Consulting organizations have to deal with a certain amount of complexity in order to bill their clients and to understand how their business is performing. This tends to create a backwards-looking focus in the business – it takes so much energy to work out what has happened that very little time is left to take corrective action. It’s known as managing through the rearview mirror.
Some of the classic signs of this situation are: it takes three weeks after month-end to get all time cards, expenses and invoices processed; there’s a further delay before the management pack is produced and those managers still spend half the meeting arguing whether the data is wrong; by the time project managers receive management accounting information about the margin bleeding from their projects it’s too late to stem the flow.
These circumstances usually arise because a set of manual processes using spreadsheets or customer-built systems are developed during the early life of the organization. As the business scales, maintaining these ad hoc systems becomes an ever-more challenging task. Errors creep in; data from different sources gets moved through the series of spreadsheets at different rates and therefore appears inconsistent. Altogether, the information that is required to make important business decisions takes too long to emerge, and the decisions take effect too late.
At this point, consulting organizations often decide to introduce a Professional Services Automation (PSA) system designed to connect up the information between resource planning, delivery management, time recording and billing. If the PSA is integrated with an opportunity management system (CRM) then it also has the potential to handle the pipeline of as-yet unsold work.
However, the potential benefits from computer applications are only realized when the people using them are adopting industry best practices. In this series of Best Practice Guides from Kimble, we will explain in a number of areas what best practice looks like. In this first guide, we cover the five simple steps to creating a forward-looking culture.