When I was managing a professional services organization I sometimes felt like the Cat in the Hat! It was fun as long as long as I kept everything balanced but sometimes things would come crashing down.
‘Look at me! Look at me! Look at me NOW!
It is fun to have fun but you have to know how.
I can hold up the cup and the milk and the cake!
I can hold up these books! And the fish on a rake!
I can hold the toy ship and a little toy man!
And look! With my tail I can hold a red fan!
I can fan with the fan as I hop on the ball!
But that is not all. Oh, no. That is not all…’
That is what the cat said… then he fell on his head!
He came down with a bump from up there on the ball.
And Sally and I, we saw ALL the things fall!
And our fish came down, too. He fell into a pot!
He said, ‘do I like this? Oh, no! I do not.
This is not a good game, said our fish as he lit.
No, I do not like it, not one little bit!’
I have been the cat, trying and failing to keep everything up in the air (it was fun while I was doing it). And I have been the Fish, the poor client that got dropped. I have even been the bemused observer watching all the things fall.
(OK, I may have spent too much time with my granddaughter over Canadian Thanksgiving.)
As delivery leaders, how do we end up juggling so many things? Why do they sometimes fall? And what can we do to keep in balance?
Most of our challenges come from having a lot of projects going on at once, all on different schedules, with varying goals, but sometimes calling on the same resources. Keeping all of these different forces aligned is a constant balancing act (kind of like bouncing up and down on a ball while keeping lots of different things in the air).
Where does all this pressure come from?
If you just had to staff one project at a time things would not be too bad. You have the skills and can draw in additional people from your extended talent network. But that is not the real challenge. You have to staff multiple projects at the same time, making sure that each project has the skills needed, while maintaining utilization ratios and driving good project economics: a complex multidimensional optimization problem. This is something you are good at. It is one reason you have your job. And if you just had to balance the internal forces you could probably get a good night’s sleep.
But not everything is in your control. Clients change schedules all the time. That project that is coming in two months from now is still coming in two months from now, until it has to start yesterday. And deliverables tend to drift as project work clarifies things that were left unclear in the sales negotiation or the client’s priorities change.
And then there are all the people involved: they get sick, they go on maternity and paternity leave, they get that dream job, or (and we know this happens) break down under project stress. Human dynamics are key to project success but they are often outside of your control.
Then there are all the macro trends that can have impact how we work. Changes in work regulations, external standards that can impact project requirements, emerging technologies that change how work gets done and even what work needs to get done … all of these impact the balancing act that is delivery management.
Preparing the Future
Given all of the external factors that buffet delivery management it is critical that you prepare for the future. In a professional services firm the person responsible for services delivery holds a key strategic role. It is not enough to juggle all the current projects.
Short-term, the services delivery leader has to be ready to deliver work already in the pipeline. What skills will be needed and when? Do we have the right skills available or will we need to develop new capabilities. Will we grow these internally or find them in our network? Should I be holding people in reserve for that big project just around the corner (which may be delayed or even cancelled) or should I make sure everyone is working now? There are a lot of tradeoffs to be managed and the delivery leader needs better insight into the skills available and the future need in order to really stay on that ball.
Even this is not enough though. It is important to be developing the new capabilities that will win work in the future. Today’s highly prized skills are tomorrow’s commodities. If there is demand more and more people will pick up the skill and smart software engineers will find a way to automate large chunks of the work.
We are building TeamFit to help the delivery lead stay on that ball and bounce it into future success. Right now, our focus is on giving real insight to the skills available and to building individual teams. This is just the beginning. Contact us to find out how we are going to help optimize allocations across multiple teams, rebalance in response to demand, and prepare for the future.
Want to try TeamFit?
Top image, cover of the classic image of The Cat in the Hat. If you have not read this recently, it is worth a reread. A classic (said Thing One to Thing Two).