Professional Services Guide

Professional Services Basics

A Guide to Project Management for Professional Services

According to a recent report on the professional services industry, North America and Western Europe represent two of the largest professional services markets in the world. Year on year, the professional services industry continues to grow in these markets and regions across the globe. 

But what are professional services? What challenges do these industries face? And what tools can firms leverage to bring more value to clients and stakeholders? 

At Wrike, we feel it's important for teams in all industries to be able to use our tools for productivity and growth and to head off the challenges of an ever-changing, client-focused marketplace. 

In this guide to project management for professional services, we're offering an overview of the wider industry and a look at some of the challenges, roles, responsibilities, and tools professional services organizations need to excel and keep clients happy. Let's begin with the professional services definition.

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What are professional services?

The definition of professional services is broad. It is a term that refers to any business, department, or individual whose core output is a service or expertise rather than a manufactured product. A few examples of professional services include accounting, advertising and marketing, and legal services. 

Consultants in various sectors are also considered to be working within the professional services industry because they offer their expertise to clients. Professional services providers may vary across different industries, but their role is the same: to provide expertise, experience, and specialized knowledge to help clients achieve their goals. 

Independent vs. embedded professional services

Many professional services firms are external and, therefore, independent of the companies they work with. These firms are called independent professional services organizations. The alternative to this would be an embedded professional services team

While independent professional services firms largely exist outside a company's formal internal structure, an embedded professional services team can be considered part of a larger organization. 

Embedded professional services teams are less driven by "client satisfaction" and instead work towards KPIs and metrics that represent the interests of their parent organization.

What is the professional services industry?

The professional services industry is one where human capital, e.g., time, knowledge, and expertise, are the primary inputs. In the professional services industry, providers can be large enterprises with hundreds of employers, agencies, firms, or sole proprietors with fewer employees, or sole consultants. 

Teams and individuals in this industry offer their time, knowledge, and expertise, typically on a project basis, to complete a task or achieve set milestones on behalf of a client. Professional services providers create value by providing services, not through selling products. 

Professional services industry overview

​​The professional and business services industry continues to grow worldwide. A recent professional services industry overview report predicts that the industry will surpass $9651 billion by 2026, growing at a 9.6% compound annual growth rate (CAGR). 

The industry, which was affected significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic, is recovering quickly. Most professional services providers are restructuring their processes and implementing digital transformation initiatives to provide even better services and create more value for customers. 

The post-pandemic landscape has transformed business for professional services providers in many industries. From remote working to restrictive travel and an onslaught of new technologies, professional services firms are reviewing, digitizing, and optimizing their processes, systems, and offerings to serve clients better and work more efficiently.

What do professional service firms do?

Professional services firms cater to businesses in a myriad of ways. Often, they provide services that align and support the growth, legal compliance, and technology goals of a client organization. 

For instance, a company may need to comply with new internet data regulations enacted in their country or region. This business may hire an independent legal and IT professional services firm specializing in compliance. Rather than producing something for the client organization, professional service providers offer their expertise to ensure that the company remains in compliance with the law.

Another example is an embedded marketing professional services team that already exists within an organization. The client (or parent) company strategizes and plans to promote its business at an industry-specific event or expo. They may then approach the embedded marketing and creative team to develop physical and digital promotional material like posters, one-pagers, and digital ad copy. 

Other examples of a professional services team’s offerings include:

  • Accounting/payroll specialists who help onboard new hires for an organization
  • Architecture firms who work with construction businesses during the planning stages of a new building
  • Logistics firms that help businesses move into new markets and set up operations
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What are the biggest challenges that professional services teams face?

Because professional services are so diverse, it may be hard to identify just one specific set of challenges that firms face.

58% of professional services teams interviewed by Deltek in 2018 said they spent “hundreds of hours producing reports.” Hurdles like this can significantly impact how teams deliver value to clients and pursue profitable projects. But it’s not the only kind of challenge these teams face.

Different industries face different pain points, but generally, professional service project managers face challenges around resource management, ineffective project planning, and team productivity. 

Defining project scope is a key part of effective project planning

In professional services, poor project definition can be a barrier to on-time and on-budget delivery. When the outlines of an initiative are hazy or ill-defined, issues like scope creep can set in, which inevitably leads to overspending and client dissatisfaction. This is one of the biggest challenges facing professional services firms.

According to Wrike’s 2019 Professional Services Work Management Benchmark Report, 97% of teams experience project delays, with changing client expectations being the number one reason. 

Establishing the parameters of a project is necessary for professional services management, especially since changing client expectations can be dependent on any number of variables — not all of them reasonable. 

