Blending Professional Services and Traditional Project Management for Enhancing Customer Experience : Experiencing Marketing
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Blending Professional Services and Traditional Project Management for Enhancing Customer Experience

by Bryan Peterson on 10/24/10

There is a rising trend where product centric and development organizations and professional services are becoming more and more intertwined in order to manage and deliver a successful customer experience. More and more product-centric organizations are incorporating a professional services offering. At the same time, more and more services based organizations are incorporating products and their development into their offering.

In their excellent book, The Experience Economy, authors Pine and Gilmore make the point the goods and services are no longer enough. In order to be successful and achieve growth, companies in today's economy must offer their customers a trans-formative experience that most often requires the product and services to be one and to be tailored to the specific customer. This is more than “blurring the line”, but actually removing the line between products and services. 

It is no longer adequate to only deliver our products and services to customers on time, within budget and as scoped. Companies today must also provide that positive customer experience, which includes successful project delivery and much more. Customers today are not just looking for solutions; they are looking for results. Real, tangible, measurable, and valuable results. Results are going to incorporate processes and people in addition to software and technology. Addressing, managing, and integrating all three of these elements is the only way to effect lasting and trans-formative change.

To accomplish this, product development and professional services are becoming more aligned and assimilated. More and more product-centric organizations are seeing that a professional services offering helps greatly to expanding the product base and revenue stream. By initiating, developing and managing services-centric organizations within product-based companies, companies are able to provide a better experience to their customers and thereby increase revenue. As many of these experiences need to be tailored to the specific customer, more service organizations are finding the need to not only add products to their offering, but also the development and customization of those products as well. As such, more and more professional services organizations are incorporating traditional project management methodologies as the services and development components are often incorporated into a project. All the while, services organizations are looking to reduce non-billable hours, streamline processes, and increase overall efficiency.

This is also inline with a recently increasing trend of mainstreaming of project management. We're seeing project management being offered in most business schools, Masters degrees in project management are becoming more common, and more more parts of the organization are adopting some sort of project management methodology that traditionally had not done so. We're seeing it moving both ways. Formal project management methodology is beginning to move down from formal projects and the PMO into more parts of the organization. At the same time, other parts of the organization that had traditionally not been project oriented are moving up to incorporating various forms of project management; finding that project management is becoming more adoptable and approachable.

This is also giving rise to the “accidental project manager”. People who are not formally trained in project management but who posses applicable domain expertise and find themselves filling the role of a project manager out of necessity.

This all leads to organizations having a very broad spectrum of active projects and initiatives with both development and services components. Often, these vary is size, scope, priority and impact all throughout the organization. At the same time, that more and varied projects are going on, organizations are needing to be more focused, look at things more holistically, and be more proactive of managing what the organization is working on how well they are doing it.

Differing Views of the World

Professional Services focused organizations and Product Development centric organizations typically see the world differently. For example, development organizations focus on successful project delivery and being able to move on to the next project; services organizations focus on the expected revenue and being able to deliver in order to recognize that revenue. Development will look at resource capacity in order to answer the question “do have the available people to complete this project and should we take this project on” ,whereas services will say “go ahead and book it, I'll find the resources and how can I maximize my revenue on this engagement”? 

These days we are all increasingly being asked to do a greater amount of work with fewer people and in a shorter amount of time. Often, our company initiatives and focus can change faster than projects can be completed. Therefore, companies not only have to make greater efforts to complete projects on time, within budget, and to scope as planned, but also to constantly reevaluate the focus and ensure they are working on the projects that are most productive, most profitable and most inline with the company’s overall strategy and mission. This work requires team members with constantly evolving skills who are often geographically dispersed. These challenges exist for information systems departments, research and development departments, and professional services providers, as well as software providers, system integrators and more.

Product-centric organizations, those the make or develop tangible products, usually have good processes established for deciding which projects to fund, planning and resources those projects, and then executing, monitoring and controlling those projects. Service-centric organizations have traditionally worked a little differently. Service organizations provide highly skilled subject matter expertise to define, develop and solve difficult business issues for their customers. While professional services teams are excellent in helping their customers transform and produce desired results, they often don't (or sometimes refuse to) see the problems with or gaps in their own internal processes. It can often take a seriously painful or problematic event in order for a services organization to re-evaluate their project execution process. There is a climate today of increased competition and declining business volume. Unfortunately, too often services firms get wise to this a little too late.

Tying It All Together
Here are some ways to tie together these two sides of the same coin, accommodate each of their different views of the world, and increase successful project execution.

Centralize Resource Management – One key way is to implement real-time visibility of global resource utilization and forecasting. Now resource management and allocation mean slightly different things for development and services. A product development view will look at future resource availability, resource the entire project based on skill and availability, ensure that all resources are evenly allocated, and focus on completing the project on time, within budget and to scope. Services however, will take a slightly different view. For services, it's all about the revenue. They will get consultants working on the projects, often not knowing exactly who that's going to be until right before the work begins, make sure everyone is as “billable” as possible, and work on delivering the project as profitable as possible to the customer's satisfaction. Services groups also have to deal with delays often caused by the client, so being able reallocate work to keep their team billable and all of the work moving forward is vital.

It's possible to have that centralized visibility while still accommodating the needs of each group. The right resource management solution enables managers to calculate the cost of underutilized (“on the bench”) staff. Understanding what this non-productive time is costing the company is very important, and real-time access to resource allocation data allows managers to assign work to available staff, resulting in a far greater return on labor cost. By knowing the associated cost to this non-productive time, you can calculate the avoidance of this idle cost and factor in the increase in productivity. Although the time on the bench will never reach “0”, it is clear to see that by having visibility into your team’s availability and being able to assign work to people who are available, more work can be accomplished faster and you have a far greater return on your labor cost.

