The critical capability that truly separates leading firms from the mediocre masses
Any professional service leader seeking to grow their firm’s reputation should be asking themselves the question, ‘How can we make the professional service excellence that we offer a repeatable habit?’
The answer to this question involves building a systematic, integrated approach towards knowledge management (KM) and project management (PM) within your organisation.
In this blog, we will discuss the benefits of such an approach and encourage you to download our recently published paper that outlines the seven principles involved in meaningfully improving this capability within a business.
Well, the benefits of an integrated KM/PM capability begets a range of far reaching and interconnected benefits. These include increased intellectual property (IP) asset value and improved: delivery consistency, staff onboarding, collaboration and productivity, project delivery control, proposal win rates and executive oversight. By fully integrating knowledge and project management capabilities you are able to deliver consistent levels of service excellence and it is this consistency that will propel your business ahead of others in your field.
This is not simply a technology implementation exercise. To position it as such, would be to massively miss the multi-dimensional nature of such a transformation initiative (we argue that the technology component is but 20-30% of the overall success formula). The effort requires a significant allocation of strategic resources to the change exercise (and its downstream operational management). A poorly-scoped and executed initiative can, in fact, be counterproductive and result in taking your business backwards.
Done well, however, the implementation of such a strategic, internal initiative has “game-changing” potential to be a significant inflexion point on your company’s growth/value trajectory.
What is knowledge management (KM)?
Firstly, let’s define what knowledge management is. Multiple definitions abound but as wordy as it is, this definition (created some years ago by Xerox) captures the essence of it:
“Knowledge management is the discipline of creating a thriving work and learning environment that fosters the continuous creation, aggregation, use and re-use of both organisational and personal knowledge in the pursuit of new business value.”
Knowledge management | Xerox definition
In the pursuit of new business value is the key clause in this definition. At a very practical level, a genuine investment in knowledge management systems, tools and behaviours will meaningfully impact on the value you create for your clients.
Why is an investment in KM so critical?
Well, if you are bigger than a very small, familiar team (say, more than ten people), you will invariably profit from all efforts that better connect your client’s problem (your delivery challenge) to all the expertise, counsel and previously-developed-solutions that best address it – regardless of where any of this lives in your wider team. Not only does this avoid time-sapping wheel-reinvention, it also ensures your client receives a more considered response, faster.
Premier firms bring this value as a function of such intelligent collaboration. The converse is just to act as an accidental amalgam of isolated singletons (which is the shameful reality for many organizations).
At a simple level, well-organized knowledge management is a situation in which a team member either has an optimal answer or solution immediately to hand, or, they are only one contact (chat/email) away from a ready-to-help colleague who does.
This collaborative, internal support network is manifestly apparent to an end-client and, indeed, will be one of the key reasons why they pay premium rates for well-organized firms.
“Knowledge, during the last few decades, has become the central capital, the cost centre and the crucial resource of the economy.”
“The only thing that gives an organisation a competitive edge – the only thing that is sustainable – is what it knows, how it uses what it knows and how fast it can know something new!”
Professional service advisors are prone to exaggerating the uniqueness of each client delivery situation and often overplay a sense that all is professionally esoteric – of the “little can be repeated” delusion. Leaders of successful organizations (even with very complex delivery propositions) dismiss this as nonsense – “ … as the refuge of the mediocre”. These premier, highly-scalable businesses obsess about the capture and systemisation of the common 80% such that the genuinely unique 20% gets the full focus of their delivery expertise.
Knowledge management in this context is about investing in this repeatable “best practice” capture – creating intellectual property that can be easily referenced and shared.
What is project management (PM)?
Next, we must be clear on what we mean by project management. Let’s start with the definition of a project. A project is simply a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.
A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.
A project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team will often include people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and from across multiple geographies.
At its simplest level, project management can then be described as … “the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve project objectives.”
Going one step up, Programme management is, then, the coordinated management of multiple projects and change management activities to achieve beneficial change; for now, we will stick to project management as the simplified, summary tag for both highly-related aspects.
Over the last twenty years, leading organizations have realised that project management is: (a) very different from every-day operational management and (b) a critical capability to build as a core, internal competence – as required to innovate, adapt, transform and generally stay ahead of competitors.
The critical capability at the heart of repeatable excellence
The critical capability that truly separates leading firms from the mediocre masses, can essentially be described as integrated knowledge and project management.
Before answering that, it is important to make some important caveats.
All firms essentially operate somewhere along a service-level continuum. At one end, there are businesses where every interaction with an end-client is vastly different and/or so simple, or tacitly obvious, that there really isn’t any meaningful knowledge to capture.
At the other end, are those organizations embarking on such ground-breaking initiative there really is no helpful precedent to build foundation upon.
For those two extremities, integrated knowledge and project management is arguably not relevant.
Conversely, if your organizational offering sits in the densely populated mid zone of this continuum then, typically, 80% of what you do lends itself to becoming “repeatedly excellent” by following a corporately-consistent way of working. The residual 20% recognises that there will always be some variation – as required to deal with the specifics of each unique delivery situation.
A good way to look at this is through the eyes of your end-client. What is their reasonable expectation of your services? If they can reasonably expect a consistent process and minimum service quality standard – on which any individual variance is based – then you definitely sit in this mid zone.
For such organizations, integrated KM and PM, is a critical capability because it is essentially the nexus explanation as to how leading firms provide: (a) service level consistency and (b) ever-improving service development.
Simply put, it is the counter mitigation to a situation where firms suffer from: (a) having widely varying service levels (potentially just dependent on the capricious, human idiosyncrasy of the team member delivering it); and, (b) no organisational learning equals stagnant delivery models.
Whatever sector you are in, the fast-growing firm exemplars will be ones that understand integrated KM and PM and place this strategic capability at the heart of their corporate ambition.
Those that don’t understand this aspect, or pay lip service to it, will remain forever in the mediocre masses and – ultimately – face existential demise.
Why does any of this really matter?
Hopefully, the central thesis as to why any of this matters has now been established – especially so if you have organizational growth ambition.
Beyond the core argument, however, let’s expand upon some specific benefits (RoI factors) that any initiative to embed “repeatable excellence” (integrated KM and PM) should deliver upon.
It is worth noting that every organization we work with will experience an uplift in each of these important areas but every organization is different with respect to the relative prioritization of each. Note. You might want to have a go at prioritising these now using the low-medium-high category tags.
By example, for some organizations, service delivery inconsistency is killing them (and their reputational brand); for others, executive oversight is dangerously limited (perhaps, as a result of fast-growth). Maybe you need to improve your methodology toolbox in order to meaningfully differentiate from your competitors such that you can show-off demonstrable expertise (over and above the corporate soundbite) to win that next major deal?
So, every organization is different with respect to their (capability maturity) starting point and benefit area prioritization. That all said, this capability really matters because it has the potential to bring long-term, sustainable improvement to each of these critical benefit areas.
The acceptance of this strategic point is just the first step in creating a culture of repeatable excellence. To truly action this and see measurable results, the next step is to introduce an internal capability-uplift exercise.
In my next blog, I will discuss this further.
In the meantime you can download our free whitepaper here that expands on the seven principles involved in creating repeatable excellence for your professional service firm.