While those vocations that fall under the professional services umbrella vary widely depending on industry, their underlying organizational similarities are obvious when looking at their common goal: delivering projects on-time and on-budget.
For lawyers, IT professionals, consultants, architects, financial advisors, software engineers and more, the ability to meet customer demands without incurring additional costs or requiring extra time is critical to an organization’s profitability. And yet, this is often easier said than done in the professional services space. According to an IBM study, only 41 percent of change projects meet their schedule, budget, and quality goals, and service-based organizations frequently run into operational issues that risk client relationships and can lose profits.
Below we discuss a few ways that improved visibility, access to historical data, and automated processes can help your firm eliminate common causes of project delays and overruns.
Elimination of manual processes
Despite the influx of disruptive technologies, professional services tend to rely on old school methods. If your company still uses spreadsheets and Excel to track everything from billables, hours, project scheduling, and project management, then the administrative overhead you incur from doing so likely introduces artificial delays in projects, communication, and billing.
When information needs to be collated manually from multiple systems just to get a unified view, then you risk losing billable hours, and don’t have access to real-time project information. This can substantially damage communication efforts with your client, as you limit your ability to effectively anticipate, recognize, and communicate delays or additional costs in a timely manner. With automated project management and time tracking processes, you can access real-time project data and identify potential red flags ahead of time. This way, you can either deploy additional resources to help diminish any anticipated delays (or take other preventative action), or keep your client well-informed of potential changes to the project cost or schedule.
Visibility (into projects, resources, & historical data)
Simply put, improved project delivery can’t happen if you don’t have thorough and accessible data to help with resource allocation and forecasting accuracy. As fixed bid projects and shared risk models become increasingly popular with clients, the need for professional services firms to increase visibility into both resource management and historical project delivery data is more critical than ever. Without visibility into future resourcing, go-live estimates often miss the mark, without visibility into historical data about project task level efforts, work estimates often miss the mark, and without a skill set catalog, execution resources often miss the mark.
Resource allocation should be based on objective data — not guesswork or team politics. Employees vary in both skill set and workload, so capturing and tracking both the skills and experience of your workforce, as well as their current and upcoming projects, allows you to assign projects to the most viable, equipped, and available resource every time. Just 35 percent of professional services firms claim the ability to model individual resources across multiple projects for precise time ranges, which means the majority of firms are losing money and efficiency through lack of clarity and oversight around their resources and projects.
This kind of proactive and thoughtful scheduling also goes far in the way of reducing employee attrition. By paying closer attention to who is over- or under-worked, and making a concerted effort to ensure that specific skill sets match specific projects, employees are likely to experience less burnout on the job.
Uneven demand in the professional services space can also quickly derail project delivery if you don’t adequately accommodate boom cycles with additional hiring. Access to granular and historical data enables your company to discern various patterns and trends in your pipeline, and hire accordingly. You want to know if your company typically sees a spike in demand in Q2, and historically how many additional hires are needed to compensate. This way, you can switch from fire-fighting and stretched-thin resources to proactive hiring and project planning.
Informed project estimates
Similar to forecasting accuracy, insight into historical behavior can help your firm create estimates for future projects that are based on real data. Past realities are the best predictor for future performance — and the more data you gather, the better those estimates will be. It goes without saying that more accurate, informed project estimates enable you to craft and accept realistic proposals, and pave the way for on-time project delivery and satisfied customers.