Consultants face a unique business challenge. Unlike internal hires that are expected to have a transition period and slow productive build, consultants are expected to hit the ground running, delivering high-impact results on time and on budget, every time. Not only are these pressures coming from the client, but they are also caused internally by the nature of the business.
Time is money, especially in consultancy. This means that project management isn’t just a way to track what is or is not done; it is the best way to make sure resources are being used strategically, that output is maximized, and that progress is in line with projections and commitments.
Tips for How Consultants Can Use Project Management to Improve Productivity and Profitability
Project management is usually viewed as a means to track which tasks need to be done and by whom. But in a consulting company, project management has the ability to do much more. For consultants, project management can help improve productivity and profitability by:
- Improving job cost and bidding
- Improving timeline and budget management
- Maximizing resources (without overloading them)
- Ensuring consistent and timely deliverables
- Optimizing processes
Below are 7 project management tips for consultants to help improve business processes, maximize resources, and improve profitability.
1 - Link Project Management to Proposal Creation
One of the biggest differences between a young consultant firm and a seasoned one is the ability to accurately bid time and resources. However, it doesn’t necessarily take years of experience to nail down budgets and timelines—it just takes better data.
The best project management tools allow you to use job and resource data to create better-informed proposals. This includes live views of resource pools, scenario builders and comparison tables based on the resources you have available, profit margin modelers, and forecasting.
Your project management processes should not only provide information about which resources are available, they should also provide post-mortem data on previous projects to show where you may need greater, or fewer, resources, where you tend to incorrectly estimate hours to complete certain tasks, or where certain resources may be more productive than others. This will help inform each subsequent project proposal to improve productivity, output, and profitability.
2 - Be (More) Specific in Scope
Any consultant who has experienced scope creep (or “scope explosion”) knows that one of the biggest threats to profitability is a mid-project change in scope. Taking the time to truly understand a project and include a detailed scope of work in the contract can help to prevent the scope of work expanding without compensation. It gives you the opportunity to create change orders—including an updated budget—if a client comes back with additional changes not included in the initial scope of work.
This is also important in the way you implement your project management. Being specific about what is included in each stage of a project will enable your employees to do exactly what is required—no more, no less—for a more controlled output. Being specific about project scope within your team means you’re ensuring additional resources aren’t being used where they won’t result in actual productive business impact.
3 - Reuse Whenever Possible
Most consulting companies have aspects of their deliverables that are repeats in whole or in part of products already completed for other clients. Whether this is templates of documents, programming code, presentations, or other projects, it can be highly productive to prevent redundancy in your consulting company. This allows you to produce similar output with decreased input.
Make it part of your project management process to identify what aspects of completed tasks may be reusable, and to have a standard file management system for these items. It can also be helpful to tag tasks in your project management software that can be completed using one of these reusable documents. This helps you to rely on process to minimize redundant work instead of hoping whoever is in charge of the task simply remembers that there are reusable resources available.
4 - Keep Everything in a Central Location
This leads us to our next project management tip for consultants: keep everything in a central location. Many consultants have fallen into the trap of using multiple file management systems including multiple messaging platforms (such as email, chat, or Slack) as well as CRMs to track conversations, DropBox and/or Google Drive to store documents, different file versions unintentionally saved on multiple devices, and so on. This can lead to confusion, inconsistency, and lost productivity.
Instead, part of your project management system should include managing documents, revisions, client feedback, customer information, and communication in a central location. Some project management software platforms, such as Mavenlink, integrate with your existing CRM, ERP, and document-collaboration solutions so they can be linked to specific projects, tasks, or protocols.
5 - Perform Regular Check-Ins
Don’t initiate a project and then fail to check in until the deadline is approaching. Healthy project management requires regular check-ins to make sure the project is developing on time, on budget, and as hitting its milestones.
The frequency of your check-ins should depend on the length and complexity of the progress. A good mindset is to identify which points of the project have the highest risk of throwing the project off course and the earliest points you’d be able to detect these threats, and to set—at minimum—check-ins at these points. It can also be helpful for consultants to choose a project management tool that allows you to see at a glance the health of your current projects.
6 - Establish Project Management Metrics
As a consultant, you probably have metrics to show the effectiveness of the solutions your build for your clients, but do you have metrics to measure how well your company is currently performing? Using project management metrics, such as budget to actuals, actual cost of work performed, planned hours vs. actual, and risks/changes analysis, can help you monitor your projects more effectively.
Having standard metrics can also make it easier to analyze project trends to see if there are predictable places where budget or time tends to go off course, where resources may not be used as effectively, or other areas for improvement.
7 - Debrief Projects
One of the most important additions to your consulting company’s project management strategy should be a project debrief. Every time you complete a project, you should debrief to understand what went well, what went wrong, and what processes can be improved in the future.
Don’t go into this debrief blind. This is the most crucial stage to pull out data and reports from your project management software. If managed properly, you should have analytics that show the progress of task completion, information about when budget was used and whether it was in line with projections, resource use compared to projections, and reports from any risks or changes that may have manipulated output.
The information from this debrief should be compared to previous reports. Is there a part of your projects that your company predictably underbids? Resources that aren’t being used efficiently or that aren’t being given enough time to complete tasks? Steps of the process that tend to go slower or faster than expected? Predictable “snafus” that can be accounted for before the project begins? Analyze, adjust, and repeat.
As a consultant, you understand, probably better than anybody, that “what got you here won’t get you there.” Growth takes scalability, improved processes, and better resource use. If you’re ready to take the next step in your project management process, see how Mavenlink can help improve your consulting business.