Gantt Charts are a tool that many professional services organizations (PSOs) have found useful for project planning, and for driving the overall success of their services team.
What is a Gantt Chart?
For those who don’t know, a Gantt Chart is a visual method for project planning that helps a services team accomplish their tasks, and work together as a team fluidly. Put simply, a Gantt chart puts all those pieces of a project (tasks) together for better insights into the overall project. Ultimately this improves team communication, project efficiency and potentially even helps grow revenue
Gantt Charts and Project Planning:
Gantt charts are just one tool for project planning, but one that many services teams find incredibly useful. Differing from other project management tools, a Gantt Chart allows a services team to quickly see a visual of the entire project including the route to its completion, rather than just the next task at hand.
Laid out in timeline order, different bars represent the tasks needing completion, and align to show what tasks are dependent on the completion of another, thereby forming the team’s “critical path”. The critical path is what helps a services team visualize the route they must take to complete the project, and the estimated timeline for project completion.
If a project’s tasks are largely dependent on each other, then it’s hard to visualize how all those blocks need to stack up for a project to be successful. A Gantt chart helps the whole team visualize “the build”, and then divide and conquer to meet project deadlines.
Driving Team Success:
Gantt Charts can improve visibility across a services team and improve collaboration. They do so by highlighting how a team needs to come together to make a project successful. When you can easily visualize task dependencies it’s easier to prevent steps from being bottlenecked and open the doors for clear communication.
They also allow the team to focus on the success of the project. The defined critical path keeps the project moving forward towards success. Rather than crossing items off a list, a services team can use a Gantt Chart to visualize how each step brings them closer to successful project completion. If roadblocks do occur, the team can also easily map out where the necessary changes in the project need to be made in order to accommodate the roadblock and clearly identify what the risk or setback will look like so they can then keep the client informed.
Although Gantt charts are known as a “big picture” planning tool, they are also very useful in understanding where the team members stand on the day-to-day. Milestones help divide up the critical path into focus areas or phases of the project.
Features of a great Gantt Chart:
While many PSA and Project Management tools will have Gantt Chart capabilities, some have greater functionality than others.
Klient PSA, for example, has made significant improvements to their Gantt Chart experience in recent releases, working off feedback from real services teams who use the Gantt Chart for their project planning.
Klient’s updated Gantt Chart features include: full inline editing, rapid task creation, drag-drop of task sequence, quick predecessor creation by wbs or task name, task scheduling directly from the Gantt, configurable columns display, split-pane, and much more deliver an exceptional experience for managing projects. The new Gantt experience is available as a standard page as well as a new Lightning Component.
So you made the decision to adopt a Professional Services Automation (PSA) solution for your organization? Great choice! But the work is not over. Once you’ve decided which PSA tool is right for your business, you now need to approach the implementation process strategically in order to unlock the full potential of the solution. That strategy must include processes and practices that will encourage employee adoption of the solution, since a tool is only as powerful as the people who wield it.
Here are three strategies to ensure that the people who will use your PSA solution are not only excited about the new tool and eager to make use of it, but will also be equipped with the knowledge and training they require in order to use it wisely and maximize your investment into the product:
Get buy-in from your team early by outlining the benefits of adopting the new solution
In order to achieve wide-spread adoption and support of the new solution, getting employee buy-in right from the start of the process is key. Clearly identify and outline for your team the reasons why your organization is investing in this solution and how its functionality will be of benefit to them and help solve problems or challenges they currently face.
Be sure to establish and share the business benefits you are expecting to achieve after go-live. This can include benefits such as achieving scalability, reducing overhead, or increasing business predictability.
Allow your team an opportunity to describe current challenges they face specific to their individual departments, and explain to them how they can use the new solution to help them overcome those challenges.
Start by training a few select people on your team, and make sure you have representation from every department that will ultimately use the solution
Approach your implementation with a select team of employees that are excited to try out the new solution and that represent different stakeholders in your organization.
A PSA implementation team that includes stakeholders from only the services team, for example, will miss critical requirements from sales, resourcing and the back office, which will slow down adoption across the organization. If you run a consulting organization, involving someone who understands the needs of your consultants in the project planning will go a long way to ensuring consultants will use the tool when it goes live. Take time to understand who will actually be utilizing the tool and include representatives from those different areas of the organization in the actual implementation process so any potential challenges can be raised in a proactive manner.
