Skills Management Maturity for Professional Services

February 8, 2019 John Allison

A diverse group of business men and women sitting at a table for professional services

People are critical assets for any professional services organization. No matter how well defined your products or services are, your primary driver for ongoing customer satisfaction is generally embodied in your people’s ability to interpret, advise, and execute customer needs in an efficient and effective manner. Having a system that defines and measures skill sets will help ensure you have the right people in place at the right time.

Nurture Quality Capability and Skills Organizational Data
In the evolving age of data-driven decision making, many organizations still rely heavily on tribal knowledge, invalidated assumptions, and/or organizational data silos that limit the strategic value around resource skills and capabilities data sets. Overall, this can reduce competitive advantage over organizations farther along the Professional Services Automation (PSA) maturity curve. Specifically, this can increase sub-optimal downstream issues, including:  

  • Skill availability gaps
  • High performer burnout and churn
  • Ongoing customer satisfaction issues
  • Higher variation in on-time and on-budget, general solution quality issues
  • Increased non-billable, goodwill hours 

Potential results include: 

  • Lower profitability
  • Reduced productive throughput
  • Lower customer satisfaction
  • Higher stakeholder (customer, management and personnel) churn

As you can see, regardless of how big or small your organization, systematically understanding your comprehensive capabilities and continually assessing alignment to market offerings and delivery performance results are more important than ever.

Define a Global Unified Capability Governance Process
Most modern PSA solutions, including FinancialForce PSA, provide the native ability to associate skills and certifications with consultants. This primarily helps the user refine consultant identification and availability during engagement resource planning and fulfillment activities. This, in and of itself, moves the needle on the professional services maturity curve. 

At a minimum, this association requires an organization to maintain its skills definitions and periodically update consultant skills scoring. In practice, however, many organizations often struggle with applying a consistent and predictable method for scoring consultants. The result is incomplete, arbitrary, and ultimately, unusable data. Ensuring a methodical process for maintenance, scoring, and governance is your first step to reaping more value from your PSA system.

Encourage Continuous Improvement for Resource Capabilities Management
Organizations often don’t dedicate sufficient time and resources to optimizing resource management business processes. That can lead to a reactive skills repository instead of informed strategic differentiators. Reactive and unrefined skills repositories may reflect unsubstantiated capabilities, out-of-date information, or generic and arbitrary values in an echo chamber. Even worse, the repositories are not representative of what actually drives true strategic value for the organization. 

Although generic HR data may be beneficial from a personnel perspective, you can derive much more value from strategic capability catalysts aligned to marketplace competitiveness. Skills repositories should align with current and future strategic service offerings and continually be informed by:

  • Actual customer demand
  • Sales pipeline 
  • Market trends 
  • Competitor analysis 
  • Customer satisfaction

Classify Opportunities and Product Offerings by Skills and Capability Profiles
Even the best professional services organizations can find themselves in continual discovery mode in sales opportunities. Constantly trying to react and adjust to evolving market trends can lead to “can we do this” or “who might know something about...” email chains that frequently get lost in the mix. 

Tagging opportunities with skills and capabilities up front, and assessing those opportunities early in the sales cycle allows for better resource management planning and more strategic insights over time. Even if the opportunity is not a good fit at the current time or the opportunity is “closed-lost,” the insights can be later strategically leveraged from both a go-to-market perspective and a delivery capability perspective.

Maintain Unified Resource Capability Profiles
Skills, certifications, and capabilities should also be systematically assessed and aligned to HR candidate pipelines. Candidate skills and capability profiles should be curated over time that align to role, delivery methodology, and skill thresholds so that active consultants can be compared to and aligned with the candidate pipeline. 

Delivery managers and HR recruiters need to work together to assess these generic profiles on an ongoing basis against delivery metrics, industry and job growth forecasts, and training programs. Recruiters can initially create the profiles using resumes and interviews. The opportunity pipeline and in-flight project demand can subsequently leverage and align to candidate pipelines based on resource requests. This provides a broader purview between candidate pipeline, opportunity pipeline, and project demand, which creates a more efficient application of “right person, right time.” It also offers more flexibility and options regarding how to solve for demand. HRMS and PSA systems must be synchronized to enable a clear path of visibility between corporate functions.

Create Service Delivery Playbooks
A well-defined service delivery playbook that aligns go-to-market assets, contract development assets, and delivery planning assets into a unified model can deliver huge rewards for the investment. By defining and socializing predictable and repeatable service delivery playbooks, an organization can focus energy on quality and proactive risk mitigation instead of muddling through ambiguity as functional groups toss things “over the wall" and move on, leaving a wake of confusion behind them. 

Service offerings are substantially defined templates that help you align predictability and transparency between go-to-market communications, contracting, pre-project planning efforts, and, ultimately, predictable delivery aligning all upstream refinements and activities. More mature organizations realize shorter sales cycles, more predictable demand planning, more predictable delivery models, and higher margin and customer satisfaction. Structured unified sales-to-delivery processes enable organizations to: 

  • Remove barriers for improved transparency and communication
  • Reduce anxiety sales and delivery teams experience due to  ambiguity
  • Empower higher productivity for both sales and delivery teams

Professional services organizations higher on the maturity curve use generic resources with well-defined skills profiles and cost models aligned to service offering templates. They also initiate unified resource planning activities (HR, Ops, and Delivery) and/or planning projects to gain visibility and forecasting earlier in the sales-to-delivery cycle. 

Obviously, the timing of these activities is dependent on the transparency and predictability of sales pipeline activities. But, regardless of “closed-won” outcomes, investment in classifying, aligning, and gathering marketplace data information can still provide deep strategic value beyond “closed-won.” Smart organizations leverage all strategic data value to optimize organization decisions and offerings alignment.

Standardize Skills Assessment Process
The most mature professional organizations seek a 360°-view of personnel through a structured process, such as an annual performance review. Many of these reviews are housed in HR systems that, despite the reviews containing valuable information and insights about employee performance, limit the ability to leverage this data to systematically improve organization capabilities. HR systems are useful for performance reviews, but you can do more to improve metrics-based assessments that facilitate real-time insights into your organization's strategic capabilities and capability gaps. 

PSA systems, with the ability to tie scoring assessments to actual performance, are the perfect location for this information. High performing organizations enable transparency and well-defined business processes to assess and optimize skills and capabilities without alienating, discouraging, or restricting talent. By setting clear objectives based on both quantitative and qualitative targets, all resources in these organizations understand what is expected from them and have clear pathways to align their own career aspirations to the organization’s strategic roadmap. 

The following encourages employee engagement and reduces low morale caused by arbitrary and opaque career development practices:

  • Self-assessments
  • Peer reviews
  • Mentor support
  • Non-billable cross training
  • A clear understanding of capabilities tied to role levels

By enabling resources to be accountable to their own skills and being transparent to how those align with the organization’s needs, high performing organizations optimize the skills and capabilities they currently have. Additionally, they systematically unlock all the avenues to nurture and build those capabilities for a strategic future.

Leverage Skills Alignment as a Strategic Differentiator
By thinking through the skills definitions sufficiently to account for current and future demand, organizations establish the delivery capability baseline that enables deeper analysis. Through the collection of real-time information about these skills at the project, practice, and organization levels, organizations benefit from up-to-date analysis based on true capabilities. 

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About the Author

John Allison

John, a Principal Consultant at Appirio, has 20 years' experience leading technology programs for distinguished enterprises, internet, and consulting organizations. He has hands-on, up-to-date operations, management, and delivery expertise. John is recognized for cross-functional leadership and fostering a culture of continuous improvement and managed optimized growth.

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