Creating An Effective Operating Model For A Professional Services Organisation, Without Adding Bureaucracy
Original post written by Graham Underwood, updated March 2022
Introducing new processes into a workplace isn’t always popular. People associate them with needless admin and extra work. But well thought out structured processes do the opposite – they streamline activity and boost productivity. And at some point in the journey of every growing business, creating them becomes vital.
That moment often arrives when your company reaches a certain size and you, as the founder, can no longer oversee every detail.
By introducing clear processes, you can also help to ensure your business is integrated smoothly during a merger or acquisition. Additionally, when it’s time to implement that new IT system, well-defined processes make that a much easier job.
Six key end-to-end processes
You don’t need lots of processes. For a professional services firm that wants to adopt a process-centric approach we’d say there are six key ones to focus on:
Idea to proposition – the process of generating products and services
Lead to order – covering the sales and marketing of your service offering
Order to cash – taking an order, delivering it, billing and collecting the cash
Resource management – from forecasting demand to assigning the right people to projects
The employee journey– processes for hiring, training and appraising staff
Record to report – collecting relevant management information (MI) and using it to steer your business
Of course, there are challenges. One of which is the clash between end-to-end processes and those that have been developed within departments as your organisation has grown.
A Chief Finance Officer (CFO) may have created an efficient finance process within their team, but an end-to-end process will cross departmental boundaries. For example, the order to cash process will involve sales, delivery, finance, and HR. So, who decides which process takes precedence?
To address this, you should appoint a champion for each end-to-end process. They’re accountable for its success and visibility to everyone in the organisation. They’ll make sure people with the right training are in the right positions to carry out the process and will push through change where it’s needed.
It’s important your selected process champions are senior enough to be able to negotiate with and influence your departmental leaders. You might also want to appoint a Chief Process Officer (CPO) to provide oversight across your organisation – if you’re a smaller business, your Chief Operating Officer (COO) might take on this role. They’ll make sure champions and all those involved in the process are on the same page.
Keeping on top of governance
Documenting and governing each process is an important part of the CPO’s job. It’s worth investing in this since understanding how a process is working and what changes are needed will make it more efficient.
Process diagrams can be created using packages such as Visio or PowerPoint, but that can be time consuming without adding much business value. We find business process management (BPM) tools provide much more capability and are relatively cost effective and allow you to create a process model, not just a set of pictures. This means. for example, if you make a change to one process a BPM tool will show how it impacts your other processes.
They can also map the steps involved in a process to your IT systems. This makes it quick and easy to see which of your processes are impacted by an IT change and who in the business needs to be consulted.
Making a process count
Now having established the need for processes, what does a good one look like? Here are four things to consider:
Homogeneity. Make sure each process can be applied across your company. There may be some local variations dictated by factors such as the legal requirements in a particular country but you’ll want to make them an optional step in your standard process, instead of creating a different one altogether.
Challenge the status quo. Resist the argument “we’ve always done it like this”. Instead, ask “why?”.
Eliminate heroes. Heroes believe they’re doing a great job for the company working 80 hours a week to deliver a project. But one person single-handedly running a mission critical part of a process is a potential weakness. What happens if they’re sick? Knowledge and responsibility for each process step should be shared across teams.
Client-centricity. Bear in mind how internal processes impact your clients so that client managers and process champions can have informed discussions about how to proceed. If a customer wants invoicing done in a particular way, should you adapt your process for them even if it makes it less efficient? You’ll have to decide each case on its merits and it’ll probably come down to the income that each client generates.
The final, crucial, piece in the process-centric jigsaw is measurement. For each champion to be accountable for their processes, they need to be measured against targets and key performance indicators (KPIs).
Internal KPIs such as accuracy, timeliness, productivity, and employee satisfaction should be developed alongside (where applicable) external ones such as margin, market share and client satisfaction. You’ll want to continually evaluate them and feed results into the ongoing cycle of process improvement.
Building a process-centric organisation won’t happen overnight but these steps will put you on the right track. If you’re currently looking to improve your processes and enhance your firm’s productivity here are four key points to take away:
If you have any questions or if you’d like to find out more about how we can help you transform your organisation’s processes, feel free to get in touch.