Encourage feedback and check-in regularly with your team to address concerns
Once you’ve gone live with the solution, don’t just sit back and hope that your employees are adopting the tool to its full capacity. Schedule monthly check-ins where you sit down with various departments and ask questions about how they’re using the tool, where it’s benefiting them most, where it isn’t solving their challenges, how it could be used better, areas where they could use some additional training, etc.
Doing so will encourage your employees to test new features of the tool and find new ways to use it, and they will trust that their feedback is being taken seriously and that the organization is interested in helping make their jobs easier by maximizing the effectiveness of the solution.
Resource utilization is one of the key measures that services firms use to gauge the efficiency of their businesses.
It expresses what percentage of their time people spend generating revenue for the organization. Since the vast majority of resources in most services firms are salaried employees, that time not spent generating revenue is still costing the organization money.
Whether you’re the VP of services, a project manager, resource manager, or consultant, you should know that utilization is critical to your bottom line, and always look for better ways to track it and improve it.
Here are a few essential ways to improve resource utilization for your professional services business:
Have the right people for the right job at the right time
Being “resource-ready” is about more than just ensuring your employee headcount is large enough to handle influxes of work. It’s also about knowing you have the best possible resources, with a variety of skills and experience under their belts, to equip you to handle projects of all types and sizes. Having the right team on the right project at the right time is what truly drives success for services organizations. It’s a huge piece of what keeps projects on track, margins in line, and customers happy.
One way to improve this is by ensuring your sales and services teams are working with the same data, in the same system, from the same customer record, so everyone involved has a view of current customer projects, staff commitment, and pipeline. The sales team will know what service levels they can promise, while the services team can see what’s in the pipeline and build the right staff to deliver.
Track utilization using the right tools
If you’re still using spreadsheets to track utilization, the time to stop was yesterday. Resource managers can attest that nothing throws utilization off its axis quite like the chaos of managing resources, conflicting schedules, and a wide-range of billable rates. Not only is it extremely time-consuming to use spreadsheets to track utilization, but it also sets you up to make numerous potential errors that could be damaging to your margin tracking and profitability.
To improve utilization tracking, look for a powerful and modern professional services automation (PSA) solution that will make it possible to automate utilization tracking with speed and accuracy.
Don’t forget to track utilization against profits, too
Tracking utilization in itself is important, but at the end of the day operating a successful professional services organization will not be possible if your utilization rates are at an all-time high, but your bill rates are going down.
In the professional services industry, utilization and profitability are two sides of the same coin. It’s quite simple to optimize one at the expense of the other, at least in the short run. Discount your rates heavily, and your utilization will soar, but to the detriment of profitability. Overwork your people without investing in training and professional development, and you’ll see great resource utilization today, only to see major drops in profitability next quarter. Figuring out how to optimize both at the same time is one of the real keys to running a successful professional services business.
This is another instance where it pays to have sales and services teams on the same page with access to the same data.
Leverage a PSA solution built native on Salesforce to keep Sales and Services in sync
By unifying all the data related to your customers, projects, resources, financials, all in one place, not only does it make calculating utilization and increasing it easier, but it accounts for every detail and ensures that your sales team and services team will have access to the same data and be able to work together for the greater good of the organization as a whole.
One way to improve the synchronicity between sales and services teams is to leverage a PSA solution that is connected to your CRM tool, like Salesforce. A modern PSA solution connected to your CRM system has become a no-brainer when it comes to boosting your utilization figures. Leading industry analyst firms like Gartner, Services Performance Insights (SPI), and Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), report that when organizations have a PSA solution integrated with a CRM, their utilization is 4% higher than organizations that don’t have the same system in place.
Today’s professional services organization (PSO) landscape is changing—employees are harder to recruit and retain, a globalized marketplace increases competition for clients, clients want more for less, and management can no longer afford to be focused on short-term firefighting instead of long-term strategy.
