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The complete guide to project management for professional services

Discover how you can master project management in the professional services industry

Rose McMillan · March 22, 2024
The complete guide to project management for professional services

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For people working in professional services, every day can mean new work with new clients. Even with clearly defined offers, there’s often a high degree of customization and client, making project management a daunting task.

Just one mismanaged project can mean your carefully calculated profit margins go up in smoke, while your client relationships and your reputation take a serious hit.

The good news is that, with a bit of planning and the right tools, your projects are much more likely to succeed.

In this article, you’ll learn the skills and best practices needed for effective project management in a professional services organization, along with a step-by-step guide to help you get started.

The challenges of project management in professional services

In the professional services industry, where your projects are often tailored to unique client needs, scope creep is a common challenge. Whether it’s a client asking for ‘just one more’ revision or you suddenly discover that you underestimated the work involved, projects can quickly grow far beyond their original scope.

Even with a clearly defined and agreed project scope, efficient resource management — including your time, personnel and budget — can feel like a constant juggling act, especially when you’re running multiple projects at the same time.

These challenges are compounded by strict time and budget constraints. Clients are usually looking for the best possible outcome for the lowest possible cost delivered as quickly as possible.

Delivering the promised level of service while keeping an eye on the timeline and budget can be stressful and, if you’re not careful, compromise the entire project’s quality.

Essential skills for effective project management

While the challenges are significant, you can still manage your projects successfully with the right skill set. By developing these attributes, you’ll be in a better position to engage with clients and get the best outcome.

1. Communication

Clear and effective communication is the foundation of successful project management. It ensures that all stakeholders, across both the project team and your client’s team, are on the same page for project success. As these initiatives become more intricate and customized, project managers must be able to convey complex ideas clearly and concisely.

Sometimes this will mean having difficult conversations with your clients, especially when dealing with unexpected challenges or unrealistic expectations.

However, by scheduling regular project updates and using collaborative tools to keep everyone updated, you can minimize disruptions and manage those expectations more effectively.

2. Time management

Tight deadlines are a normal part of life in a professional services firm. Effective time management ensures that you deliver your projects on time, you allocate your resources efficiently and you properly manage your priorities.

The first step to managing your time is understanding how much of it you need. If every project timeline starts as guesswork, then it shouldn’t be a surprise if things take longer than expected.

The right tools can be a huge help here. Time-tracking apps will help you see exactly how long tasks typically take, while project management tools can help with scheduling and tracking your team’s capacity.

3. Financial management

Even if you manage to deliver every project ahead of your deadlines, that won’t do your business any good if you’re constantly going over budget. If you’re going to meet your client's expectations and stay profitable, you need to be on top of your financial resources.

Just as with managing your time, financial management starts with taking stock of your current situation. If you don’t already have a budget plan, start now. Track your day-to-day costs along with your cash flow.

By regularly reviewing your finances and making adjustments as necessary, you can keep your clients happy while your projects remain financially viable.

4. Flexibility

For the above skills of time and financial management, planning is key. However, as anyone who’s ever worked on a project will tell you, things rarely go exactly as planned. The ability to quickly identify problems, think critically and devise effective solutions is crucial in keeping your projects on track.

In professional services, this might involve identifying bottlenecks in project workflows, resolving client concerns effectively or adapting project plans to accommodate new information.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to identify potential risks or develop appropriate strategies to mitigate them. However, it’s equally important for a project manager to stay agile and adjust those strategies based on project feedback or external changes.

Project management tools and software recommendations

Your project management skills will be most effective when you have the right technology backing you up. Here are some of our favorite project management tools for professional services.

Task management tools

Task management software enables you to break down big projects into more manageable, bite-size pieces. By giving you a comprehensive view of your project progress, you ensure everything keeps moving smoothly and is completed on time.

Top task management tools:

  • Capsule, a user-friendly CRM with comprehensive project management features
  • Asana, a work management platform with resource controls and dashboards
  • Trello, uses a Kanban board approach to visualize projects and tasks

Collaboration platforms

Effective teamwork is key to a successful project. Collaboration platforms enable seamless communication among team members, clients and other stakeholders. These tools ensure everyone stays informed and engaged with the project from start to finish.

Top collaboration tools:

  • Slack, an asynchronous communication platform with group messaging and file sharing
  • Microsoft 365, a collection of different productivity tools including chat and video meetings
  • Zoom, video conferencing with AI summaries, shared whiteboards and additional app integrations

Document management systems

Even the smallest projects can generate a mountain of paperwork. Document management software organizes and secures your project documents, making them easily accessible to the relevant team members.

Top document management systems:

  • Microsoft Sharepoint, integrates with Microsoft 365 and enables efficient storing and sharing of documents
  • Google Drive, document and general file sharing for Google Workspace users
  • PandaDoc, more focused on document creation, tracking and approval

Time tracking software

If you’ve ever got to the end of the day and wondered where all those hours went, it’s time to start tracking them. By showing you where you and your team are spending your day, time-tracking software helps you manage your workload, improve productivity and ensure accurate billing.

Top time tracking software:

  • Toggl, straightforward time tracking with project reporting features
  • Clockify, free time tracking with timesheets and automatic activity tracking
  • Harvest, combines time tracking with invoicing and expense tracking

Customer relationship management systems

Whatever type of project you’re working on, your relationships with stakeholders will be critical. With the right customer relationship management (CRM) software, you can track and manage those relationships throughout the project lifecycle, from that first contact through to project completion and beyond.

The best project management CRMs come with many of the other important features needed for a successful project outcome. For example, Capsule CRM helps professional service businesses with:

  • Improved task management and record-keeping
  • Collaboration tools for both clients and your team members
  • Efficient document management
  • Integrations with time-tracking apps
  • Real-time project visibility.

