How To Approach Complex Project Management In The Professional Services Sector

Posted by Neil Davidson on December 4, 2018

Complex project management

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The operating environment for professional services firms has become more complex, making it harder to grow profitably. For one thing, companies are operating at a time of heightened geopolitical risk which can have a knock on effect on their business. Take the rise of trade barriers between the US and China, or the UK’s exit from European Union, both of which have caused uncertainty for firms and the experts charged with guiding them.

On top of this, professional services firms must adapt to a raft of new regulations, technological disruption, and a more globalised industry that is amplifying competition. Naturally, satisfying customer needs and delivering projects on time and to budget has gotten tougher. The costs of slipping up have also climbed, heaping pressure on already stretched margins.


 

Taming Project Complexity


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Creative Solutions To Project Complexity

Project Management

According to our survey, Insight to Action – The future of the professional services industry, project complexity is a major cause of concern for decision-makers. Over half (52 percent) of respondents said that the increasing complexity of jobs will be the number-one challenge for project management in five years’ time, while 39 percent say getting better visibility of their project pipelines is key. In addition, 35 percent want clearer foresight about which projects and clients will be profitable so they can plan more effectively.

Creative solutions are needed. Firstly, professional services firms need a clear understanding of their projects in terms of expected costs, schedules, risk, required resources, and revenues. This allows teams to focus their resources more appropriately and maximise efficiency.

Achieving this is no simple job, though. Costs and requirements change constantly during a project’s lifetime and forecasting can be tough, increasing the chance of overruns and delays. This often occurs when the scope of a project is not properly defined, documented, or controlled from the outset. Exacerbating this can be weak project management, poor communication between the parties involved, and the absence of the necessary controls.

Not surprisingly, 34 percent of our survey respondents said that clear document version control is a key business priority going forward, while 33 percent feel that improving compliance processes is vital. More generally, over a third say they would like to see improved project management procedures in future.

 

'52% of respondents said that the increasing complexity of jobs will be the number-one challenge for project management in five years’ time'

 

 

Setting The Right Goals

 

To tackle these problems, leaders need to start by setting the right goals and objectives. Often when managers look back at unprofitable projects, they cite a lack of planning as the main cause of the problems. Sometimes this can be caused by unreasonable demands from clients, but more often it is because providers do not have the right resources and staff in place. According to our survey, 58 percent of businesses report that they have had to shuffle employees around projects to deliver projects in the past.

To tighten performance up, professional services firms need a strong work plan, laying out the necessary steps to execute a job. This should take into account the scope, schedule, and costs of the project, while breaking it down into manageable chunks: deliverables, milestones, tasks, deadlines, and processes. Such “modularisation” also makes it easier to deploy the right workers to different aspects of a job, by unbundling tasks that can be handled in-house, outsourced, or automated.

Keeping Track Of Projects

 Managing Project Complexity

The rate of failure for complex projects is high, and the risk becomes higher for professional services firms with large global workforces. These operators must take extra precautions to ensure that managers heed cultural differences, time zone conflicts and communications issues relating to language and work customs.

It is also vital that senior leaders at firms step in and take responsibility for a work plan once a project begins. This requires constant monitoring and reporting to enable managers to intervene as soon as problems arise.

As our report sets out, to achieve this, professional services firms should implement a comprehensive Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution that unifies all business activity within a single view. Staff at all levels and in all countries should be trained in the relevant standards, protocols and technology, all of which will help establish a project culture based on information sharing, communications and accountability.

Finally - and perhaps most importantly - professional services firms need to promote employee engagement across their organisations to ensure that project teams and all stakeholders have a common understanding of how the project will be managed. Everyone must be clear about who will be making the decisions and how reporting lines will be structured.

By following these steps, professional services firms will build trust and collaboration across their business, in turn boosting the likelihood of success. If there is a lack of trust within an organisation, it becomes harder for firms to learn and improve, setting up problems for the future.

 

2018 Industry Report

Taming Project Complexity

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