Sunday, 31 August 2008

Rationalising the measurement of benefits

A bouquet of flowers - the whole is more beautiful than the sum of the parts.  Measures must be in harmony also
So many innovative teams set out with good intentions (decide the measures and how to report them, baseline, assign tasks and responsibilities) and then find that it simply is too much work to keep measuring and reporting, for too little result.

The main problems that come up are:

  • too many measures, or too difficult to collect the results

  • difficult to translate into impacts which mean something (financially it's often relatively straightforward, in health in England use the tariff cost; but you don't make a full saving, and what of impacts in other areas such as patient experience?)

  • a specific innovation or new project is often part of a workstream (one of up to 10 key strategic objectives of a health community, for example Public Health, Inclusion). but where measures are chosen for each project it's difficult to aggregate when trying to report the outcomes of a workstream to the Board or Steering Group

It may be better to work the other way:

  1. Steering Group or workstream stakeholders define: the overall aims of the workstream; the benefits sought, and how these will be measured and translated into impacts

  2. Each project within the workstream picks benefits from the list (aim for up to 6), and have the measurement protocol already defined

  3. additional benefits can be reported or a case made to have these included amongst the overall workstream benefits, but rationalised

  4. projects can show the difference they've made, and workstreams can report on all projects within the workstream

  5. many measures are collected centrally so individual projects can get on with delivering better care for service users

Questions that typically arise

  • what if a project contribute to multiple workstreams? maintaining the preferred maximum of 6 measures per project, just report the benefits to multiple workstreams. Well-chosen measures will aggregate naturally eg they may not add together they may give an overall result which shows success even if it can't show which project delivered which amount of success

  • what if a benefit is recognised by multiple workstreams? get together and decide on a means of measuring progress towards/ achievement of the benefit which can be applied or used by all the workstreams, so wherever a project selects this measure as the way it will be scored it has a clearly defined way of measuring

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Benefits in context

I know I've highlighted this before, but it's worth saying again - keep the end in your sights or you will loose sight of it. But with many public sector organisations managing hundreds of individual services, and in many cases over 100 innovations, keeping track of which projects are still delivering/ still relevant to the changing aims gets increasingly difficult.

There is a way. People rarely need individual services in isolation. Projects shouldn't be seen in isolation and this is the key to managing large numbers of benefits across multiple projects in a changing environment.

By gathering together the services and innovations that deliver to support a specific client group/ user group, you can identify a small set of standard benefits, create measures that can be aggregated, and use this standardised approach both to measure the delivery of innovation and services, and to report on it at project, workstream and board level. And this applies whether you are the provider of a single service or the commissioner of a whole range of services.

So: gather the workstream together and create a benefits dependency network and agree on it.
This defines the key benefits you hope to achieve from all of your projects, how they link with the organisation's objectives and aims, and how each individual project contributes to those key benefits.

Is this just a paper exercise? No:
  1. fewer sets of measures, clear definitions, and a straightforward way to aggregate
  2. when objectives change, you can see which projects are affected (which projects will deliver the "old" benefit and now need review to ensure they deliver the "new" benefit)
  3. you'll immediately spot which projects are working against each other instead of in concert

Notes when doing this:

  • you may identify a project (or even an existing service) which doesn't appear to contribute to any of the benefits you identified. Have you missed some benefits that need to be on the chart so they can be measured and reported? If not, could it be that this project or service isn't relevant any more? Hard decision
  • benefits with no projects contributing to them. do you need targetted investment? Does it have to come from you or from another directorate/ organisation?
  • aggregating projects: too many individual projects is confusing - spend at least 30 mins and probably longer working out what goes with what, at least in terms of benefits delivery
  • include projects which contribute but may be funded from/ most connected with different work streams
  • simplify the measures so that individuals working on, benefiting from and sponsoring projects can quickly see what's going on and feel a sense of achievement
  • this leads neatly into Benefits Profiles