Ensuring Benefits from Software Development: How the Benefit Owner Role and Agile Methodologies Work Together
When combined with Agile frameworks, the Benefit Owner role can help development teams ensure they deliver value for the organization by establishing long-term accountability for creating, managing, and tracking how benefits are achieved over time. In this article, we’ll explore the role of the Benefit Owner (BO) and how benefits management can help Agile development teams and Agile organizations ensure real benefits are gained from software development.
What Is a Benefit Owner?
In software development, the Benefit Owner is accountable for realizing a specific benefit. This responsibility often extends well past active work on a project and successful deployment into operations. The Benefit Owner is a role proposed by the Project Management Institute (PMI) to ensure that benefits are identified and managed optimally from the very start of a project or initiative and throughout the lifetime of its use on behalf of the business.
What Defines a Benefit?
Theoretically, a benefit is something that creates value and completes strategic goals for the organization. Each benefit addresses one or more initiatives. Each initiative contains components (projects or operations), created either as needed or at the beginning of the work, when needs and/or progress have been identified.
What Does the Benefit Owner Do?
A BO may have a relatively short list of responsibilities, but the effort to achieve them is significant. At minimum, a BO is responsible for:
• Identifying benefits and creating and documenting their profile and relationship with any other benefit.
• Monitoring and ensuring progress toward achieving benefits, including documenting related information such as deliveries completed, deliveries in progress, emerging or related projects and initiatives, teams related, business cases, stakeholders, and more.
• Ensuring benefits align with business strategy, and that the value to be created is still relevant to the business.
• Creating and maintaining the benefit’s roadmap over time.
How Benefit Owners Help the Software Development Team
The benefits management process fits well with Agile methodologies and looks like this:
• The BO declares a benefit.
• The first benefit roadmap is created and reviewed with other colleagues, managers, and team members during the grooming and planning ceremony.
• From the feedback, a real proposal is developed that addresses the project as well as the planned benefit.
• Initiatives and epics are created into the backlog.
• Requirements and user stories are prioritized for work in the following sprints.
As the benefit gets further refined with each sprint, the team and the BO can assess progress on the roadmap toward achieving it. Much more than an instrument of control with no flexibility to adapt and evolve, a roadmap should evolve and be enhanced with each sprint. In fact, a benefits management roadmap can become a powerful tool for identifying trends, progress, and related artifacts, identifying changing priorities during grooming and planning, and reflecting the learnings shared during retrospective meetings.
If it becomes clear that the benefit cannot be realistically achieved, the benefit or project can be terminated to avoid investments of time, budget, or resources that will not ultimately result in the desired benefit. Common situations that may result in terminating a benefit or program include:
• A new project/initiative/operation is needed or foreseen to achieve the benefits result, increasing the benefit scope needed.
• The benefit could be combined with other benefits completely or partially, and generate common initiatives to achieve them both.
• The benefit or part of it has become obsolete. This scenario has greater importance because, as team leaders/managers, we also need to know when it is good to stop and rethink our backlog instead of just spending time, effort, and budget, a condition where uncertainty and symptoms like frustration could show up for team members or managers.
The BO role can help to make room for new ideas, and also make sure the business realizes and sees value from them. The BO makes sure that everyone keeps in mind that the value created is not only a result of operations and/or projects. The role also helps ensure that benefits are aligned with the strategy and owned until they are delivered and sustained by operations, which increase the value and perception of value created from the benefits. Since many benefit components are created on the fly, and not just at the beginning, the BO role assumes more critical responsibility over time.
How the BO Role and Agile Methodologies Complement Each Other
To maximize the impact a Benefit Owner can have and avoid some of the challenges they can encounter, Teixera (2013) and others recommend combining the role of BO with the use of Agile frameworks. Employing Agile frameworks can help an organization develop high-performance teams that communicate and collaborate effectively. Using Agile practices can also increase a team’s sense of empowerment, increase productivity, enhance feedback collection, and encourage resilience and creativity through the development of soft skills to handle different situations.
To achieve the best results, teams should be sure to practice these essential Agile principles:
• Create small deliveries.
• Get feedback as soon as possible.
• Enhance and improve the backlog items.
• Get feedback and agreement with the team members to get them committed to the effort.
• Apply robust, transparent monitoring and control processes.
• Avoid micromanagement. Any given benefit, which may contain several initiatives, epics, and user stories, can have a large scope and it may be tempting to micromanage it, which is a common challenge described by Teixeira (2013) and others.
How to Get Started with a Benefit Owner Role
At Gorilla Logic, we acknowledge that hiring for Benefit Owner roles helps make room for a long-term, stronger relationship with the organization and our clients. We gain a clearer understanding of their strategy, and also mitigate and even avoid risks such as obsolete deliveries, benefits that have become unnecessary because of evolving strategy, or benefits that have no strategy or no alignment with the organization’s strategy.
The benefits management role in software development is quite new and evolving. If, like many organizations, you don’t currently have a formal BO role, you might want to spend a little time investigating how it could work in your Agile process. If you can identify a specific opportunity, you might even consider implementing a proof of concept. Understanding the BO role could help you improve your Agile knowledge and better adapt to current responsibilities or future needs and requirements.
Sources and bibliography
Vargas, Allan (2022). Micromanagement presence in project management for technology based companies. Tecnológico de Costa Rica, Maestría en gerencia de proyectos.
Project Management Institute, (2017). Benefits realization management (4 ed.).
Teixeira, B. A. (2013). Agile and Traditional Project Management: bridge between two worlds to manage IT Projects. Universidad de Minho. https://repositorium.sdum.uminho.pt/bitstream/1822/29113/1/2013_MSc_BrunoTeixeira_Disserta%c3%a7%c3%a3o.pdf
White, R. D. (2010). The Micromanagement Disease: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Cure. Southeastern Oklahoma State University, pp. 2-4. https://homepages.se.edu/cvonbergen/files/2012/12/The-Micromanagement-Disease_Symptoms-Diagnosis-and-Cure.pdf
Yost, L. (2014). Micromanagement. Parks & Recreation, pp. 1. https://content.ebscohost.com/ContentServer.asp?T=P&P=AN&K=92631027&S=R&D= s3h&EbscoContent=dGJyMMvl7ESeqK440dvuOLCmsEmepq9SsK24S7OWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMPGttVC2p7dRuePfgeyx44Dt6fIA