5 Effective Ways to Improve Project Performance through Standardized Processes

Author: Henry Bennett

The Professional Services Maturity® Benchmark Report, an annual study of over 800 PSOs by SPI Research Ltd, provides substantial evidence that KPIs including sales pipeline, billable utilization and meeting margin targets increase with greater use of a standardized methodology.

Of course, this will come as no surprise to most: these are exactly the kind of benefits that consultants will cite when they make the case for process improvement.

So given this knowledge, why are so many professional services businesses still so resistant to standardisation?

In this post we explore some of the process and tools top performing service organisations are using to standardize vital project management and administrative processes, which in turn leads to improved project performance.

Where does your organisation sit in the Standardization league table?

#1 Standardized project planning

Raising the standards from the start with consistent planning tools and project templates ensures that a standard set of tasks are created for each project, giving you the confidence that all the important issues and details are covered. This also saves time for project managers, makes planning more consistent and faster, and means that teams are briefed consistently – so they understand exactly what’s required of them from day one. What’s more, it leads to more accurate and consistent cost estimation too, which naturally increases your likelihood of delivering on budget.

#2 Standardized time and expense logging

Most organizations record time via some form of system, spread sheet or app.  But have you ever taken time to stop and really understand the benefits this brings to the organization or to assess whether you are maximizing the use of this data. Where the leaders excel is in their use of technology, they put in place the exact timesheet entry process required to meet their business needs. Whether this be the logging of time in hours and minutes, hours decimal, days or in percentages, importing timesheet data from previous weeks to ensure repeated tasks are recorded in a single click, or even offering different views for different users based on their role or function.  What this means is that project teams have no excuse not to use it as it is incredibly intuitive – this ensures project managers get the up-to-date visibility they need of project progress and the business can react accordingly.

#3 Standardized risk management

One simple way to mitigate risk is to have a tried and tested process for identifying and managing them – this is another way the top performers stand out.  Through the use of technology leaders can register specific risks within project templates, so whenever that type of project comes in, those risks are already highlighted and can be managed from the initial engagement.  This ensures no stone is left un-turned and you have the greatest chance of project success from day one.

#4 Standardize contract management and billing

It sounds counter-intuitive, but when the pressure is on to deliver, billing can easily be overlooked. Invoicing correctly and on-time is essential to achieving the highest levels of project profitability. To achieve this the top performing PSOs utilise Professional Service Automation software where Billing alerts can be built into the project plan from the start – for retainers and repeat contracts as well as individual project deliverables – and these systems allow you to use multiple contract lines so you can track every detail transparently. The result: significantly reduced billing errors and timely invoicing – which in turn improves cash-flow and drives profitability.

#5 Standardize project status reporting

All too often when we first engage with a client we ask them to provide examples of their project status reporting, at which point we are usually greeted with numerous different spread sheets, in different formats which are almost impossible to consolidate at a senior management level, making it very difficult for the business to make strategic project decisions.  This is where the top performers differ, every aspect of status reporting is standardized. Project managers are required to submit reports on a regular schedule and in a clear and consistent manner – professional services project management software is key to achieving this. With this technology in place, project status reports are provided in a consistent manner without exception, with this information Project boards/executive teams are able to compare project progress, and so make vital decisions about reallocating resource across the portfolio.