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professional services project management

Solving the pain of professional services project management

What is the secret to professional services project management, and which technologies and practices can you deploy to move the dials in the right direction? Here are some project management tips.

It goes without saying that executing successful projects is the main game of professional services. And nearly every business is becoming a technology company these days. But, as we always say at Unit4, digital transformation isn’t about technology, but people.  

So, here are our top professional services project management tips. Spoiler alert:  they focus on people and technology.

Defining success

First, what does success mean for professional services project management, especially during these tough times? We have an eBook that explains the 16 essential KPIs that industry experts believe you should focus on to achieve it, from winning bids and optimizing talent to achieving service excellence and maximizing financial performance.

Focusing on service excellence, the day-to-day creation, managing and delivery of complex projects, success means that the majority of projects have high levels of quality, productivity, and profitability; they are delivered on-time, on-budget, and client satisfaction is maximized.

This means that revenue and margin targets are hit, your people are productive,

and billable utilization rates are optimized — so there’s minimal bench time and people aren’t overworked. Also, your time and expense (T&E) capture and billing processes — and all your processes for that matter — are running at maximum efficiency.

When legacy systems get in the way

As most organizations are realizing these days, this cannot be achieved using legacy systems and applications that are not fit for people- and project-centric organizations. These generic, disjointed systems create a barrier to efficiency, agility, operational excellence and innovation.

They can be expensive to maintain, customize and integrate with new apps as things change. They often create extra admin work, not to mention human error. And they can maintain silos among teams and data. The knock-on effects for project management, client satisfaction and People Experience can be costly.

Project management tips

So, here are our top project management tips, in four sections. To achieve excellence in professional services project management, our advice is that you:

  1. Find the right technology
  2. Make People Experience a priority
  3. Break down silos
  4. And improve data visibility

1. Find the right technology

Our top professional services project management tip is to look for a technology portfolio that helps you gain 360-degree visibility and control of your project plan, schedule, cost, and budget while helping you to remain flexible, innovative, and scalable.

Here’s your must-have list:

  • Cloud-based, intuitive and adaptive enterprise applications
  • Professional services automation (PSA) software
  • A financial planning & analysis (FP&A) solution
  • Human capital management (HCM) tools and talent management platform
  • Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural-language digital assistants, like Wanda
  • A modern, cloud-based, flexible ERP platform that’s built for professional services; one that features a microservices-based architecture and APIs, comes with inbuilt analytics, and provides a single source of truth for all data

This comprehensive suite should enable you to:

  • Automate manual processes to streamline workflows and boost productivity
  • Incorporate standardized methodologies to build and reinforce project delivery standards
  • Gather, organize and utilize historic data for repeatable project processes and predictive analytics for more accurate forecasting
  • Deliver remote access to systems via mobile devices and apps for on-the-go data capture, such as T&E, for real-time project status visibility
  • Improve decision-making with instant data access and visibility via visual dashboards
  • Flexibly create, adapt and integrate as many different applications as you like (without the need for IT expertise) to adapt project processes quickly as things change
  • Optimize people planning by synchronizing your availability, requests, allocations, and project backlog
  • Free your team from menial, manual tasks and processes to deliver excellent People Experience

2. Make People Experience a priority

The second of our project management tips is around the lifeblood of your business: people. Competition for talent is higher than ever, and so are expectations about work from candidates and staff, especially with the increase in hybrid/remote workforces.

It’s vital to find modern ways of managing the entire hire-to-retire lifecycle, from recruiting and ramping up to developing and retaining the best talent, while optimizing billable utilization to avoid burnout and voluntary attrition during project delivery.

Software like HCM and a talent management platform is only part of the talent puzzle, as culture is crucial here. But the right technology will help make it easier to attract, train, engage, utilize and retain your people — essential for optimum professional services project management.

HCM allows you to spot employee training and development gaps while managing performance. And a talent management platform allows your people to align with the organization regularly and thoroughly while you measure their levels of engagement.

The right tools — cloud-based, intuitive and adaptive applications that automate low-value tasks — also improve how work feels for your people. They make their jobs easier, and enable them to be more productive, so they can spend more time doing the high-value work, which all helps to streamline project management workflows.

Also, PSA software integration delivers precise insights for better decision-making when assigning people to projects, so you can optimize billable utilization and maintain high levels of employee satisfaction. (This is one of our top project planning tips.)

Integrated PSA software helps you match the right people with the right skills at the right time to the right projects, and it enables organizations to operate at higher levels of efficiency while yielding an increase in billable utilization.

“The use of PSA is on the rise due to the need to better manage projects and resources, especially in more technical disciplines, as it has become increasingly difficult to find, hire, retain and deploy talent,” says the SPI Research in its 2020 Professional Services Maturity Benchmark (PSBM).

3. Break down silos

Our third project management tip is based around aligning functional silos. If you have strong divides between sales, delivery, marketing and finance, teams may have difficulty communicating, or they might have to spend time gathering information from separate solutions, in different formats, while managing multiple versions. This can inhibit the performance of professional services project management.

SPI Research says, in PSMB 2020: “Today’s PSOs simply cannot operate with functional silos as the lines between sales, delivery and finance become blurred.”

However you do this — again, culture and organizational structure lie at the root of this — fully integrated technology, including PSA software and a core ERP, provides visibility to all parts of the organization and helps break down organizational silos. This encourages collaboration between teams in different functional departments, and across different geographical locations, to produce better project outcomes.

Constellation Research sums it up in its report, Innovations Abound in Global Cloud ERP Suites: “Functional silos make way for employee experiences. With information centralized in the cloud, ERP today can deliver the key system of record for an enterprise and the foundation for better employee experiences. These employee experiences augment human decisions to enable next-best actions.”

4. Improve data visibility

Of course, having a single source of truth is a prerequisite for aligning different teams. So, this is the fourth of our project management tips. And this ties in with transparency over KPIs like margin per project, resource utilization rates, and days sales outstanding, which is again fundamental to project success.

Constellation Research adds: “The shift from hoarding information to delivering the right information at the right time, for the right context, in the right form factor and in the right security model now means every employee, contractor and partner can be empowered with information to speed decision-making, improve customer experience and mitigate risk.”

There’s no way around it, this can only be achieved with technology. Your systems should deliver up-to-date, visualized data at the click of a button, enhancing the clarity and accuracy of all performance indicators.

The Financials module of Unit4 ERP, for example, provides real-time visibility and control over every stage of the record-to-report cycle consolidating organization-wide data with one unified system. Unit4 FP&A puts a range of KPIs at your decision-makers’ fingertips through user-friendly, configurable dashboards.

With the right information to hand, your people’s ability to make well-informed decisions and create accurate forecasts will be second-to-none.

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More project management tips

Get in touch to learn how Unit4 can help you solve the pain of professional services project management, or learn about the Industry Model PSO 3.0, a people-centric and project-focused solution built for professional services organizations.