’s in it for me?”).

First we have to identify which particular stakeholder we are looking at. A stakeholder is an individual or group who feels the impact of what we do. They in turn can have an impact on us. We have to know who are the stakeholders around us and the significance of the impact we have on each other. The key stakeholder in all this is ourselves.

Second, what do they perceive as being valuable? It may not always be the rational and obvious choice. It may even appear to be perverse, e.g. sacrifice or even self-harm. Perceived value will vary between stakeholders and will change over time. What we see as valuable now may change as our circumstances change. 

We can use benefits as a way to select our goals. Why do we want to do something? For the reward it brings. We’ve chosen a goal that sounds impressive in a high-level, grand design sort of way. When we start to analyse the benefits we can see if it really is as good as we first thought. The benefits give us the proof that our goal really is worthwhile. 

Sometimes, as we analyse the benefits to see who wins we may find that someone has to lose. If I get to save my money, you might have to lose your job. We have to weigh up the balance of good and bad results, who loses for our gain? What are we giving up for the benefit of those around us? Does the appropriate Stakeholder get the benefit? 

Everyone knows of activities that bring no benefit, that waste our time and resources because we are doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason.

We need a rational framework to enable better decisions to be made and good benefits to be delivered. We need a structured approach that will:

  • Prove the link between what we do and what we want to achieve
  • Maximise the benefits from the things we do
  • Gives us solid reasons to back up our choices
  • Gets all the right people involved


'Benefits Management’ Defined

Benefits Management is the overall set of decisions, processes and activities that makes best use of what you have to deliver the right benefits to the people you’ve chosen to get them.

Benefits Selection

The purpose of any Benefits Management method is to identify, quantify, prioritise, select and manage benefits from business change. Benefits Selection takes us through the first four items. It is the technique to create a rational and logical understanding of the:

  • Drivers
  • Goals
  • Context
  • Benefits
  • Business Change

Once we have this understanding we can select benefits that are appropriate, feasible and of optimum value for our circumstances.

Experience has shown that the identification and structuring of benefits is rarely straightforward. There is a common tendency to slip back to the features of the new system; it’s faster, cheaper, etc. This leaves the benefits undefined. Everyone agrees that the new system is a good thing but no-one can say why it’s good, how good it is or who it’s good for. The technique of Benefits Selection brings some rigour to process.

By using the technique of Benefits Selection you will produce a set of benefits that:

  • Support your goals
  • Have the most significant impact
  • Are agreed by all stakeholders
  • Are manageable

HSC BM Approach PDSA brief sml

The benefits management approach is an iterative process with loops within the loop. It’s essential if the benefits are to be optimised that there is permission to step back and reconsider. Obviously, this has to occur within rigorous change control.

This BM approach maps onto the Deming Loop, “Plan, Do, Study, Act” cycle. Note that it starts with Act, not Plan. The first act is likely to be a choice to do something. The plan will then be a quick consideration of what to do and how to do it. The first iterations around the Deming Loop are very swift and informal so there’s no need to get too pedantic about the start point.  

Remember, it’s an iterative process between stages as well as the whole process.

This represents a virtuous circle.  

Pick Good Benefits

It uses the technique of Benefits Selection described below to create a list of desired benefits that have been identified, quantified, prioritised and selected. In our project context this will be first the Benefits Plan and later the Benefits Realisation Plan.

The process is scaleable. At its smallest, it is a good way to make rational individual decisions. At its largest, it’s a method of determining major policy and strategy decisions and the programmes that deliver them. So much hangs off this process that it is crucial that it be done properly. The right amount of time and resources must be devoted to it and the right people involved.

Plan for Benefits

In an ideal world there would be the one project plan for the realisation of benefits and the technology implementation would form a sub-set of work packages within it. This realisation plan would use an appropriate project management methodology like Prince 2. In reality however, it is more likely that the realisation plan will run in parallel with the technology project plan so it will have to cover both business change activities and the interfaces to technology implementation activities. It will include reviews of the plan at key stages of the project delivery and also the benefit measures, their links to business performance measures and measurement procedures that will be used.

A Benefits Realisation Plan should be prepared for each unit of implementation. The plan conforms to the usual work package supports project supports programme hierarchy.

It feeds into the PRINCE2 Project Initiation Document (PID).

Benefits Realisation Plan

A benefits realisation plan is a single entity consisting of four inter-dependent components:

  • Goals & Benefits
  • Implementation Plan
  • Benefits Measurement Plan
  • Stakeholder Management Plan

These are described in detail in section 5 BM Products below.

Get the Benefits

Any plan is worthless until it’s executed successfully. The Benefits Realisation Plan needs a series of project performance reports to show how work is progressing to plan, like any other project. Prince 2 or a similar project methodology will provide a suitable reporting mechanism.

Benefits Management requires additional management and reporting to prove that programme / project activity is on track to deliver the expected benefits and to supply information on which to base decisions to change the plan if necessary.

Benefits work package owners will report back via project highlight reports to the project’s Senior Responsible Owner. These reports will show early benefits being delivered if possible. More likely, they will show the progress made on the features and changes being delivered that will enable future benefits to be realised.

Owners will ensure that actual benefits are tracked against targets and that the impact of change on benefits is controlled.

Look for Further Benefits

Remember that Benefits Management is an iterative process. See what is being delivered, review and adapt as circumstances dictate. Look to improve on what has gone before.

A benefits orientated post project review should be performed after a suitable bedding-in period of live service. The review will report on the actually delivered benefits compared with the proposed benefits in the realisation plan. What was the difference between forecast and delivered? What were the reasons behind this difference? The aim of the review is to identify potential new benefits from:

  • Improving the newly implemented processes
  • Triggering brand new projects and programmes

Questions that should be asked include:

  • What effects have we now got, relative to the previous situation?
  • Are we getting the benefits?
  • What further benefits can we now get?
  • What further actions are necessary to get the potential benefits?

The output from the review is a report on potential future benefits to be used as input to the next round of benefits identification. 


Success is hard


In the world of programmes and projects, success is hard to achieve and often hard to prove. Programmes struggle because we dive into the complexity without stepping back into the basic principles that show the key things they are meant to achieve. Modelling helps.

Here's one I did earlier.

This is me

CMI Chartered Manager Logo Colour 480  citp logocolour 1in  Managing Benefits Practitioner


Been there, done that, got a collection of fading and moth-eaten T-shirts to prove it. If you really want to know, this is me.
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