As a result, PSOs are shifting from a project-focus to a customer-focus, with an increased emphasis on ensuring client satisfaction throughout the entire lifecycle of a project. This means keeping customers happy from the time the sale is made, right through until project completion and go-live.
But how do you know if your client is truly satisfied with the entire service delivery process? One way services organizations today are staying on top of customer satisfaction, is by using customer health check statuses throughout a project’s lifecycle, in order to monitor customer sentiment and feedback at every step along the way.
What is a Customer Health Check Status?
A Customer Health Check Status is a means of assessing the health of a project in terms of meeting customer expectations, staying on budget, achieving project milestones and timelines, etc.
Most companies will track customer health check statuses using customer health scores. While every company calculates theirs differently, the important thing is to have a health score methodology that helps your company align your customer success processes with the outcomes you’re trying to drive with your customer base. However, if you’re not using a health score calculation method that uses predictive analytics, you’re falling behind many customer success pacesetters.
Why is a Customer Health Check Status important?
While there are many reasons a PSO may wish to track customer health, TSIA typically views 3 use cases for health check statuses:
1. Predict Customer Churn
Helpful categories to look at here can range from detailed product adoption analytics, such as knowing how many times a customer is logging into your application, or even the process it takes to complete a task. You could also have extremely high-level categories, such as a report of how many times a customer has attended an education session or has consumed some kind of formal training.
Knowing these key metrics can help you predict if a customer is likely to continue adopting your product or service and renew with your organization in the future.
2. Predict Expansion
It is just as important to know when your customers need more help, and there is nothing wrong with selling them more technology and services during their journey toward accomplishing their desired outcome. Like a good doctor, organizations focused around Customer Success should think about prescribing the next logical step in their customer’s journey with the goal of achieving progress and ultimately some success against a quantifiable and measurable business outcome. In some cases, this would require additional technology and services from either your company, or another third party.
The question is, do you know when it’s the right time to do this, and do you have the predictive ability to do so? Customer Health Check Statuses can help with this.
3. Predict Your Customer’s Business Outcomes And Use Their Feedback To Improve
The next logical step in the customer success continuum will be to use predictive analytics and feedback methodology to dynamically engage with your customers along their journey. As their organization adopts your product or service, monitor their feedback and suggestions along the way and use the information they provide you as a way to improve and help their business achieve greater success in the future.
PSA Tools and Customer Health Check Statuses
In order to easily monitor customer health scores, more and more services organizations are selecting Professional Services Automation (PSA) tools with customer health check statuses built into the functionality of the platform.
For example, Klient PSA offers the ability to create and deliver project and customer surveys including NPS, CSAT, or free-form surveys to analyze client feedback and sentiment, learn from project engagements, and help build long-term customer advocacy to increase retention and expand selling.
It also offers health check statuses throughout the project so that project managers and customers can visually see if a project is on track. Plus, with customer and partner communities, Klient PSA users can easily collaborate and engage directly with customers and partners for project success. This includes the ability to share project status information, work directly on projects and tasks, enable partner time & expense entry, share client invoices and more.
By increasing communication between the customer and the services delivery team, and by offering opportunity for customer feedback at every stage of a project, services teams can ensure they are meeting customer expectations throughout the entire lifecycle of a project and fostering strong customer health scores.
How Customer Health Check Statuses can Ultimately Improve Services Delivery
By listening to feedback from customers and identifying areas where things didn’t go as planned, or where projects were misaligned with customer expectations, services organizations can adjust and make improvements for the future.
A strong customer-centric PSA tool can support this by offering integrated customer feedback to ensure the project team understands how the customer is feeling and can take action if the client is unhappy at any point throughout the project. Plus, forecasting and reporting functionality in a customer-centric PSA allows for informed decision-making that will empower management to develop a business strategy that will keep customers satisfied for years to come.
On the surface, invoicing for professional services organizations seems like a simple concept.
For services organizations just starting out, oftentimes it’s as easy as downloading an Excel invoicing template for consulting services, punching in your hours and rate, rendering a services invoice, and sending it to the client.
However, as services teams grow past 25 consultants, firms begin to focus their attention on streamlining the invoicing process. But quite often, even some of the largest professional services organizations are still approaching the vital task of invoicing incorrectly. Given that invoicing directly affects cash flow for a business, it seems like something that organizations should dedicate time to getting right, yet to this day perfecting the invoicing process continues to be put on the back-burner by many services teams.
