Improving the Repeatability, Efficiency and Quality of Professional Services Delivery

Author: Ian Needs

Whether it is accounting, advertising, marketing, design, planning, IT services, management consultancy or legal services, for professional services organizations (PSOs) large or small, the success rate of delivering customized services to clients, on time, on budget, on a project by project basis, will depend on how well you can effectively balance client needs and expectations, retain a skilled and motivated workforce and generate profits.

Recent economic pressures and increased competition have placed many demands on PSOs and with pressure to improve profitability levels, many have been forced to lower operating costs and look for cost effective ways of retaining clients and gaining new business. The good news is − we are in recovery and the future for professional services market looks positive, but we are not completely out of the woods and there has never been a better time to ensure your business is ‘response ready’ and can cope with greater demand and future growth.

In this post we look at some of the new emerging approaches professional service organisations are taking to improve the repeatability, efficiency and quality of professional services delivery.

The Program Management Office

Projects form the staple diet of all professional services organizations; it is therefore important to ensure that they don’t run late, suffer from resource bottlenecks or allow costs to get out of control. One answer to this problem is to set up a program management office (PMO). The focus of a PMO is to act as a central ‘hub’ for all project related information. From a strategic perspective its role is to assist in selecting and prioritizing projects.

On a day to day basis, the PMO will monitor the performance of projects, track their associated budgets and ensure resourcing requirements can be fulfilled across the business. The PMO also fulfils a guidance and supportive role to the business to aid successful project delivery on issues such as project governance, best practice and training.

Organizations with established PMO’s report they directly contribute to performance improvements, including increased productivity levels, projects delivered under budget and an increase in resource capacity.

We have an number of resources available in our blog to help you set up and establish a PMO, you can read more here.

Service Productization

In response to the increasing sophistication of client demands many professional services organizations have been forced to adapt. ‘Service productization’ takes the traditional professional services business model and turns it on its head by removing the complexity and unpredictability of time and materials billing and delivers a measurable, more tangible method of selling and deploying professional services.

This orientation towards ‘product like’ services will enable professional services organizations to adopt more structure to their service offerings, such as the breakdown of services into manageable chunks, determining the tasks, deliverables and required skills. This will remove the guesswork out of forecasting future resource costs and will maximize chargeable revenue. Moreover, by providing an accurate picture of what is to be delivered on a project−by−project basis it will be easier for professional services organizations to track the progress and performance of projects and improve future service offerings. Above all, service productization will offer clients a level of transparency that was not possible before, providing clarity on what is being purchased and how much it will cost; essentially making professional services much easier to buy.

Promoting an Innovation Culture

Unlike software or technology organizations that rely on the creativity of individuals to help develop the next ‘big thing’, professional services may take a much more subtle approach to idea generation, but this is still important if the business is to remain competitive and deliver new and improved service offerings. Encouraging employees to collaborate and share their knowledge is a good place to start.

The trouble is the exchange of ideas is often done informally, casually discussed in corridors or at the water cooler.  Without the right processes and tools in place these ideas are rarely documented and put to good use. Gathering and analysing customer feedback will probably be the most lucrative source of idea generation and will yield a wealth of additional business benefits such as helping to spot process inefficiencies and improving customer satisfaction levels.

The key to capitalising on all these ideas is to ensure you are developing a collaborative framework. In other words, you have the systems in place to ensure that this valuable intelligence from customers and employees is captured, documented and followed up.

You can find out more on how a platform for knowledge sharing thoughout a project nurtures innovation in our ideas in action guide, Continuous Collaboration.

Embracing New Technologies

Successful professional services firms are embracing new technologies and cloud computing. The internet provides access to a wide range of web based technologies and virtual services without the worry of having the IT infrastructure, ongoing maintenance concerns or large upfront capital investment. Cloud−based or SaaS−based systems allow for the alignment of financial, project, resource and client based data enabling a truly automated and collaborative way of working that was not previously possible, putting less strain on your business and allowing you to focus on doing what you do best.

The rules of communication have changed − they are no longer restricted to the traditional 9−5 office hours. The internet provides your resources, clients and suppliers with the ability to communicate and collaborate via blogs, new media channels and forums at any time and from anywhere; providing you with a wealth of new touch points to reach out to your customers and increase awareness. The benefits of moving to the cloud are hard to ignore, in fact research tells us that PSOs who have moved to the cloud have seen a positive impact on their bottom line, and have experienced growth and improved levels of customer service.

In Summary professional services organizations work within complex project environments, balancing challenging resourcing requirements and managing complex customer needs. Finding new and improved ways of working can be a struggle. However, the most successful services providers are adapting − they are making IT investments in software tools that will minimize the impact of economic pressures by optimizing key aspects of the business operations, helping to reduce waste, improve customer retention levels and provide a competitive edge.