Soft Benefits vs Hard Benefits in Project Management

When the pandemic struck the world in 2019/20, it was a massive blow not just to the common people, but to governments the world over. 

Heads of states swung into action and chalked out multi pronged strategies for implementing lockdowns, arranging food and groceries for people stuck at homes, hospital beds, medicines and oxygen for the patients, welfare schemes for the vulnerable and handling a general scene of chaos and uncertainty. 

Looking back, we can see that nothing would have been possible without a proper project management strategy in place at every level. 

Project management is a temporary effort to solve a specific problem through a product or service or both within the framework of budget, human resource and time constraints.  All projects inherently have certain components built in them

  • A start and finish date
  • Objective
  • A team with requisite skills 
  • Budget 
  • Schedule
  • Allocation of responsibility

Once the desired objective is accomplished, the project ceases to exist. For the longest time, projects were carried out on an ad hoc basis, but soon, skilled people realized that it needs planning for proper execution and hence the stream of Project Management evolved. 

Every project is born out of some vision on part of an individual or organization. For ex. The mammoth task of vaccinating all the world’s population is an ongoing project that came into existence because of the virus which would be an ongoing one for the near future. However, launching a new car by an automobile company would also be a project, albeit a short duration one. A project basically has 5 steps

  • Initiation
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Monitoring, evaluating and controlling
  • Closure

A project is planned and executed so that it can yield some benefits. Some of these are direct, some are implied. These can be categorized as:

  • Hard Benefits 
  • Soft Benefits

Unless the project yields the desired benefits, it is not deemed to be successful. It is important that the stakeholders also understand and are made known of the benefits accruing from planning and implementing a particular project. 

A thumb-rule is that a project is successful if it can satisfy the “Triple Constraints Theory”, ie. Cost, Time and Scope. However, going beyond that, a project is considered successful if it delivers benefits that it promised at the outset. Every project must deliver. The benefits are just an indicator if it has. 

Hard Benefits: These are the real, measurable, tangible benefits. 

  • Money
  • Product sales
  • Increase in market share
  • Increase in revenue from product sales or service

Soft Benefits: 

  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Reduced errors in production
  • Improved product quality
  • Enhanced employee productivity

You may not be able to (immediately) attach a label of monetary value to these benefits but they can be converted into monetary value sooner than later. However, on the face of it, soft benefits appear less glamorous because they do not satisfy the instant gratification cravings of managers. However, not all managers are out there to catch the low hanging fruit of cash only. Some are wise and know that investing in soft benefits also have their own advantages, albeit a tad later than cash.

Why is there always a Hard Benefits Vs Soft Benefits debate

For the simple reason that the dilemma gives rise to expectations that satisfy human efforts in tangible currencies. 

Whilst one cannot gauge the impact of enhanced customer satisfaction or employee productivity, it does go on to strengthen the bottom-line in the long run. It’s just a matter of perception and understanding about what to expect when and how. 

Several managers are just unable to fathom benefits that don’t speak the language of numbers. So they go on to view (and hence focus) on gaining hard benefits first and then consider soft benefits as something sort of a bonus, if at all. This approach turns detrimental at times when the management is presented with a project that has core soft benefits in its objective and could get axed because it does not appeal to the senses of the managers or the decision makers. How can one blame them for putting hard benefits over soft ones when all projects demand equal time, money and efforts. Business being all about profits, one cannot just ignore Returns on Investment. 

So what is the way out?

Anyone who has worked in sales or marketing understands that not every action can be immediately traced to the cash registers ringing hard. 

Marketing projects, like investing in a logo or cutting down on the time required to address a consumer issue, results in better customer engagement and has the potential to enhance brand identity. These things play out over a period. 

Having said that, no one can deny the significance of attaching monetary value to a project’s outcome. 

Managers can actually convert the Return on Investment in soft benefits and quantify to suit the preference. A little bit of added effort can quickly convince any board of the importance of soft benefits. Ex. If you’re trying to reduce time required for customers put forth their issues, they will be pleasantly surprised with the prompt service and may prefer to come back the next time. Marketing guys always know that a return customer is true gold mine. However, such statements must have the ability to prove themselves and not be just jingoism. As is with any scientific work or research hypothesis, the one that gets approval must be able to prove itself every single time. At least, most of the times. That makes things easy. 

An organization very well understands the difference between hard benefits and soft benefits. Times when projects that bank on soft benefits get turned down are the ones when key people behind such projects fail to bring to notice to the decision makers or don’t see the monetary value in these outcomes themselves. After all, it is all a matter of being convinced and then convincing others. 

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