Professional Services Q & A: How to Automate Task Assignments Amidst Constant Change

Every day, I meet with our professional services customers and help them solve their challenges. One of the questions that I get all of the time is: How can we automate the assignments of tasks to team members when projects, tasks and resources are continually changing?

This is not a surprising question when you think about the fast pace of a professional services organization. Planning, resourcing and staffing are happening in a continuum throughout the week, making this a very common concern, no matter the size of the organization. It is crucial to determine the best way to align resources and notify team members of assignments.

What's the best way to do this?

In a resource management mode within a small- or mid-size services organization, typically some sort of weekly planning call happens. Let us assume this meeting takes place on a Friday afternoon. The practice management team comes together with a resource manager and outlines the team members who need work, those who are overloaded and the new projects coming online. The goal of this meeting is to align the right people with those projects.

After the meeting, the resource manager works with the project managers to reallocate the forecasts for the team members. The project manager's role is to set those new allocations at a project level and communicate to the team.

The problem occurs when it is time to communicate those changes.

For a small- or mid-sized organizations, there are often two ways to resolve the problem through workflow:

  • Project-oriented approach: As a project manager makes a change, the new assignments and forecasts need to be communicated to the appropriate team members. To optimize this, notes and information pertinent to the tasks are communicated in the same workflow record. The problem with this approach is information overload; there is a lot of e-mail and communication that needs to happen.
  • Weekly synopsis approach: In this method, resources are assigned on a Friday, for example, and project managers have until Monday morning to make changes in their PSA solution. Monday morning, a weekly e-mail is sent out to team members to identify which projects and tasks they are assigned.

At the enterprise level, when managing hundreds or thousands of team members and resource assignments, it is much more of a challenge and there are other methods to solve the problem:

  • By individual employees: The employee is assigned to tasks through the PSA solution, but at a macro level. This keeps data entry clean and doesn't require resource management overhead. Employees track their time to high-level tasks versus detailed tasks. Management effort is low to moderate.
  • By department or location: Often times, this is more manageable and productive. Utilizing locations and/or departments, work is managed in divisions. How the work is divided is up to the organization to decide: by practice, geography or work performed. Resource management is then broken up into manageable groups, including program management if needed. Resources can be optimized across divisions and management effort is still low to moderate, if defined properly.

However, the challenge is, with any of these resource assignments, the plan can quickly grow stale. Delays happen and people are stalled, thus bottlenecking the ability to do next week's work while this week's work is now too light.

The resolution to this is a hybrid model, taking elements of each of these approaches and utilizing them based upon your PSO's maturity level. Weekly notifications go out while changes to a particular team member's calendar and project assignments are handled as exceptions. These exceptions surface on the user's dashboard and are clear in the work expected. Incorporating this into Outlook so the schedule is "top of mind" at all times is the best approach to solve this problem.

Whether managing a small team, thousands of team members or somewhere in-between, an automated solution is the way to most effectively gain the utilization and productivity needed to increase profitability and add value to the services organization. To increase user adoption, be sure to implement techniques that work for your team members.

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