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Knowledge Management: The Secret to Profitable Projects in 2019

It’s no secret that the professional services industry is moving more towards fixed-bid, repeatable projects. This type of work is forming more and more of the portfolio of engagements for businesses. Fixed-bid projects have many advantages, but the main disadvantage is that poor management on your side can erode your margin if you aren’t careful. The most profitable firms are the ones that strictly manage cost and invest in processes and tools to streamline as much of projects as possible.

In 2018 many professional services organisations woke up to the fact that they needed to standardize processes and introduce workflows to be able to bid competitively. However, the most advanced firms have a secret weapon: they are also turning knowledge management into a commoditized process.

Knowledge management is the process of making information available to people who need it, at the time that they need it. Being able to adequately manage your organization’s knowledge is essential for professional services businesses. You need to be able to access what’s in people’s heads. When a consultant is taken sick, you need someone else to get up to speed in record time so that the project doesn’t stall. When someone new joins the team, you want them to complete their onboarding quickly, so they can start bringing in clients and working on projects. In professional services, your income and profit is uniquely tied up in being able to share your proven expertise with clients. You can’t scale your business if you can’t share that knowledge.

Here are 5 benefits to taking a knowledge-enabled approach within your professional services firm.

1. Easy Access to Best Practice

Capturing and sharing knowledge makes it easier to access best practices. When you can make that information available to everyone, it spreads the workload. Everyone can be a subject matter expert, because they have access to the information they need to fill that role. This can be a huge boost for efficiency in a professional services team. You don’t have to rely on a single expert to support a project because you can share the knowledge effectively between several people – who can all become the expert.

When your resources are cross-skilled like this, with access to the knowledge they need, you can be more confident allocating them to tasks, introducing them to new clients and making the best use of your workforce.

2. Contextual Help for Standard Processes

As your business scales, you’ll be bringing new people on to the team. It’s important they go through the onboarding process quickly and with the minimum of hassle. It’s common for new starters to leave an organization in the first six months – in any industry or profession – and a poor recruitment and onboarding process is often the reason given. Don’t let that happen to your new hires. Recruitment is an expensive business and you want to make sure the new member of the team feels like they fit in and can make a contribution as soon as possible.

Contextual help can do that. Contextual help is where there are guidance notes, pop ups and advice baked into the systems you use. This type of learning is effective because the knowledge is delivered at the time it’s needed. It can be more effective than classroom based learning because you apply it immediately. Think of the difference: an hour long webinar on how to book time in the timesheet system, a fortnight before you do any work as a new starter that needs to be logged in the timesheet tool. How much will you really remember when you come to enter your hours? Compare that to a ten minute ‘get started’ video when you first log on to the timesheet app, followed by a helpful on-screen walkthrough. The system understands what you are trying to do, and offers relevant information at the time you need it. And if you do want to look up an advanced feature, you’ve got access to a library of guides and videos from right within the tool.

Offering meaningful, useful help information like this reduces calls to your IT service desk (or queries to the colleague at the next desk). This type of knowledge management lets your teams spend more time on the work that matters. The admin just gets done.

3. Just-in-Time Answers to Drive Efficiency

Share lessons learned across the team and build organizational knowledge by surfacing what people need to know. A new team member is about to engage with an existing client? They can quickly read through the lessons learned working with that client so they have a better understanding of what techniques are going to work. If other consultants have flagged that the client organization is slow at making decisions, for example, your project manager can factor that into the project schedule and make sure the client is supported through the decision-making points. Just-in-time knowledge sharing is helpful to keep projects on-time and on-budget. You can look back at past project schedules in a particular industry or client organization, and use that knowledge to shape the schedule for the current engagement.

All of this helps build confidence in your own team and deliver outstanding customer service. Clients prefer their professional services teams to maintain continuity of knowledge, and they don’t like having to repeat the same information over and over again to new people. When you build an integrated knowledge management solution, you can make all that information available to anyone on the team. This is also a great advantage for resource management, widening the pool of people potentially capable of working with that client.

4. Faster Delivery through Standardized Procedures

There’s also a benefit to project quality. When consultants and project teams stick to the policies you’ve put in place, you’ll see a demonstrable uptick in quality output. That’s not because they were delivering poor quality work before you standardized policies and procedures, but because they were all probably doing something slightly different. Efficiency goes up when work is standardized because you can bring people to the right, most streamlined process.

Knowledge management helps standardize delivery because you can implement workflows that drive people down the right path for certain tasks. Standardizing the project proposal process, for example, can be a good way to speed up this part of client engagement. Equally, contextual help and just-in-time answers mean that people are able to follow the processes without management intervention. They are more autonomous and the processes are completed more quickly and with fewer errors.

5. More Knowledgeable Team Members

Team members don’t forget this stuff. They learn on the job, and next time, they already have the information available to them. If they can’t quite remember what they need to do, they know where to look. More knowledgeable team members are better at supporting each other and new starters. They work faster and more accurately. They are likely to give better quality customer service as they’ll know the answers to common client questions, without having to defer to a colleague or go away and find out.

Plus, your colleagues will feel more confident doing their jobs when they know what to do. Your consultants and support staff will benefit from feeling more competent, and knowing they are more competent. That can be a morale boost for teams.

For more information about how knowledge management can support your professional services firm, watch this webinar.

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