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Project Management Case Studies

Embracing Benefits Realization Management—An Essential Element in Achieving Project Management and Business Success

Embracing Benefits Realization Management—An Essential Element in Achieving Project Management and Business Success

Symcor, a joint venture of Canada’s three largest financial institutions—The Toronto Dominion Bank, Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of Montreal—is one of Canada’s leading financial processing service providers, employing more than 2,500 people and providing services to more than 100 organizations in the financial services, retail and telecommunications sectors across Canada.

Following a period of disappointing project execution and delivery, low customer satisfaction and the accumulation of certain inefficiencies within its business and project management processes, Symcor’s board of directors had decreased confidence in the company’s ability to execute projects, which inhibited growth and investment into new products and services.

Symcor took necessary and important steps toward establishing a culture that recognized the value of project management as a strategic core competency, which included the alignment of projects to the strategic objectives of the organization.

Symcor’s implementation of a focused approach to benefits realization management has resulted in a cultural shift that has dramatically improved the way it does business and has led the company—including all senior executives—to think about projects and how they are prioritized in a very different manner.

Through its efforts and a company-wide commitment to discipline and accountability, in just three years, Symcor realized significant measurable benefits, canceling more than 80 projects that had poor to no return on investment (ROI) and saving the company more than CDN$70 million. Equally important, project cancellations are no longer seen as failures at Symcor but rather, the execution of a successful process that has given the company a license to grow.

A Case for Change

Prior to 2011, the business market opportunities for Symcor were seen as quite positive. Symcor had expanded into the United States and the company was establishing a reputation as a utility for business process outsourcing for banking services. However, a lack of discipline and accountability relating to the management of projects resulted in a build-up of inefficiencies.

Ms. Naraine began to realize that the company’s lack of discipline and standardized processes were hindering Symcor’s ability to execute and deliver projects successfully.

It was becoming clear that a significant change was required—company-wide—in order to shift the company’s culture and improve its project execution capabilities. And change is exactly what Symcor did.

A Transformational Culture Shift for Symcor

Benefits realization is a central component of project and program management. It is the means to determine an organization’s ROI. Furthermore, it helps to identify the many intangible benefits that an organization delivers, including risk reduction and customer satisfaction. Most importantly, benefits realization management is less about process and more about culture.

Symcor recognized that an organizational change was required in an effort to better understand the value of project management and properly align identified project benefits to the strategic goals of the organization.

Symcor’s cultural change began with a new focus on transparency, accountability and predictability, and a view that standardizing project and program management processes across all company business units and adopting a disciplined benefits management process would be the catalyst that would increase the value of their investments.

Key to Symcor’s cultural changes was a greater emphasis on communication and education to ensure that all company executives recognized the strategic value of project management as a means to drive project and business success.

Establishing the Right Approach—Identifying, Managing and Sustaining Benefits

Symcor’s initial focus was to transform the culture of the organization to one which understood the value of project management, and by doing so, recognize the importance of aligning its projects strategically to the company’s business objectives. Haresh Desai, vice president, Enterprise Project Office, sponsored the development of a business realization management framework that would enable the company to properly measure how the projects and programs being initiated were adding true value to the organization.

Identifying Benefits

The first thing Symcor set out to do was establish a process throughout all of the company’s business units that prioritized projects based on a set of criteria dictated by corporate objectives, which included revenue, cost reductions, efficiencies and growth.

As part of the implementation of a benefits realization management framework, prior to project start, the sponsor has to identify the project’s potential benefits and estimate high-level costs in a document called an idea charter. Once the benefits are identified, a statement of work (SOW) is prepared, which provides a more comprehensive analysis of a project’s requirements and estimates, including notional timelines.

An SOW must be approved by a senior management group before any project is initiated. Once approved and initiated, the project team receives “seed” money, which is used to refine and manage requirements. This analysis is then captured in a document called a business case analysis (BCA), which includes the project’s full profit-and-loss (P&L) statements, as well as project benefits. This enables the company to make a fully informed decision whether to proceed.

The BCA is monitored throughout the project and is reviewed and revised as scope, schedule and costs change. Once the project is completed, monitoring continues to track the benefits and ensure alignment with the business case. Project reports are provided to Symcor’s Operating Committee on a monthly basis throughout the life of the BCA.

Executing (Managing) and Sustaining Benefits

Once Symcor’s framework was established to align project benefits with outcomes and capabilities, the company knew that, as part of the process, it required a monitoring and control phase that could report actual results against the plan. To this end, throughout the life cycle of its projects, adherence to strict governance/ change control was essential to maintaining good benefits management practices.

Symcor’s identified benefits are now monitored monthly to ensure alignment and to deal with any modifications that are required to reflect changing business conditions. At any time, a project sponsor can make a decision to cancel a project if it is determined that the project’s benefits are not being realized or are no longer in alignment with the company’s strategic business objectives. “This was one of our most important culture shifts. There are no penalties for honesty,” added Desai.

Hand in hand with monitoring project benefits was an understanding within the organization of who was responsible for managing and sustaining these benefits.

Symcor began communicating regularly with its clients and stakeholders, during and after the completion of a project, to ensure identified benefits were being optimized. Furthermore, the company’s business realization management framework made sure that:

  • Benefits were transitioned over to and approved by stakeholders;
  • Realized benefits were being measured with appropriate key performance indicators (KPIs);
  • Benefits were being delivered within the timeframe of the project plan;
  • Lessons learned, both positive and negative, were being captured and communicated to allow for improvement on future projects.

A License to Grow

Benefits realization management is a challenging discipline given the many uncertainties that surround its execution. Equally challenging is the resistance of an organization to embrace a project management mindset, despite supporting research and evidence that recognizes the strategic value of projects to an organization’s ultimate success. In just three years, beginning in 2010, Symcor has achieved success with both.

According to Symcor’s CEO, Chameli Naraine, “Our benefits realization management process now underpins all aspects of our strategic success from a project perspective. With a culture embedded in discipline, accountability and predictability, the changes we have made have provided us with a newfound respect for capital and have given us a license to grow.”

Measuring Success

The establishment of Symcor’s Enterprise Project Office and the implementation of a benefits realization management framework has resulted in the company’s ability to measure real, tangible success, which has included:

  • Overall cost reductions of more than CDN$72 million since 2011; 
  • The cancellation of more than 100 projects deemed to have weak or no ROI;
  • An increase in the project success rate from 55 percent in 2011 to 96 percent in 2013;
  • An increase in return on each dollar of cost, from -30 percent in 2011, to +27 percent in 2014; 
  • An increase in customer satisfaction scores of 20 percent over a two-year period;
  • Process efficiencies (at 5 percent per year or higher).

“We went from a culture of not knowing how many projects we had on the go, low customer satisfaction and little to no recognition of what the actual benefits of our projects were, to establishing standardized project management practices that have given us the predictability to drive successful business outcomes for the company and our client stakeholders,” added Ms. Naraine.

Posted on May 30, 2017