It can be tempting for professional services managers and teams to adopt a “customer is always right” approach without properly taking resource constraints into account. However, because resources are often limited, teams may find themselves in a difficult position regarding resource allocation and project execution.  

Billable hours are the key to profit margins 

Professional services firms are uniquely sensitive to factors like employee utilization rates. Low employee utilization may signal poor resource management processes or even hint that certain projects are not as profitable as they could be.

For instance, a professional services firm that offers legal or accounting services would place billable hours at the top of its priority list. Why? Unlike firms that depend on ill-defined metrics like “client satisfaction,” these industries rely heavily on carrying out work on behalf of a customer, e.g., tax preparation, trademark filings, etc. Therefore, the time spent on this work must be accounted for. 

A professional services management tool that tracks time, automates workflows, and enables dynamic requests significantly reduces time spent on non-billable work like data entry and updates, administrative duties, and meetings that could have been a simple request form. Keeping an eye on these metrics provides insights into employee productivity levels, profitability, and future projects to pursue.

Increased visibility and strategic decision-making are the keys to client retention

Project management software that improves workflow, client visibility, and team productivity can help professional services teams track the health of an initiative and become more accountable for the work they produce.

Without a way to properly manage and monitor all these vital aspects of project management, scaling up and optimizing team performance can be difficult. 

Many professional services firms are now turning to software solutions like Wrike, which offers practical features such as time-tracking for billables, automated requests, workload management, and more.

With the challenges that professional services teams face, choosing the right tools can help firms unlock benefits like higher profit margins and better client retention rates.

What is professional services management?

Professional services management aims to deliver client projects on time and within budget. It is the process of planning the project and guiding team members to produce their best work and contribute to achieving set goals, all while implementing the company's policies and working with industry standards and best practices. 

Professional services managers handle this role. For smooth and successful projects, they must be diligent during project planning to ensure all stakeholders are on the same page and goals, projects, and allocated budgets align.

What does professional services management involve?

Professional services management revolves around coordinating teams and individual contributors involved in a project to ensure adherence to standards, timelines, and budgets. 

Day-to-day operations may include:

  • Leading team meetings
  • Tracking expenses
  • Assessing and distributing progress reports
  • Sharing project goals and updates
  • Assessing risks
  • Delivering optimal project results
  • Receiving and sharing client feedback

What is a professional services manager?

A professional services manager is a person in charge of professional services management. Their job is to ensure the successful delivery of client projects according to the set budget and timeline.

The professional services manager plans, organizes, tracks, and communicates project deliverables and progress with team members and stakeholders, ensuring that both sides are aligned on the objectives and direction of the project. 

Other duties may include guiding, supporting, and cautioning team members and contributors when they step out of line with the company's policies and regulations. 

What does a professional services manager do?

A professional services manager oversees all processes involved in the planning and delivering successful projects within the organization and client assignments. Key responsibilities of a professional service manager include: 

  • Keeping up with technological and industry changes: A professional services manager ensures the firm and team are up to date with relevant technology that can make the organization more efficient, improve customer experience, and increase profitability. 
  • Communicating with clients: The professional services manager must take the lead in communicating with clients. This means setting and communicating accurate expectations and proactively sharing project updates. They must establish a shared understanding of communication styles and working preferences at the start of any new client relationship or project. 
  • Staying attuned to clients' needs: With so many changes in the technology, professional, and business services industry, many companies rely on professional service firms to create new solutions for their businesses. Professional service managers must keep learning about clients' industries to brainstorm new ideas and strategies to improve their businesses. They must also regularly reimagine their services to suit clients' needs better. 
  • Hire and retain top talent: Professional service managers must be good at hiring, working with, and retaining top talent to provide value to their clients. This may mean looking outside your city or country, as remote work widens the pool of available talent. 
  • Manage stakeholder expectations: In addition to leading their teams, professional service managers manage project stakeholders. They often serve as the primary liaison to all involved stakeholders. 

How to become a professional services manager

Professional services is a broad and diverse industry, and there is no one fixed path to becoming a professional services manager. Some professions like accounting or law require a college degree and further education. However, others like writing, designing, and marketing may require only an online training course certificate and real-world experience. 

Depending on your industry, follow a path that allows you to begin practicing and contributing to real client projects as soon as possible. Conduct research to understand how most professional services managers in your industry get into their roles and begin your journey by taking the necessary steps. 

Professional services tools

An effective professional services management tool can be the difference between successful projects and workflows and a chaotic work environment.

Using a collaborative workspace and project management tool like Wrike helps position your team for success with structured workflows and processes and a robust platform you can customize to fit your team's needs. Wrike helps optimize resource allocation, track project delivery time, and facilitates collaboration between teams, even when working remotely.

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