Realizing actual benefits from an effort stems heavily from baking activities designed to measure those benefits directly into the plan. In order to realize actual benefits, they need to be identified at the beginning preferably not in the form of high level objectives such as 'increased efficiency or effectiveness' or a working group charter, but the actual benefit expected. By defining the explicit benefits or goals, such as a 'ten day reduction in cycle time', or '30% reduction in complaints’, the foundation for measuring progress against an actual benefit is established.
In many public sector organizations, establishing such high levels of specificity regarding expected benefits is considered an unnecessary risk. High level goals with plenty of 'wiggle room' are more compatible with a risk averse culture. In such cases where significant resistance exists to specific goals, using an incrementally increasing approach is often a more viable option. For example, a reduction in cycle time might start with a one day reduction followed by a target of three days, and so on.
As efforts move forward benefits progress should be measured in addition to traditional project metrics such as cost and schedule - specifically evaluating whether activities are in line with realizing the intended benefits. Even status reports should include an analysis of alignment with intended benefits in addition to other items such as completed activities and identified risks.