Professional services firms have a three-pronged operational challenge: keeping time & billing under control, managing projects, and having the supporting accounting. The focus of this article is on how professional services firms achieve this, with project management at the center of the operations and the other two as supporting, administrative functions. This article looks at how PM tools specific to the professional services industry need to support these operational functions.
This is the second part of a series of four articles on “PM Software by Industry”, where we explore the variation in needs and implementations of project management software solutions based on industry. This article, Part 2 in the series, looking at the “Professional Services” industry, looks at the specific operational needs of professional services firms and how targeted software applications are delivering against these needs. Part 1, looks at the “Digital Marketing and Creative” industry and the specific operational needs of firms engaged in digital marketing and creative work, and how specific software features support those needs. Part 3, focuses on the “Building and Construction” industry, providing a survey of the software feature needs of this large and unique market segment and the types of software products that support. Finally, Part 4, on the “Software Development” industry, dives into the process needs and supporting software for better enabling those that develop software applications.
Project management is front and center of the operations in professional services. Here are six key needs of the project management function in professional services:
- Resource forecasting and allocation: It’s a juggling act to fill current projects, plan for coming projects, and place the right combination of talent in the right positions. It can be very helpful to be able to do this planning based upon skill and resource buckets, and even include skills planning and training as part of the package.
- Manage timelines: This is a constant thing, and, in addition to managing individual projects, timelines need to be managed at the portfolio level. Gantt chart visualization at the portfolio level, for example, can provide a high level view of the situation and provide indicators for when adjustments are needed.
- Projects by phase: Professional services projects are typically stage-gated; projects for through one stage and need to be approved before moving to the next stage. While it typically is the same project supported by the same people, it is important to recognize that these stages are sort of like sub-projects that need to be understood and managed accordingly.
- Monitoring in real time: Early indicators are helpful, and PM software that can show budget vs. actual hours and other project costs in real time is extremely helpful. Early knowledge can enable the PM to make course corrections and communicate with stakeholders proactively.
- Submittal tracking: Many of the documents produced in the course of professional services execution have a project lifecycle of their own! Approval processes need to be understood, and ideally codified and monitored as part of the supporting software. This goes for approval workflows related to any submittals such as drawings, RFI’s, or any partial deliverables.
- Key Performance Indicators (KPI): There are a plethora of KPIs, and each firm will have some uniqueness as to what it needs to monitor. It’s important the professional services firms can choose the KPIs they want to most closely monitor and see these KPIs across the portfolio in one place in a variety of Out-Of-The-Box templated visuals.
In addition, administrative functions are very important to professional services firms, and support for a multi-level submittal-approval process for time and expenses, budgets, estimates, vendor bills, and invoices needs to be in place.
Can you see the need for a unique twist on PM software tool support for professional services firms?
This Post is Part of the Series: PM Software by Industry
This series of four articles looks at the many variations and implementations of PM tools based on industry.