Originally published in the July issue of Professional Services Journal.
Leonardo da Vinci was the ultimate Renaissance Man. It’s hard to comprehend that the same person who painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper was also an accomplished military engineer, architect and mathematician. Da Vinci had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge in both the arts and sciences as well as a unique ability to combine concepts from those diverse fields.
Very few of us are ever likely to rise to the level of producing enduring masterpieces that stand the test of centuries. Nevertheless, we do have the occasional opportunity to combine concepts from widely disparate disciplines and exercise both halves of our brains.
To achieve like da Vinci, professional services firms need to combine art and science in the pursuit of managing resources in a professional services environment.
The traditional view of the left brain is the scientific, logical, mathematical, analytical half of the equation. In the professional services environment, it’s the aspect of resource management that deals with patterns of availability, utilization targets, resourcing approval workflows. It’s the distillation of consultants’ educations and experiences into quantitative assessments, certification levels, and skills databases.
It’s the mathematical algorithms used to calculate best fit scenarios amongst multiple potential candidates. It’s the structured request and approval workflows we use to make sure the right people get on the right projects at the right times, but only if approved by the right managers.
It’s the forecast variance models we use to take all this deterministic data and layer on natural stochastic variation into future staffing and revenue prediction ranges. It’s all the stuff governed by known facts, algorithms, mathematical truisms.
In short, it’s what electrons and silicon and bits and code are supremely good at. Something like professional services automation, or PSA, software.
It’s not, however, the whole story.
The purely rational, analytical, procedural method of assigning resources by algorithm works great in some environments. Production management software is great at managing the flow of entirely identical widgets through manufacturing lines. Field dispatch systems can optimize the heck out of scheduling completely interchangeable field service technicians.
As anyone who’s managed a professional services team knows “entirely identical” and “completely interchangeable” are words that rarely describe the professional services environment. There are many factors that can make a huge impact on the wisdom of assigning an individual person to a particular project.
Perhaps the resource and the project manager don’t get along. Or, the candidate has never worked on a particular technology before, but is passionate about learning it. Maybe the rest of the team is skewed very senior and could absorb the risk of a less experienced person. Perhaps the client is manic and could use a relationship manager with a calming demeanor.
This is the stuff that relies heavily on grey matter and empathy and intuition. This could be a resource manager or a scheduler or an operations team or a PMO. Either way, it’s definitely human.
The most successful resource management systems and processes combine silicon and grey matter in a ratio that matches the needs of the organization. A staff augmentation firm that runs a clearinghouse of more interchangeable, more commoditized resources, may skew towards the more automated, algorithm-driven end of the left brain/right brain continuum. A boutique management consultancy that relies heavily on relationships between principals and clients may skew the other way.
The point here is that smart professional services organizations will make conscious decisions about how much structure and automation to put in place and how much to rely on smart people to embody their resource management processes. Only in the rarest of cases will they rely entirely on one or the other.
Rather, most successful organizations will figure out how to use PSA software to model the information that it’s good at modeling. They will then position the resource management software to support their resource managers. In the same way that the left brain and right brain work together as a united whole, the PSA software needs to work seamlessly with its users. It does this by providing the information schedulers require to make decisions and by supplying the tools necessary to allow them to execute those decisions efficiently.
How is your brain doing?
All this is not to say that your choice of your PSA solution is not important. Quite the contrary … there are dramatic variations in how well different PSA tools support their users’ and their organizations’ resource management efforts as Image 1 shows.
Image 1: Impact of effective professional services resource management tools.
Based on the independent PS Maturity Model Benchmark by Service Performance Insight, vendors whose users rated their PSA solutions as having more effective resource scheduling tools found that they were able to staff their projects faster than their competitors, resulting in higher billable utilization.
In fact, of all vendors with more than 5 respondents (out of 549 total), the 50 Projector users who participated rated Projector as the most effective resource management tool, had the fastest staffing workflows, and enjoyed the highest billable utilization.
So, no matter how you think about managing resources in the professional services environment, whether it be a left brain/right brain combination or a melding of art and science, the point is that this process is a complex, multi-dimensional problem.
It can’t be solved with systems alone. It also can’t be solved — at least not efficiently — with people in isolation. It requires a combination of the right professional services resource management system that’s able to support the right team, all wrapped together with the right process.
If you’re looking for a PSA system designed from the start to work with its users to combine the art and science of resource management, check out Projector’s professional services automation software. We hope Leonardo would approve of what we’ve done.
If you’re interested in comparing the effectiveness of your resource scheduling process and your resulting utilization against market averages and against Projector, take a look at our performance scorecard.