Excel Invoicing Templates Are Not Enough
There’s a time and a place for Excel – but invoicing is not it. A key trait of any growing services business is the ability for top management to solve problems quickly and efficiently. Talk to anyone who has spent time managing a professional services organization and they will tell you that they spend most of their time “putting out fires.” As a result, Excel becomes a manager’s go-to fire extinguisher–it’s easy to understand, it can get the job done quickly, and it’s flexibility allows you to make things look the way you want. When it comes to invoicing for services work, however, that is where the benefits of using Excel end.
The invoicing process can be a tedious one. Even one small mistake could cost a business tens of thousands of dollars, often without anyone even noticing. And, the process can occupy a lot of time and resources if not done efficiently. With Excel, every step of the process – creating, proofing, approving, adjusting, and sending invoices – introduces inefficiency.
Not only is using Excel for invoicing labor intensive and error prone, but the manual processes can also reduce visibility and transparency for senior management who need insight into the performance of the business.
If Not Excel, Then What?
When it comes to replacing Excel templates, invoicing software seems like the obvious answer. But for professional services businesses, invoicing software isn’t usually offered as a standalone solution. Most commonly, it is part of a financial management solution, a time and expense tracking tool, or a professional services automation (PSA) suite. A typical and costly mistake that many services teams make, is selecting a type of invoicing solution that is unable to accurately support the needs of their business.
Financial Accounting Software
When thinking about generating invoices, financial accounting solutions seem like a natural starting place. That said, for professional services organizations invoices are more about people and projects than they are about simple debit and credit transactions.
If a services team plans to grow past just a few consultants, or is already well past that size, it’s probable that the organization will outgrow their accounting system quickly and won’t be able to rely on it for generating invoices and tracking project progress.
This doesn’t mean, however, that invoices for professional services work will not need to find their way into an accounting application to track receivables, cash flow, and outstanding balances. To accomplish this, it’s best practice to leverage a solution outside of an accounting application to generate invoices that can be integrated back to a business’s financial accounting solution. Robust solutions will have pre-built integrations to some of the most popular accounting packages, allowing data to flow seamlessly from one application to the other.
Time And Expense Software
Software designed for time and expense tracking is a much more natural fit when it comes to the invoicing process for services teams. These tools are better developed to manage people and projects and make it easier to translate activities into the financial components of an invoice.
However, time and expense software is not without its limitations. Missed or forgotten transactions, for example, can be problematic with a time and expense tracking tool. If the software a business is using is not able to recognize when a billing milestone has been achieved, it can go un-invoiced for quite some time, creating revenue leakage and reducing cash flow as a result.
Professional Services Automation (PSA)
For services organizations achieving growth, the only real answer when it comes to the right tool for invoicing is a professional services automation software.
A PSA software is a project management and resource management software rolled into one easy-to-use platform. The value that PSA software brings to the invoicing process can be seen in both reduced revenue leakage, and increased efficiency.
Reducing Revenue Leakage:
Consolidating invoicing and time tracking into the same system helps to eliminate revenue leakage. PSA software takes the process a step further by focusing on collecting all of the time that can be billed, and ensuring it reaches the invoicing process. Robust PSA solutions will have a detailed understanding of how much time is anticipated in a given period. Based on project schedules, a PSA solution will alert project leaders when things aren’t going according to plan. More importantly, a PSA solution will understand the difference between earning revenue and sending an invoice. This helps to recognize revenue properly on fixed price work.
A PSA solution will also allow project managers and finance teams to model exactly how they would like to bill their clients up front. With so many different contract terms available, this allows the organization to seamlessly complete the invoicing process in whatever manner suits them. Finance teams can complete the invoicing workflow quickly without the headache of manual processes. More importantly, this structure drives accountability throughout the entire invoicing process. Finance Managers and CFOs are provided a detailed view of exactly what has been billed, how it has been adjusted, and what is still being waited on. This helps streamline the business’s month-end processes and frees up valuable time and resources to focus on other important projects.
