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Harnessing the Power of Outcomes Thinking to Deliver and Sustain Project Value 

By Edem Banibah 11 Oct 2023
Harnessing the Power of Outcomes Thinking to Deliver and Sustain Project Value 

The “Project Dilemma”

Projects are how organisations deliver strategy. When it is necessary to improve a specific business area or implement a growth change goal/objective, a “project” is initiated to execute this goal.  

Every project should incrementally lead an organisation towards its new “working just right” future. 

And yet, too few transformation projects yield tangible benefits and value. 

While many organisations have undergone a significant transformation triggered by disruptive technologies in recent years, the question that most often troubles project sponsors and business leaders is, “How do we know for sure that the business value has been realised with the project deliverable that gets signed off?” 

Why is getting value so tricky? 

If you think back to the dawn of the personal computer era, you may recall that the hardware came in a box. You had to unpack it and then spend about a day loading the operating system onto it with floppy disks. By the end of the day, with a great deal of luck, you finally had what you intended when you bought it – a working personal computer you could use to write documents, build spreadsheets, etc. 

You got your “Desired Outcomes”. 

At some point, the suppliers had the lightbulb moment as to what their customers really wanted and provided PCs ready-to-use out of the box.  

So now we can understand what “Desired Outcomes“ are – they define the business-as-usual operational environment when it is working just right [1] and answer the question, “What do we intend to achieve?” 

Project success is commonly measured with the following metrics – “on time, on budget, and according to specification” -  metrics that are easily accounted for as part of standard project management methods.  

However, the metrics for delivering Desired Business Outcomes and related benefits, which are the positive consequences of these outcomes, aren't clear in most cases. 

A project’s value proposition is centred on desired business outcomes. These are the business end states to be delivered, where you want to get to, the end state you are trying to achieve in the business, and how you will know if you have been successful. 

Here’s another example - imagine you are “building a brick-making factory”.  

Is that what you really want? The answer is NO! Because what you - the investor - want is “the factory making bricks”, working and operational. The working asset delivers a Desired Outcome of real "value" to the organisation or business because it generates revenue and sustains growth. Just building the factory, while it creates a capability, also creates a liability until it is turned into a revenue-generating asset.  

Hence, your desired outcomes must be valuable to the business context. 

What is needed to define and then deliver value? 

  • New mental models to create a shared understanding 
  • New thinking processes to systematically define outcomes/value 
  • Principles (rather than rules) so that people can adopt them 
  • Tools and techniques so everyone can learn how to use them. 

Outcomes Thinking is the foundation for success. 

Historically, the model for the endpoint for a project has been to deliver a capability ready to operate: Turn-Key. While that model works well for construction-related projects, it can be insufficient in addressing the expectations for most technology project investments where rather than simply installing another software solution such as an ERP/CRM system, what the business desires is working processes underpinned by accurate and timely information. 

  • Desired Outcomes are carefully crafted statements that describe what the future will look like when it works “just right".  
  • Outcome statements transform the unstructured and fuzzy ideas in people’s heads into codified, clear, and measurable pieces of a project or a strategy. 
  • Outcome statements create a language of agreement that everybody can share, debate, and confirm. 
  • Outcomes Path Dependency focuses on the critical decisions that open or close alternative futures. It makes clear the journey by which outcomes are realised.   

[1] Note depending on the circumstance, “working well” or “working well enough” might also be acceptable.