person’s job is to make sure that project teams are built quickly so that the company can start to book the projects it has sold. And as the job title implies, these people are expected to manage resources, that is to say people, which generally means keeping the utilization ratio between 70% and 90%.

Is utilization the most important thing for professional services to be optimizing? And is resource management the best way to frame the problem?


There are two fundamental flaws to the resource management – utilization optimization framing.

  1. This is the path to commoditization
  2. It does not lead to good customer outcomes


Professional services companies make better profits when they have a differentiated offer. If what I do is the same as what other companies offer price competition will grind me down. These days there are companies in lower cost geographies, hungry start-ups, and highly experienced consultants who have just left a major firm who are eager to compete.

Differentiation is rooted in skills. If you only have a high-level understanding of skills, and if you assign people to teams based on availability with an eye to optimizing utilization you will drift towards commoditization. That is the start of a downward spiral.

Commodization & Differentiation

Client Outcomes

Successful consulting firms have a positive, long-term impact on their customers. Checking off project deliverables, even meeting project goals, is not enough to build a long-term successful firm. The question to ask is

“What impact will this project have on my client’s business?”


“How can I make sure this project will have a positive long-term impact on my client’s business?”

Consultants who accept “the operation was a success but the patient died” as an acceptable outcome are likely to die off themselves.

Team Optimization – A More Compelling Approach

When staffing a project you have to go deeper than availability and ask what skills will we really need to deliver a positive outcome for this client. You won’t get there by looking at generic skills. If you need to apply service design to a project you need to go deeper than the top level skill and look for the component skills, things like ‘touchpoint matrix’ or ‘actors map.’ A good service design expert is genuinely curious about users and has high empathy and emotional intelligence, so they should be part of the profile as well.

Team optimization means balancing the skills you need to deliver real client outcomes while providing all of your talent with meaningful work.

Helping people across your extended talent network

Sometimes you will not have the person you need to deliver a project available. Rather than just using the person available and hoping they are smart enough to learn what needs to be learned on the fly, at least consider reaching out to your extended talent network. This network includes people who do not work for you but have worked with you, and the people that they work with as well. By giving these people work you are building a resilient network, one that will give your firm more, not less, differentiation and an elastic response to shifts in demand.

TeamBuilder_Materials Scientist

TeamFit makes it easy to conduct a skill-based search across your internal, affiliated and open talent networks. You can see just where the key talent is, and make an informed decision on who you want on your team.


Image from Rana Forsati who is doing research on several themes important to the application of data to team building.