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Transit Project Benefits Realization and Management: The Consulting Perspective

Transit agencies typically do not generate sufficient income to sustain operations. For this reason, capital outlay for improvement projects comes from a predefined pool of public funding, for which there is a lot of competition. As consultants, we can use BRM and its outputs to give our clients stronger arguments for receiving funding.

By Andrew Schagen


December 3, 2019

Transit properties in Canada and around the world are constantly looking for ways to improve service. While some improvements can be made through schedule or service optimization, the majority of service improvements occur through investment in either infrastructure (i.e. stations), equipment (i.e. buses), or technology (i.e. Real-Time Passenger Information). Properties may be in competition with one another for funding, or sometimes a property may be in competition with itself – forced to decide whether to buy new buses or equip the existing ones with updated technology, for example.

Industry-standard justifications for project funding usually involve the development of a business case, detailing benefits to the user, the organization, the environment, the economy, and a number of qualitative benefits, such as social welfare, inclusion, and accessibility. For infrastructure or equipment purchases, the benefits to the organization are usually evident – an increase in capacity would allow the organization to generate more income. For a technology deployment, the benefits are related to organizational change and efficiencies, meaning that while the technology can deliver a (projected) benefit to the organization, it is important that the organization take steps to realize this benefit opportunity. However, because agencies typically make decisions on business cases alone, data relating to the benefits gained from a particular project are largely unavailable.

In order to carry out the above reasons and effectively support organizational change, it is important to author and execute on a Benefits Realization Management Plan. These plans usually consist of three stages: Identification, Execution, and Sustaining.

  1. Identification: This is akin to the typical business case, detailing what benefits are expected to be received, by whom, and how much. The identification phase is typically used in project justification exercises. For technology projects, we are usually making an educated guess, as there is often a disconnect between projected and realized benefits. In this case, we are often trying to predict the best-case scenario to maximize projected benefit. During this phase, it is important to identify which benefits require organizational realization.
  2. Execution: During the execution phase, organizational change management and standard operating procedures need to be developed and modified in order to take advantage of the benefits delivered. Further, time, labour, efficiency, and other benefits realized should be tracked against the baseline (i.e. before project start) in order to measure what proportion of the benefits have been realized to date, and which are still theoretical. The focus on execution encourages organizations to follow through on changes and report on them, rather than just moving into the next project funding cycle.
  3. Sustaining: Once project benefits have been realized – or there are no active efforts to realize further benefit, the project moves into a sustaining mode. In the sustaining mode, the benefits of the project should be periodically monitored to ensure continued realization. Alternatively, for cases where there is further organizational change, we should aim to understand what events caused the termination of the benefit. Any lessons learned should be communicated back to stakeholders and to executive management in order to understand project lifecycle and other factors, and to feed back into the project justification cycle.

There are six organizational factors to success as defined by the PMI Practice Guide on Benefits Realization. They are:

  1. Establishing clear roles and responsibilities’
  2. Developing the right culture;
  3. Building or acquiring the right skill sets;
  4. Embracing flexibility;
  5. Strengthening governance and risk management; and
  6. Establishing a comprehensive benefits tracking program.

Through these efforts, properties will be able to make sure that organizational change supports the realization of these projected benefits and that the project teams are working towards realizing projected benefits. Additionally, properties should be able to assess that project benefits do not interfere with each other, and that the industry may benefit from both quantitative measurements and lessons learned.

Andrew Schagen joined IBI Group in 2012 as a Transit Technology Analyst in the Toronto Office’s Transit Technology Practice. In May 2018, Andrew was promoted to Associate – Sr. Transit Technology Specialist, and is currently the project manager for our CAD/AVL Replacement Project at AC Transit in Oakland, CA. Andrew holds a B.Eng and an M.A.Sc in Civil Engineering from Carleton University in Ottawa, ON. Outside of work, he plays bass and is FOH sound engineer for a classic rock band that performs almost exclusively at fundraising and charity events.

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