Light at the end of the tunnel
October 9, 2012
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Ever feel like there is too much to do and not enough hours in the day? I have just had a couple of weeks like that. Each day I worried how I’m going to get through the tasks at hand without dropping the ball on something else. It is not uncommon in professional services. Work is lumpy in nature and you have to ride the rough with the smooth.
I have made the statement of the lumpy nature of professional services work several times, but seldom put any thought to why that is the case. The most obvious reason I have seen is the fiscal year and budget allocations. In many organisations, unused budget is lost from future budgets and there is incentive for customers to hold on to budget until the last possible moment and only commit to projects once all their other costs have been accounted for. That leads to a stream of projects at the end of the fiscal year, as organisations are more confident that they do not need this budget to cover for risks in other areas.
There are holiday seasons which traditionally see a lot of staff leave. From an IT perspective this includes a lot of change freezes at various organisations both suppliers and customers. That automatically means less activities, because of system constraints. I find this is not a bad constraint, as inevitably our capacity to provide services is also low because of high leave demands.
The risk element is during school vacations, where a lot of staff want to take leave but is harder to adjust customer expectations around delivery timeframes. It is a good practice to ask for early visibility of leave requests during these times and to have a record of previous leave taken. This would allow a services company to be fair in allowing leave to staff over the course of the year. A bit of flexibility is required from everyone here. The services company itself is also obliged to set the expectation with the customer about delivery based on staff availability. It is a hard discussion to have with key customers, who have a lot of influence.
A lot of the challenges identified are quite common to most organisations and not necessarily specific to services companies. The challenge comes in the sales cycle and the desire to maximise the utilisation of resources. Higher utilisation, more profitable the company. By definition, there is less slack and less agility. A particularly efficient few months sets management expectation that high utilisation is manageable for the duration of the year, when it is not necessarily the case. Revenue expectations therefore needs to be balanced with reality of resource management.
From my point of view, It appears that the particular wave of new work may be getting to a manageable point now. However, there is a conference that is nearly here. I am presenting a day long workshop on project management in our particular industry sector, which takes a lot of effort to prepare for. In today’s environment no one has the luxury of complain about being busy. That is a sign that the company is doing better than most. We are also hiring, so my challenges on agility may be relieved somewhat.
It now looks like there is light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully it is not a freight train heading my way.
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