Please note: in this guide, we use the term 'consultants' to define any project-based business that offers a service to clients and needs to track time and project progress against estimates.
In a fast moving world, the way a business does things now may not be the optimal way forward for meeting the challenges it faces tomorrow. That’s why ‘agile’ and ‘flexible’ have become such frequently used buzzwords in modern corporate speak. When you have to be constantly ready to renew your processes and objectives to meet changing economies and business realities, you need to ensure you have a lean operation and close tracking of the essentials.
Internal processes are a different matter entirely. Bottlenecks, duplications, inefficiencies and a profusion of incompatible systems are often the norm, and years of reliance on existing processes may blinker even the most dynamic of business leaders from recognising low-hanging improvement opportunities. Undoubtedly, getting leaner is a long-term, continuous process, but three key focus areas provide the ideal starting point on the journey:
1. Making the most out of the various operating systems you use.
2. Helping your team work smarter, not just harder.
3. Empowering your talent to make the most of their potential.
One of the first things to do is to evaluate your various electronic systems and operating processes. Even the most sophisticated of organisation can find that a failure to critically review their technological infrastructure on a regular basis can create major inefficiencies. A major recent review of the Metropolitan Police, for example, found that it was using a mishmash of 750 computer systems “wired together over the last 40 years”. One of its core operating processes was based on a 1970s baggage handling system!
Organisations rarely install all their systems at the same time. Generally, they are added to an existing infrastructure and over time are adapted and integrated as best as possible to meet the needs. Spreadsheets, in particular, are continuously being added to, modified and debugged across the entire company.
Be mindful of the following:
• Do the processes make sense from end-to-end?
• How often does the same piece of data need to be entered manually?
• Is there an intuitive link between one system process and the next?
• If not, how could that be improved?
We do recommend you have a serious think about whether you are overdependent on spreadsheets. The ICAEW recently published a guide: Twenty Principles for Good Spreadsheet Practice in which they say ‘business decisions costing millions of pounds rest on spreadsheet modelling. Yet studies suggest that 90% of them contain mistakes’.
They also said smaller businesses lose a great deal of money through spreadsheets lacking integrity checks and documentation.
Your team is by far and away your greatest asset. And when going through periods of growth, it’s often accepted that everyone will have to pull together and work hard to meet ambitious objectives.
However, an over-focus on how hard, rather than how smart employees work can create resentment, burnout and, ultimately, downward curves in productivity. Instead, the secret is to look at how processes can be implemented efficiently to create a more rewarding and productive atmosphere where everything your employees do is the most effective thing they could be doing for the project in hand plus wider business goals.
• Consider mixing teams up within the office. This may not be logistically possible, but even temporary desk swaps can help employees from different departments gain a greater perspective on the priorities and pressure points of their colleagues. It was a core reason behind the BBC’s introduction of a hot-desking policy – in fact, the flexibility-increasing potential of hotdesking has been estimated to be worth £34bn to UK businesses alone.
• Introduce regular whole team catch-ups, during which each department presents what they have done over the period, achievements they are proud of and priorities for the next month / quarter. When people see why other departments do what they do and how it feeds into the bigger picture, they tend to be more sympathetic to their requirements in the future.
• Create a consistent vocabulary. When different teams use different languages to describe shared actions and processes, it doesn’t just create confusion in cross-department communications, it builds unnecessary inter-team barriers. Develop an agreed business-wide language (with input from stakeholders from all departments) and proactively encourage employees to reduce the use of sector-specific jargon that won’t be understood on the other side of the office.
A lot of internal meetings only take place because:
• somebody needs to know information that another employee already has, or
• they are looking to clarify or validate the data, or
• some problem has been allowed to develop to the point that difficult decisions need to be made, whereas earlier awareness could have nipped the problem in the bud.
To summarise: Is the meeting really necessary? When looking for a project-based management system it’s rare for a business to specify Meeting Reduction as one of the key drivers, whereas if they knew the true costs involved it would be a major requirement.
The very act of getting a project-based business management system can be the breakthrough in getting teams talking – and talking more efficiently. Synergist is designed to ensure that everything is connected, visible and transparent across teams.
By sitting at the heart of a your business and combining all stages of activity – operationally and financially – Synergist encourages collaborative conversations in a language everyone can understand, using data that everyone has played a part in collectively creating and which focuses on the shared big picture.
'People with targets and jobs dependent upon meeting them will probably meet the targets, even if they have to destroy the enterprise to do it’. W. Edwards Deming, mid-20th Century management guru.
While this is a relatively strong claim, there is a growing acceptance that enforcing very specific targets on employees, rather than allowing them to focus on achieving the end goal in the most intuitive way, can actually reduce productivity and make talented personnel overly process driven.
At the same time, however, when you have overall responsibility for ensuring the quality and output of a large team, there is always an irresistible urge to introduce targets and policies that provide reassurance you’ve done your bit to ensure consistency of performance and created clearly understood steps for efficiently completing set tasks.
So, how do you go about creating a dynamic environment that allows your talent to thrive, while maintaining enough signposts and checkpoints to ensure everyone knows what they are aiming for and that nothing goes massively off course along the way?
Make the important admin easier – and more accurate. Accurate invoicing is crucial for any business – there’s no point doing great work if you aren’t billing for it accurately and on time. Yet all too often it can be seen as a time-sucking chore to members of the team.
That’s why well thought-out systems place such a priority on helping users save time, for example with system-generated invoices. After all, for consultants who manage multiple projects at any one time, automation can reduce the time it takes raising individual client invoices by days every month.
Utilising a more integrated system to raise invoices also makes it a lot easier to manage out costs with in costs – matching invoices to related purchase orders – as well as reducing the potential for duplicated invoice numbers and missed charges. The automated approach Synergist advocates also enables consultants to have a real time picture of what has been invoiced, what is left to invoice, and how this relates to work-in-progress reports – empowering them to deliver a much more planned and transparent approach to billing. Read more about how Synergist makes invoicing easier and better.
IN PRACTICE: Synergist puts the intelligence into target setting. You can tailor the package to focus on the targets that matter to you, and, as importantly, to the ambitious members of your team.
For example, you can easily set key targets for projects, clients and consultants such as Revenue by client, Percentage of time spent on chargeable work, or Number and value of prospective projects in sales cycle.
Whatever is relevant and appropriate for the job at hand.
And targets set up on Synergist can be customised and altered per job and client, helping create a flexible environment that's tailored to the goals and objectives of your team members. Best of all, the real-time nature of Synergist means that targets can be monitored and evaluated at any time.
To see the other two guides in the series, click the links: