In 2022, upon being promoted to Senior Director, Operations of a 130+ person tech consulting company, I launched into executing my vision of modernizing our operations tech stack.
Specifically, my goal was to replace the existing error-prone, cumbersome, and time-consuming manual processes (primarily consisting of lots of spreadsheets and disjointed systems) that linked our sales pipeline, revenue forecasts, resourcing, project/account financials, and invoicing journey. The existing jumble of spreadsheets and disjointed tools was inherited from past years, and previous operations teams and leaders had not been successful in replacing it with a solution that would be more automated, scalable, and real-time. After all, in a fast-moving organization like this one, this would be the equivalent of trying to lay tracks ahead of a moving train.
But I always like a good challenge, especially when it involves bringing much-needed change to the heart of a company. Having done something similar at a much smaller company years before, this time was going to involve much higher stakes. But the overall goal was going to be the same – replace the existing jumble with a proper Professional Services Automation (PSA) solution, without causing any disruption to business as usual.
I am happy to say that I successfully accomplished my vision, retiring all the old spreadsheets and disjointed tools, and rolling out the PSA solution first to our account teams (to quickly enable mission-critical project financials, timesheets, and invoicing), then subsequently onboarding our finance team, craft leads, and leadership. I designed the roll out to address highest business value work first as I progressed through the different teams.
As part of the roll-out process, I ran many training sessions; both group sessions and individual sessions to help people get used to the new system and processes. I also created comprehensive internal documentation on the system, complete with quick and simple onboarding guides, short 2-8 minute videos, and an FAQ. I even created slack channels to open up more collaboration and faster swarming between different teams (primarily account teams, finance, and operations), as well as to set up automated reminders for teams when they needed to conduct certain core activities. The extra benefit of these slack channels was being able to spread the knowledge, delegate ownership of certain activities and responsibilities to others, while supporting all users (by promptly responding to questions) and being able to parachute in when needed to troubleshoot any larger issues. Over time, it was incredibly satisfying to see how well-entrenched the new system and processes became, and how its users had become used to it in their daily and weekly routines.
In total, I onboarded almost 40 users. But instead of rolling it out to the remainder of our 130+ staff, I worked with our PSA vendor to implement automated timesheets, which was an innovative approach to avoid the usual headaches that arise when trying to roll out timesheets to everyone at a company (which usually causes delays to invoicing and cash flow, as people inevitably need to be chased up to submit their individual timesheets).
The result of the successful implementation of the PSA system was that we now, for the first time in the company’s history, had a centralized system that brought together the sales pipeline, project financials (enabling much greater efforts to reduce budget underspend, therefore increasing our revenue), invoicing, staffing, staffing prediction reporting, revenue forecasts, as well as other custom reports that I would build on demand.
What I really enjoyed about achieving this challenge was it gave me the opportunity to bring an analytical and technical POV to an area (operations) that is often too admin-focussed and not very tech savvy (and therefore too reliant on spreadsheets). This is a common issue in many companies and it’s very easy to ignore, since the transformation effort is substantial and touches on all areas of the business. But I continue to believe this sort of internal operational transformation is an absolute must, as it becomes the invisible operating system that can power a professional services organization, leading to real-time, higher quality data, better long-term business decisions, and ultimately more revenue.