Perfecting the Invoicing Process With PSA
Through leveraging a PSA solution, organizations can reduce errors and increase efficiency, while also ensuring that cash flow follows closely behind work being performed. And, as the business grows, they offer a scalable invoicing process which means fewer fires to put out.
As your Professional Services Organization grows and evolves, the software and tools you use to be successful will inevitably change over time as well.
Eventually the time will come when your simple time and expense or basic project management software will no longer be sufficient for running your business effectively, and you will need to consider implementing a more robust and comprehensive project management tool such as a Professional Services Automation (PSA) solution.
However, changing the tools your employees have come to know and be comfortable with can often be challenging. It usually helps if you can encourage your team to be excited about the new software by showing them how valuable it will be in helping them do their job more efficiently.
Here are 6 strategies to consider when introducing new project management software to your team in order to gain their support and make the transition as frictionless as possible:
#1. Talk about it early and get your team’s buy-in
It’s important to remember that you never want to blindside your team with new project management software. Make sure they know new software will be coming as early as possible (even before you determine which software to purchase). It can also help to get team members’ feedback on features they’d like to see in the software. These conversations can help warm them up to the idea of a new software solution while getting them excited about the new functionality they’ll be able to take advantage of.
Be wary, however, about asking your team which software they’d like you to implement. By doing so, you’re likely to receive a wide range of responses making it nearly impossible in the end for you to select one that will please everyone. Instead, ask your team members ahead of time which features they’d most like to see. You can also offer them a list of potential features to rank in order of importance. Let them know you’ll use that feedback to find the right project management software for the team as a whole.
#2. Make sure the software you select is a true replacement for existing tools that are important to your team
Make sure your new software is an ample replacement for whatever tools your team currently uses to manage similar tasks. If a team member doesn’t feel that the software fulfills his or her needs, they’re more likely to continue relying on their old project management methods instead of making the switch.
You may be trying to replace 2 or more tools with 1 new and more comprehensive tool, but be sure to double check that the new tool will have all of the functionality that is crucial to your team’s success and that you aren’t taking away any important capabilities from them. Adding new functionality and creating easier ways of doing things is a plus, but be careful that you’re not eliminating capabilities by sunsetting software that is imperative to the team’s performance while offering no suitable replacement.
#3. Have the basics set up before you introduce the software to your team
The setup process for a new project management tool can be time consuming. Having basics in place, such as team member logins, project information, client information, etc., before introducing the software to the team can help things go more smoothly. It will make the migration process to the new software seem less daunting and will also provide real-world examples for your demo/training instead of hypothetical ones.
Remember that the less tedious setup your team has to do before they dive in and start using the software, the more likely they are to quickly adopt it and begin using it to its full potential.
#4. Make sure everyone receives appropriate training in advance of migrating completely to the new software
Each member of your team likely has different levels of comfort with technology and differing abilities for learning new software. Tailor training experiences based on the comfort level of your employees. Some may prefer to attend a web-based training with a support rep or a detailed in-house training session. Others may prefer to watch a couple of online tutorials then explore the software themselves. Whatever the method, what’s most important is ensuring each employee gets some form of real training. This helps to create positive first interactions, enables them to more effectively use the tools, and helps them to hit the ground running when it’s time to migrate to the new software.
It may also be beneficial to select 2 or 3 people from your team who are eager to learn new software, and generally adopt to new technology easily, to become in-house experts on your new project management software. These individuals can help the implementation process by answering questions that your other team members may not otherwise have reached out to support to ask, and can assist you in training the rest of the team.
#5. Allow a sunset period with the existing tool and give enough time for your team to switch over to the new software comfortably
It’s important to fully detach from the previous tool(s), but not immediately and not without warning. It can take time to fully move all of the information over and to migrate to the new system. It can also take time for your team to adjust.
However, as much as it’s important to allow time for adjustment, it’s equally important to have a hard stop date. With advanced warning, your employees can adjust and transfer information without feeling rushed. They are also less likely to hang around in the old system for their own convenience.
Set this stop date while in advance and make sure everyone on the team knows that they should ask the necessary questions and request additional training if they need to, in order to ensure they are comfortable with the new software by this deadline.
Is your team considering a more comprehensive project management tool?