Russell Clark Q&A: Deltek’s Senior Director Of Delivery Looks Back On 17 Years In The Industry
Russell Clark is one of the leading authorities in his field, delivering process intelligence to some of the most prominent and high-profile FTSE 100 and global Professional Services organisations. In a June 2018 interview, Russell discusses his 17 year evolution with Deltek, the characteristics of his most successful clients, the changing face of client expectations, his own approach to personal leadership and how “there is no substitute for client input”. The following is a transcript from the interview.
Q. You’ve been described as being at the front line of Deltek, managing the most complex implementations for clients, is this close to how you would describe it?
'That’s not really how I describe it when I talk to friends. It’s not to say it’s not true but I think it paints a picture which I don’t feel truly reflects our team approach to working with our customers. While I spend as much time as possible with customers, it is our incredible consultants who are truly on the front line and I genuinely see my role as supporting them, to ensure that they have the opportunity and tools to deliver successful projects to our customers. In some instances, this really means that I spend little time with customers outside of the start and end of projects but I always enjoy face-to-face time with clients, and of course that time is more frequent when a project demands it.'
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Q. Let’s define what you do and define Deltek?
'What I love most about my role is that it is difficult to define because it varies based on the need of the customer and the project. Broadly the role is accountability for our service delivery to customers and to ensure the success of a project. But that’s a very broad statement and in practice it covers a number of specific roles from pre-contract analysis to initiation and managing both the customer relationship and team escalations as they arise, right through to the end of the project and often beyond.
As a company Deltek are very focused on identifying new opportunities for our customers, helping them to win new business, recruit and develop talent, streamline their operations and deliver extremely profitable projects. We are the leading provider of enterprise software and solutions to government contractors, professional services firms and other project-based businesses and we deliver to in excess of 23,000 organisations with millions of users in over 80 countries globally, so we have a wide reach.'
Q. And how does your passion fit into what you do?
'It’s essential to me and also I think it is essential to the job. We all need to have a passion for what we do otherwise we fall short of the mark that we set for ourselves and which the customer has a right to expect from us as a specialist within our industry.'
Q. You have been at Deltek for 17 years, tell us about that evolution
'I started as a consultant, primarily in a documentation and training team as that was my background from a previous ERP vendor. In the years that followed I have been on a journey which has been organic in nature, being open to opportunities as they arise and embracing a chance to be involved in new areas. This has taken me through a series of roles within consulting delivery and management and also included a short period on the sales team. One of the great things about Deltek is that we see new opportunities on a regular basis through evolution in specific applications, in how the company has grown through acquisitions and in the fantastic opportunities that arise from our customer base. We still have a core DNA that was there when I joined which is important to me in terms of being highly committed to our customers but also the growth and scale of the company is markedly different from the day I joined.'
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Q. What are the demands of the job? Technical, functional? Pulling the team together?
'It’s a broad role so the demands are varied however it’s increasingly clear that while the role benefits from an understanding of the functional and technical elements of the solutions we offer, it is impractical and in fact unnecessary to be the detail expert in these areas. Having an understanding helps in communications with the client, in stakeholder management and in being able to offer the right level of support to the team but one also has to be aware that a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing!'
Q. And on that last point, what’s your personal approach to leadership?
'My starting point is one of trust in my team to do the best job to deliver to the vision or targets set. With that in mind, I let them take ownership and make sure everyone is aware that I am available for support, combining that with informal check-ins. I will only move to the front and take a more prominent role when it is needed (through request, escalation or identification of an issue).'
Q. That’s an interesting point you make about knowing when and when not to move forward, can you elaborate?
'Yes, I think leaders need to know when to be front of house and when to let the team do their jobs. I’ve had many managers in the past who couldn’t help themselves from getting into too much detail which ultimately stretched them beyond the point of usefulness and seemed to me to devalue the team. Everyone should do what they are great at so I don’t need to micro-manage anyone.'
Q. You spend a lot of time talking to clients, what’s that like?
'Interesting, invaluable. It’s the only way to understand and measure how we are doing for the customer and I enjoy trying to find the customer perspective of success. People often shy away from the difficult conversations but I think it is important to build a rapport and a positive relationship with clients where possible as this makes it easier to spot the pain points and to try to address them in the most effective manner.'
Q. What characterises the most successful clients you have worked with?
'I think it’s about doing the core things right. Having a clear goal and understanding what success looks like is essential – how do you know if you are winning or losing if you don’t know what success looks like? With that in place, it’s important to have the right process and structure to be measuring the key indicators along the way and to have the patience to wait for goals to come to fruition, the courage to change an execution plan if the indicators require it and the ability to tell the difference.'
Q. What developments have posed the most important new challenges to your clients that head up these global organisations?
'In many ways the challenges are not new but simply evolving and continuing. For the larger customers the pressure on “doing more with less” continues, and finding operational effectiveness to support revenue and margin growth are continuing factors. I also think that customer expectations (our customers and consequently our customers’ customers) continue to rise in terms of value for money but also a service level immediacy for high quality and speed.'
Q. Let’s talk about the solutions you implement? Does Deltek use its own tools?
'Of course. We believe in the tools we offer to our customers and it would be strange if we didn’t. Our solutions are the spine of our organisation and allow us to make the most integral business decisions.'
Q. The industry is going through tremendous change. What do you think it will look like in five years from now?
'As a professional service organisation I think we will be impacted by a lot of the same challenges as our customers and to be honest I am excited to see what form that takes. The good thing about the industry and life in general is that it is impossible to predict as far as five years ahead, mostly due to the rate of change in technical innovation and the expectation that we all have as consumers seems to be growing at an exponential rate. One factor apparent to me is the new generation of people in the workplace and their starting point of expectation, which is very different to that of their peers 10 years ago. There is a societal and technological shift in expectation which is growing and will form a major element to how the industry looks in future.
We can focus too much on the five year+ timeline but I think it is just as important to focus on the near future and to make sure we are agile enough to manage the change that is happening now and the change coming in the next two to three years. For many in our industry, the big changes forecast five years ago have had little impact beyond their personal lives. Ensuring that we maximise today’s ability to manage mobility of data and maximising user interfaces is more interesting to me than potential AI capability on the horizon.'
Q. When you are helping a client implement an ERP solution, what informs your thinking? And how long until you know what you are doing works for the client?
'Ultimately you have to be led by the client, which is not to say we turn up and ask what they want but means that you have to check and verify your assumptions and your process as you go. There is no substitute for client input.'
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