With billable consultants, it is easy to dollarize this effect on the organization. By having a central pool of resources and visibility into overall availability, the ability to allocate the right people to the right job, and minimize the time on the bench. If by doing that, let's say you could conservatively add 3 additional billable hours per month for each consultant. And for argument's sake we said your average hourly billable rate was $85. Then for 50 consultants, that would result roughly in an additional $150,000 per year in additional billable revenue. That would be just by adding an additional 3 billable hours per month per person. It would not be out of the ordinary to expect more hours of productivity just by having that “one pane of glass” view into resources.

Of course, this goes beyond just the direct increase in billable revenue. Increases in productivity is another area where you see a substantial return on investment with resource management.

You need to have complete visibility and insight into resource availability. Which means you need to be able to see not just what projects a person is working on, but also factor in organizational initiatives, non-project work, overhead, vacation and leave. When you are scheduling a task, you need to be able to quickly find the person or people you are looking for, understand if they are available, and easily assign them to that work. 

This not only allows you to assign people to tasks, manage their allocation, and minimize time on the bench.. But it also allows you to have insight into your capacity. That big project you've got coming up next quarter, do you have the available resources to take that work on? By effectively managing your resources and gaining that valuable insight into resource availability, you'll be able to know.

Transparency, Visibility and Collaboration

Transparency, visibility and collaboration on projects helps to keep everyone informed about what is going on so project managers can address issues before they derail the project completely. Many experts recommend implementing a simple, easy-to-use system to interface between time tracking, resource management and project scheduling. This will allow your organization to retain processes that are currently in use while still benefiting from increased visibility to crucial data. Conversely, complicated PPM solutions can take a significant amount of time and effort to implement, which can be too much if you are working on projects today.

Software alone will not solve all of your problems, but the right system can provide one "pane of glass view" for all processes throughout the organization. Here are a few important requirements:

  • Complete visibility of resource allocation (including project work, non-project work and vacation time)
  • Real-time status information across all projects with warning indicators and alerts when necessary
  • Integration between work requests, schedules, resource management, project road map and prioritization
  • You need to be able to extract and analyze data. The easiest way to do this is to have some sort of reporting mechanism where each person can organize their data the way they want and produce the analytics they need in order to make effective, informed decisions. You need to be able to see project status, what people are working on, project costs, etc.
  • You also need to have a “one pane of glass” view into all your projects and resources. By having some sort of dashboard or some other visual status indicators you can easily and quickly see what you need to be concerned about.

Use what you've got
Some people believe that in order to improve an organization, they have to "rip and replace" all processes and tools that are currently in use and start fresh. This is not necessarily the case and can sometimes be a big mistake. You probably have processes in place that are working well, and you should leverage these to get you to the next level. Remember, you’re trying to improve upon your current situation and blend these two areas together. But you must acknowledge what has successfully brought both development and services to where they are now and find that synergistic “win-win” relationship. You don’t necessarily have to (or want to) blow everything up and start over. There are probably some things you can leverage to get you to that next level you’re seeking. 

For example, you might find that people throughout your organization feel comfortable using Microsoft Project and others Microsoft Excel. Forcing everyone to stop using these tools and start using a different system could have very adverse effects. An alternative would be to look at how you can enhance and extend the tools, allowing people to keep the processes they are comfortable with while maximizing benefits and value.

Communication also helps if you have employees who are resistant to change. They might be suspicious of your efforts to improve processes when they feel that the status quo is already "good enough." (As Jim Collins wrote in his best-selling book, Good to Great "Good is the enemy of great.")

When bringing together product development and professional services, you've got instill trust in the entire team because their buy-in is crucial to achieving organizational goals.

Here are some things to keep in mind when establishing processes and systems for blending the dynamic methodologies of Professional Services and Traditional Project Management of product development for Enhancing Customer Experience:

  • Accessible. Everyone needs to be able to access, share, and retrieve information, view status and metrics on projects, as well as view and monitor progress and costs.
  • Flexible. Every organization is different. Bringing together separate parts of the organization such as development and services creates an entirely new entity. Always keep this in mind. Consider taking a “meet us where we are” approach when establishing and adopting processes and systems.
  • Interoperable. This is at the heart of what we're talking about here. Managing and entering the same data in different places is wasteful and risky. Integrate your existing and newly established processes, with all of your systems (PMIS, Resource Management, Reporting, Financial, etc.) together with all of your people so you experience lasting and trans-formative results.
  • Scalable. Organizations today have to be lean, agile, and dynamic. The way you do things and what is successful today, may not be tomorrow. You've got to be able to adopt and your processes and systems should facilitate this, not hinder.

Conclusion
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for change. A strategy that worked for one company may not be a good fit for another, which is why it is important that you use research and communication to uncover your organization's true needs and the best way to go about this. Only you will know what will and will not be adopted by the organization, how much time and money they are willing to invest, and subsequently, what the best strategy is. Also, do not rely solely on software to fix the problem. It is imperative to integrate your processes and people, and to manage them well. Your software solution will need to empower team members and facilitate their work.

Contrary to popular belief, you can take small steps toward blending dynamic professional services with traditional development and increased organizational maturity. A complete overhaul of your current processes is not always necessary and can sometimes be quite damaging to the organization. Rather, you should do your best to evaluate what works and what doesn't, and implement a system that will give all project stakeholders transparency, visibility and communication. These small changes will not be too shocking to the employees and culture, yet will provide a way to learn from failures as opposed to repeating them.

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