Professional Services Project Management

Professional services project management balances the need to deliver client projects on time and on budget, while also maintaining the company’s own profit margins. To accomplish this, project managers must be diligent during the planning phase to come up with accurate time and budget estimates and look for ways to streamline their processes to increase efficiency. 

Read on to learn about the different types of professional services projects, how to create a well-thought-out statement of work, gain best practices from industry professionals, and find a template that will help you get started on your next services project.

What Is Professional Services Project Management?

By nature, professional services is a project-based industry. However, the types of projects can vary vastly to include a range of occupations that provide support to businesses of all sizes and in all industries.

From onboarding clients to new software to supporting companies with accounting or auditing efforts, professional services project managers must not only have the project management know-how to complete complex projects but also master the art of managing external client-facing projects.

Additionally, professional services project managers could work for a services firm or be within the services or consulting department of a general business like a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company.  

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Key Areas of Knowledge for Professional Services

As mentioned, a professional services project manager must have the core set of skills that any project manager would be expected to have. However, the mix of the skills may be different. Here are some key areas of focus for professional services PMs:

  • Master stakeholder management. Stakeholder management is essential to any project, but on customer-facing initiatives, the customer will be a regular contact where the PM is the voice and face of the vendor. Customer-facing PMs must place even more emphasis on communication throughout the project to maintain a high level of confidence from the customer.
  • Build the right team. In any project, having the right team with the right skillset is important in your ability to manage successful projects. But with client-facing professional services projects, team members may work very closely with customers and can build working relationships that may undermine the overall project. The team must always defer to the project manager and project plan to avoid making unapproved scope changes or communicating information outside of the approved channels.
  • Own the customer relationship. The project manager must maintain the lead when it comes to managing the project and the customer. This includes setting accurate expectations, protecting your team from work overload and scope creep, and maintaining frequent customer communication. If not managed well, other team members may step in to try and make up for any shortcoming, which can lead to conflicting or confusing information, both to the client and services organization.
  • Be comfortable solving problems. Because client-facing PMs are often working on the client’s “turf”, they need to be comfortable solving problems and making key decisions on their own. If every question needs to be routed back to stakeholders at the services organization, it undermines the project manager’s credibility, and the client may start going around them to direct questions or requests to those at the organization.
Project Tracking Dashboard Smartsheet

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Executing the Statement of Work

Delivering successful professional services projects means completing the customer requirements on time and within budget. A services organization’s ability to deliver successful projects is critical in its ability to maintain a competitive advantage and win more business.

Typically, a professional services agreement starts with a sales motion, where there is a discussion around how the project will be executed and results in the development, and agreement of, a statement of work.

A statement of work outlines the tasks and deliverables of a professional services project, and typically includes the following aspects:

  • Project objectives
  • Project scope
  • Major deliverables
  • Tasks that support the deliverables, and who is responsible for each
  • Timeline for completion of work
  • Location of work and necessary resources
  • Payment costs, terms, and deadlines
  • Internal and external standards and guidelines
  • Criteria used to determine whether deliverables are acceptable
  • Agreement and signatures of both parties

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Customer Onboarding Services Projects

Customer onboarding is the first step new customers take on their journey with your product or service, and this step can make the difference between creating a short- or long-term customer. It’s difficult to define how long your customer onboarding process will be because it depends on how difficult it is for customers to learn the concepts necessary to be successful with your product.

Once you have an idea of the steps required, you’ll be able to gauge timing and resources to create a consistent onboarding process. Here are three best practices for a successful onboarding process:

  1. Remove obstacles: Review your process and remove anything that gets in the way of a customer’s ability to understand and be successful with your product.
  2. Learn to listen: Hear what your customers have to say, but also collaborate with your own team on thoughts for how to streamline the onboarding.
  3. Create a consistent process: Once you have your process down, make sure it is documented and your team is a part of each step along the way.
  4. Use feedback to improve the experience: Check in with customers on a regular basis, and make surveys an integral part of your process.
  5. Automate where possible: Reduce time spent on manual, tedious work by automating steps within your process using a work execution platform.
  6. Provide visibility to all: Keep everyone on the same page by creating one source for onboarding project planning and tracking. Be sure to share this location with all key stakeholders.
Customer onboarding dashboard Smartsheet

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What Is a Compliance Audit in Professional Services Projects?

Another type of professional services project is the compliance audit. A compliance audit is an independent evaluation to ensure that an organization is following external laws, rules, and regulations or internal guidelines, such as corporate bylaws, controls, and policies and procedures.

Typically, the organization will initiate a request for proposal for the auditing firm to provide their services. Once their proposal is approved, a preliminary meeting is held where the auditor describes the guidelines for the audit and its requirements.

Then, depending on the type and size of the audit, the auditor may decide to work remote or on site to view documents, study infrastructure and security features, and interview employees. After the review is complete, the auditor prepares a report detailing their findings and any suggested corrective recommendations.

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