The Biz Box: Services

The 5 challenges for every professional service provider

Written by Michiel Bos on . Posted in Services

Professional service provision remains under pressure despite the overall improvements in the global economy. It’s a project business. But what exactly the projects consist of, and how they need to run - well, opinions can certainly vary. Customers expect increasing levels of flexibility, co-operation and transparency. And then the organization itself also needs to try and run as smoothly as it can – a fact that’s sometimes not given quite the attention it deserves.

Given that fact, here are 5 key challenges that sooner or later appear on the horizon of every service provider. With, of course, a few suggestions for how to take them on.

Disparate processes

If a consultant declares costs for a lunch, do those costs make it through to the customer financing the project? Or does the process grind to a halt at the HR employee dealing with the administration for reimbursing the consultant?

Many businesses have failed to organize their processes as well as they could have, whether it’s through successive changes in management, or a failure of particular employee groups to understand the agreements that were initially made. Ideally, an IT system knows automatically if a declaration is applicable for project billing, whether employees are allowed to make travel costs, and how many hours there actually are in a day.

Focus on creating clear processes, sketch them out on paper and make sure everyone who will be involved is in the loop. Process any changes centrally and be clear and open in communication. That will stop someone who was on vacation when everything was changed from causing problems when they get back.

‘Oh – I didn’t know that’

We all make mistakes, but sometimes it’s just a bit too simple to shirk responsibility and say we weren’t up to speed. ‘I didn’t know that, no-one told me about that agreement with the customer’. Everyone can try it. But if it isn’t possible to check it, and you’re able to get away with that kind of attitude, the organization has a problem.

What do you do with project agreements? And adjustments to those agreements? Consultants working on projects need to be kept fully up to date with what’s going on. If they’re not, they risk spending their valuable time on delivering work that’s no longer required – and not billable. And conversely, a consultant that’s well informed will be able to signal unwanted deviations far quicker.

In short, collaboration on a project is much improved with good communication. So how to realize it? You can do it with a practical approach, looking carefully before each phase of a project at what needs to be shared, and making active decisions about who is going to access to what from a central repository of project information.

Surprises and delays

A project never runs exactly as planned. And that’s exactly why it’s so important to plan properly! You only know you’re deviating when there’s a plan in place. Without it, it’s impossible to consider and implement the measures necessary to get you back on track.

A detailed plan as part of your overall business operations approach enables far greater predictability. And when you’re making that planning, start thinking about what might also go wrong; hardware that’s not delivered, consultants that get ill. And then think what you’ll actually do if that happens. If something does then go wrong with a project, you’ll be much better positioned to do something about it quickly. Without your project flying into the red.

Losing time looking for information

Anyone who spends days looking for the right information from across a range of sources isn’t adding a lot of value to the company. Not least because by the time they’ve actually found it, it's probably already out of date. All the time that’s invested in creating that overview could be much better spent elsewhere. Like in activities designed to help the project run more smoothly.

Unclear data

What you can’t see isn’t there. What you don’t register, doesn’t exist. Does your data tell the whole story? Data has become the gold of the 21st Century. With the accompanying risk that some people are susceptible to gold fever.

That we're able to collect enormous quantities of data is one thing. Whether we actually should do that is another. It’s more important to ensure that the data you have is clear and usable across the organization, and that it results in actual, well-informed activity. The easiest way to make this happen is via development of project dashboards. These can be created to make sure each level of the organization gets at the information they need. Everyone knows what they need to know, without being drowned in more information than is relevant or necessary.