Faster project cycles

More diverse teams

Pressure to perform

Professional services are evolving rapidly, and with it the tools and systems we use to deliver are changing as well. There has been no change in the fundamentals. It is still about People with Skills delivering Projects. The art is to design projects that will have a positive impact for clients, which draw on the differentiated skills available and that help people succeed in their careers.
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Let’s unpack these one at a time.

Projects that have an impact

A great consultant is one who is able to listen to the array of challenges a client faces and distill these into a project with clear deliverables; one that can be delivered and that will have a lasting impact. (See Skills of a great consultant) To do this over time means tracking project outcomes. Over the next few years expect to see systems that go beyond simply managing projects to systems that track results over time and across projects.

Differentiated skills

Generic commoditized skills lead to generic commoditized projects. These projects will not have an impact and will not help people succeed in their careers. Professional services leaders need to drive differentiation and the way to do this is through a fine-grained understanding of skills. There is a base of common skills that most professional services companies will have: client management, project management and core technical skills specific to their domain. Differentiation does not come from these skills. They are table stakes, something every credible company has. Differentiation comes in two ways: from rare skills that few companies have at a high degree of expertise or from blending two or more unusual skill sets and connecting them together (See Long-tail skills).

Help people succeed in their careers

Professional services companies live on the skills of their people, and they need to continually invest in developing these skills. This is the key to differentiation, but even more importantly, it is how to retain people in a talent hungry world. People who are not learning new skills and being given a chance to apply them will leave your company. Aspirational skills, those skills people want to invest their own time in and develop, are as important to a company, as are core skills and differentiating skills.

Software systems for professional services

Software vendors are responding to the pressure on professional services companies by providing platforms to support higher performance. There have been two basic approaches. One is ERP for professional services. These are the professional services automation (PSA) platforms provided by the major ERP vendors and a few specialist firms such as Deltek and Unamet. Like ERP systems in general, these solutions tend to be oriented towards financials and resource management, process driven, and of interest mostly to the CFO. They have not led to improved performance at the individual or project level. This is true even of the new generation of PSA like FinancialForce, a system built on and leveraging the Force.com platform provided by Salesforce.

All is not lost. Other companies have focussed in on the key areas that do drive individual and project performance. These are the next generation Project Management, Skills Management, Talent Management and Collaboration Solutions.

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There are now proven offers for each of these critical functions. Even better, vendors understand that no one system has all of the answers and are making it easy to build integrations across different systems. This is the approach we are taking with TeamFit.

Our first round of integrations is focused on Slack for collaboration plus Asana and Basecamp for project management.

Teams that have adopted Slack for collaboration can find skills, learn about their teammates and update their Skill Maps from inside Slack channels. Collaboration alone is not enough to get to project success.

Project management is key. The old style of managing a project through complex Gant charts does not cut it in a today’s world. Two alternative approaches have emerged. Project management platforms such as Asana, Basecamp and Wrike (TeamFit will add support for Wrike in the fall of 2016) provide well structured support for project teams. TeamFit uses this information to track the skills used on a project and as an input into its Project Pulse module (Project Pulse tracks the probability of project success during a project and is being extended to cover long-term project outcomes). Sometimes the structured approach of these project management solutions is too limiting. An alternative is the Kanban approach taken by Trello and recently adopted by Microsoft in its new product Microsoft Planner. We are currently researching how to best connect skills management with Kanban-based platforms.

Integration has to be easy. Today’s teams cannot wait on complex integration projects implemented by IT. TeamFit has a growing number of Apps with built in connectivity: Google for contact management; LinkedIn for skills and connections; Slack for collaboration; and Asana and Basecamp for project management.

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More integrations are in the works. Let us know what integrations you see as critical in the emerging professional services systems ecosystem. Send your thoughts here!

See the TeamFit presentation Integrating Professional Services for Higher Performance on Slideshare.