Improving Project Visibility for Professional Services
In project and professional services management, failure is part of the game. Unfortunately, that failure can be costly. One study found that, in 2004, the price of information systems project failure across the EU was an eye-watering €142 billion. “Insufficient communication” and unclear requirement definitions were both identified as barriers, meaning that project visibility and the flow of information are vital.
Project visibility is an effective way that companies can build in transparency, accountability, and information sharing into their project workflows.
What is visibility in project management?
“Project visibility” may sound broad and non-technical, but it’s all about the way important information is shared within organizations. Early on in the project life cycle, the purpose of documents like the project charter is to clearly define scope, stakeholders, and roles. This early visibility ensures individuals are aware of how their work impacts project and portfolio goals.
As the project progresses, regular status reports and shared dashboards provide visibility into the health of the initiative.
Why is project visibility important?
Project visibility can improve how teams communicate, optimize processes, and manage resources. For professional services teams, visibility is critical because it supports important activities like capacity planning and customer relationship management.
If a resource manager does not have visibility into which team members will be available and when, it can be difficult to determine whether there are enough resources to meet the dynamic needs of clients. Demand management, in particular, relies on forecasting and the accessibility of historic data because it involves analysis of previous business activities. A lack of adequate visibility into such figures can lead to resource and project managers making decisions based on outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete information.
Visibility isn’t only valuable for PMs and their teams. Visibility in project management is also important for client relationships and satisfaction because It allows customers to track the maturity of their projects, maintain open lines of communication, and give feedback as needed.
Ways to increase visibility in a project
- Customize your project dashboard according to your team’s specific needs
- Create a thorough project charter and scope statement
- Give regular project status reports
- Use collaborative software for proofing and approvals
- Allow clients to have access to project management tools
What is a high visibility project?
In Sarah Coleman and Donnie MacNicol’s “Project Leadership” (2016), a high visibility project is defined as one that is “critical to market position” or one in which the risk of failure is high or may incur “reputational damage”. These projects can often invite a great deal of attention for the project managers spearheading them.
Harvard Business Review noted that taking part in high visibility projects was cited as one of the most “critical factors” in being promoted to a senior-level position within an organization.
Let’s say, for example, that a relatively small advertising firm secures the business of a company that will air a national commercial during the Superbowl — the first SB ad in the company’s history. The agreement is that the advertising firm will come up with the creative concept and coordinate all parts of production. The stakes are high and the ad spend is even higher, so strategy is key.
This could be considered a high visibility project, not only because the advertisement will air during the Superbowl, but also because it will likely gain a great deal of attention, internally, for those who are managing and leading the initiative. Such a project would benefit from the increased transparency that weekly status reports and customizable dashboards in a tool like Wrike can provide.
What is a project status report?
A project status report is a document that briefs team members and stakeholders on important project KPIs. Project management status reports are one way to ensure effective communication throughout a project life cycle. If a project is like a road trip, the status report is the GPS system providing regular updates on traffic conditions, approximate time left on the journey, and exits to take.
Project status reports should be delivered with some degree of regularity (although, that can be determined on a case-by-case basis) depending on who is being briefed. Team members, clients, and other stakeholders should receive these project status reports over the project life cycle.
A project manager may need to take some variables into account when deciding the frequency with which they should give project status reports to clients and team members. For example, one client may decide they’re happy to receive reports once per month, while a more hands-on customer may request weekly status reporting.
For internal project status reports, a project manager might also assume the CEO of a large company does not need weekly updates on fairly small projects.
What should be included in a project status report?
A project status report will include information that clearly communicates where the project presently stands on the map to delivery. An informative and effective project status report should include:
- Project identifiers
What is the project name? Who is the project manager? What are the key dates associated with the project?
- Project and status summaries
This is a brief summation that acts as a reminder of what the project’s aims are as well as any updates since the last report.
What, if any, milestones have been completed? Updates on project milestones provide visibility around significant turning points and act as a measuring stick for the progress of an initiative. If the project is a brand refresh, one example of a project milestone could be the approval of a new company logo.
- Change orders
It is not uncommon for a project to go through a change or expansion of scope. If a client has requested a change in the services, this should be outlined in a project status report.
An important part of an effective project status report is identifying and notifying stakeholders of any risks coming down the line. Let’s say that a construction team is having issues related to the procurement of crucial materials. The project manager is anticipating delays in the supply chain and there is now a risk that the project will overrun. This should be outlined so stakeholders can prepare and potentially course correct.
- Next steps
What’s next for the project? What are the project’s upcoming tasks or milestones? This can also be a short summation of the activities being undertaken to advance the project.
Project status reports with this level of visibility guarantee that teams and clients have clear, accurate, and up-to-date information throughout the project life cycle.
Using project dashboards
Project management dashboards use real-time data to give at-a-glance updates on tasks, milestones, resources, and more. Project dashboards are valuable to the project management process because they’re another way PMs and team leaders can build transparency and efficiency into their workflows.
Project dashboards are a resource for teams, clients, and stakeholders because they ensure information doesn’t get lost or misrepresented. One of the benefits of using dashboards to increase project visibility is that it makes teams aware of what they have coming up, what is overdue, and who is responsible for what tasks.
Wrike’s project dashboards are highly customizable, allowing teams to set them up according to the information and workflows they need to track. For instance, in Wrike, individuals can configure dashboards that track their own activity, team tasks, overdue tasks, tasks assigned to them, and more. When used properly, this can provide a great deal of visibility and add immense value when overseeing a particular team or project.
Despite their obvious value, project dashboards are not project status reports. They give at-a-glance updates but do not provide the context or detail that would ideally be included in a status report. Even if a client has access to project dashboards, they still need to be briefed regularly.
When teams forgo using a dashboard like Wrike’s, they miss out on a tool that allows them to stay informed and up-to-date on crucial information.
Client management & retention
According to research conducted by Bain & Company, improving client retention rates by just 5% can positively impact profits by up to 25%. This means prioritizing client management and retention is good for both the business and the bottom line.
Professional services firms fulfill client requirements by deploying the necessary resources to work on agreed upon projects and initiatives. These firms also need to be proactive in their client management and retention efforts. After all, 82% of firms say customer retention is cheaper than acquisition, making it a strategic business imperative.
How to improve client management and retention
Good project visibility is one way PS teams can optimize their client management and retention activities. This can be accomplished by creating a detailed project definition early on, being transparent about project scope, providing weekly status reports, and allowing clients access to your project management dashboards and tasks so they can give their feedback as needed.
Being proactive about addressing a customer’s needs is also a good strategy for client management and retention. For instance, a SaaS company may notice a key client is experiencing low user adoption rates among employees. This could have future impact on retention because the client may decide the product is not useful or relevant to the needs of their employees.
Anticipating this roadblock, the SaaS company may assign deployment specialists who can explain the product’s value, provide guidance on how to use its features, and integrate the product into workers’ every day workflows.
This type of client management takes into account the customer’s needs, anticipates the fallout if they are not addressed, and deploys resources to address the challenges.
Clear communication about things like risk and leadership changes also allows clients to anticipate delays and stay informed on the health of their projects.
Client management is an ongoing process that involves transparency, communication, and strong outcomes. Each of these elements work in tandem to cultivate a relationship that is mutually beneficial to both the client and the organization delivering the services.