Capsule comes with dashboards and reports for measuring project performance, along with a robust mobile app to keep your team connected wherever they are. It also integrates with your other favorite apps, connecting your software and sharing information for maximum efficiency.

By having your contacts, opportunities and projects all in the same platform, it’s far easier to keep track of the different moving pieces and deliver a successful outcome that delights your clients.

Learn how a CRM for professional services can benefit your business today.

Best practices for project management in professional services

With the right skills and software, you’ll be in a much better position to deal with whatever projects come your way. The following best practices will help you take your project management to the next level.

Start with the end in mind

Before you start work on any project, you should have a plan in place for how that project is going to go — including how it’ll end.

A clear definition of your project scope and objectives at the outset ensures that all stakeholders have a shared understanding of what the project aims to achieve, the deliverables, timelines and success criteria. Likewise, keeping that end goal in mind will help you set deadlines and allocate your resources more effectively, reducing the risk of scope creep and misaligned expectations.

During the project initiation phase, define the key phases along with their respective end dates in your chosen project management tool, making sure it’s accessible to all project stakeholders.

Regular check-ins

Projects require close and ongoing attention if they’re going to reach a successful outcome. It’s easy to get caught up in the work itself, but make time to regularly review the project’s progress. Have you allocated enough resources? Are you on target to reach your planned milestones? Have there been any changes that’ll affect your future progress?

Regular check-ins ensure that the project stays on track, issues are identified early and necessary adjustments are made promptly. It keeps the team aligned on project goals, responsibilities and deadlines.

By being agile and ready to adapt project plans in response to feedback or other changes, you can ensure you’re still working on the most important tasks and that the project is still aligned with your client’s needs and expectations.

Can this be automated?

Each project is made up of multiple tasks and subtasks, so it’s no surprise that even the simplest project can feel overwhelming. Automation can lighten the load, streamlining repetitive tasks and freeing up team members to focus on more critical aspects of the project.

Identify repetitive tasks within your project management process. For example, Capsule’s Growth plan gives you access to automation for updating task statuses, sending templated emails to clients and more.

Should this be automated?

Although it makes sense to automate the menial and repetitive tasks, that doesn’t mean every single part of the project should be automated. To deliver the best outcomes, you need to know where the human touch is most beneficial.

“Workflow automations are great because they standardize your admin,” explains Keith Weir, Customer Success Team Lead at Capsule. “But sometimes people want everything automated. They’ll create loads of automated projects, then they can’t keep on top of them all. You still want to be on top of the work that you’re generating and take responsibility for it.”

Knowing when to automate and when to keep that human oversight prevents the loss of personal engagement and ensures your projects always deliver a quality result.

Getting started with better project management

Having reviewed the skills, tools and best practices, it’s now time to get started. Use the following steps to ensure you’ve covered all the essential elements and have everything you need to deliver a successful project, time after time.

Step 1: Define your project scope and objectives

Start by identifying the project’s goals, deliverables and success criteria. Work with your client to clarify the project scope to understand what is included and what’s out of bounds.

Try and get as detailed as possible, then confirm those details with the client to reduce the chance of any confusion as the project progresses. Involve your team in this step, so they can give you feedback on whether the scope is realistic and point out any potential issues before you kickoff.

Step 2: Establish a project plan

The next step is to break down the project into manageable tasks and subtasks. You can then assign these tasks to team members based on their skills and capacities. Having a clearly defined timeline is a key part of a successful project, so remember to set relevant milestones and deadlines for each phase of the project.

Working out how far to break down each task is a fine art. You want to ensure there’s no ambiguity, but too many subtasks can be overwhelming and lead to micromanagement, in turn making it difficult to adapt to changing circumstances. Work alongside your team to confirm they understand the reason behind each task and the ultimate goal you’re working towards.

Step 3: Monitor and control project progress

Once the project is up and running, schedule regular check-ins and status updates to monitor progress against your project plan. Adjust the project plan as necessary in response to challenges, scope changes or stakeholder feedback.

Use project management software to track task completion, resource allocation and progress relative to your timeline. Most tools will let you customize your view, so feel free to switch between different views to get a complete view of your progress.

For example, a straightforward list of tasks might help you quickly see what needs to be done next, while a Kanban-style board can help give you the big picture and allow you to see which stages your different projects are in.

Step 4: Maintain effective communication

As the project progresses, make sure you’re maintaining clear communication channels for team collaboration, stakeholder updates and handling issues. Encourage open and honest communication within the team to address any obstacles promptly and keep clients and stakeholders informed about progress, decisions, and changes to the project.

This is an area where automation can be a huge help, automatically notifying key stakeholders when certain actions take place, such as when the project enters a new stage or the status changes.

Step 5: Close the project and reflect

Once the project is completed, it’s time to celebrate! However, the work isn’t over just yet. Once the project deliverables are approved by the client, formally close the project and organize a post-project review with your team.

Use this meeting to discuss what went well as well as what could be improved. Document any insights and feedback to improve future projects.

Professional projects for professional services

Getting started with project management in professional services involves careful planning, effective communication, and continuous learning. By following these steps, you can establish a strong foundation for managing professional services projects successfully and delivering value to your clients.

Remember, the goal of project management isn’t just to go through as many projects as you can, as quickly as possible. You want to delight your clients, to exceed their expectations and foster those long-term relationships that lead to business growth.

Discover more about how a CRM can help your firm manage current and future projects. Enjoy Capsule’s free starter package or start a 14-day free trial and see how Capsule’s features can help you save time and deliver outstanding projects.