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The Evolution of Resource Planning and Skills Management

18 August 2020

Professional Services firms vary hugely, from independent start-ups with a handful of consultants to global players with hundreds of thousands of resources, not to mention the diversity of specialisms that are covered across the different organisations. With such variance in the market, it’s only natural that different firms have different approaches to their resource planning and skills management. Paul Rollason, Resource Planning Specialist at Retain International, has delved into the evolution of resource planning in recent years, highlighting where they can work most effectively, and, the potential downfalls of each approach:

Reactive Resource Planning – These Professional Services firms have grown to be client centric and successful. Their enviable success can be put down to their capability to develop long term relationships with their clients not to mention the experience, commitment, knowledge, skills and professionalism of their staff.

In respect of resource planning – staff are bought into projects as and when required, maybe even to the detriment of wheat they were previously occupied with when the request was received. Firms relying on this model of matching skills to client requirements suffer most from unpredictable utilisation, reliance of 3rd parties and even staff burnout.

Practice Based & Manager Driven Resource Planning – Whilst demonstrating and maintaining their expertise, not least in business development, partners, practice leads and senior managers have been responsible for ensuring their teams are well utilised. Not only utilised but utilised consistently and ideally using the specialist skills and experience of each fee earner. Despite continual efforts of Managing Partners to use resource across practices, in reality resources are still very much managed from within the practice. Firms operating this model are able to plan, operate and predict resource and skills in specific practice areas but, often most crucially, miss the opportunity, where practical, to smooth utilisation across practice areas, different offices and even across geographies.

Centralised Resource Planning – Of the firms recognising that utilisation rate together with the ability to attract and retain top talent are their critical KPI’s,many have implemented “centralised resource planning”. Firms with high utilisation attract top talent and can continuously develop their people and systems. They can invest in improving the client experience. Centralised resource planning remains an incredibly effective way to ensure that the right fee earners are assigned to the right project / assignment / matter at the right time and for the right period of time. Operating a centralised resource planning strategy has significantly helped staff to meet their utilisation targets and released partners, practice leads and other managers to continue to grow the firm. Equally importantly burnout can now be easily avoided – encouraging top talent to remain and develop their careers with the firm.

Resource Planning with Skills Management – For firms with effective resource planning, impressive utilisation rates / profit, and outstanding visibility of forthcoming opportunities – what else could be done for continuous improvement? Shifting the focus on to skills management.

Every Professional Services firm is successful because of their people. Top talent is hired because of their skills and they continue to develop their skills and experience over time – but only with fully integrated skills management and resource planning will firms be able to combine the ever sought after triumvirate of high utilisation, great staff retention and impressive client service.

De-Centralised Resource Planning with Self Driven Skills Management – recognising the benefits of resource planning and skills management how can firms take it to the next level – empower the team to manage their own skills, ensure that resourcing managers are aware of their professional aspirations and allowing them to apply for forthcoming projects, assignments and matters – where they feel they can make a significant contribution. As an option – also look for additional benefits of de-centralising resource planning. In this model individual managers plan a team of resources while sharing / having access to the full pool of resources.

Each of the three approaches are right for specific firms, some firms may feel more comfortable to start with one and evolve. Now more than ever before professional services staff need every opportunity to operate effectively. If we see a step change, following the return to the new normal, where traditionally client based work is carried out remotely our staff will need systems and processes to help them work at optimum efficiency and of course leaders will need immediate access to management information – allowing them to anticipate and respond to the changing needs of clients.

Paul Rollason is a Resource Planning Specialist with Retain International who are leaders in resource planning and skills management software for Professional Services firms. Working with Professional Services firms for nearly 30 years has allowed Retain to understand the specialist needs of the markets that we serve. We invite you to work with us to review how you plan resources today and to get you to your preferred position for the future.

Call 0207 538 4774 or email for more information or to speak to one of our resource planning specialists.

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