[IMGCAP(1)]Is complacency keeping your firm from being as successful as it could be?

Are you getting the most from your client engagements, your people and their work? As you plan for 2013, it’s time to reflect on what’s been working well and what you can improve. To help jumpstart your reflection process, here are five tactics to keep in mind:

1. Get Proactive. To manage engagement profitability as you go, guide every engagement by establishing key utilization metrics at the beginning, and then put everyone in a position to see if that work is on track. Similarly, ensure expected results and anticipated results are easily available across the firm. This will help avoid surprises, by showing anticipated results against expected results—in real-time, as work in progress is completed. Typically, this means time collection has to be immediate and connected to the budget. When all these aspects are put together, you guarantee that anticipated results are compared to budget expectations—instead of outdated statuses coming in too late to make adjustments.  

2. Maximize Resources. Many firms find managing resource capacity intuitive—and think of it through the lens of availability. Yet, this process doesn’t always meet the best interests of the client or resources involved. Instead, it’s important to go beyond just “maximizing capacity” to also maximizing resource effectiveness.

You can do this by noting staff areas of expertise or past work. Include not only the hours spent on past work, but also the specific, assigned tasks. Next, add individual preferences into the mix. Finally, explore the most effective partner, manager and staff combinations, and then add that to the selection criteria.

As new work comes in, a more sophisticated resource selection process gives engagement planners more insight for allocating resources. What’s more, it does so in a way that is most effective for the client and more appropriate for the firm. Imagine how the precision of more comprehensive resource planning will also improve employee satisfaction and retention.

3. Capture Time. Picture meeting every one of your client’s expectations—being on-site when needed, working late when necessary, or shifting resources when it was called for. Yet, in this scenario, your team didn’t properly—or promptly—record all time and expenses, which were then lost by the time the invoice was produced.

No one wants to be in this situation—it hurts the firm and puts individual incentives at risk. That’s why in 2013, it’s critical to add more structure and discipline to time-capture. Why not create prompts, alerts and reminders to help employees input their hours—on time and with greater accuracy? Likewise, don’t overlook your managers; include a similar workflow for simple, easy-to-access approval. Allow time input only against assigned client work (which can easily cascade from your resource plan). And finally, fully leverage mobile devices, so time-capture or approval can be made anytime, anywhere. With all these practices in place, you’ll not only reduce “lost” time, but also bill more quickly.

4. Streamline Administration. Every moment not spent on billable work is lost—but it still costs your firm. Keep non-billable time to a minimum; look increasingly for automation to streamline the administrative tasks that “chip away” at billable capacity. Additionally, minimize partner involvement in day-to-day processes like invoice reconciliation and approval, keeping more of their valuable time available for client work. For this, know that automation can help move forward standard procedures without involving fee-generating staff members. While you won’t fully eliminate partner involvement—nor should you—automation helps reduce labor-intensive manual processes to a mere series of clicks, bringing senior partners just the right information while moving them quickly through the work.

5. Leverage the Past. Of course you want the past to guide your future. Yet, history is often overlooked because the information that planners need isn’t easily accessible. Scope of work, budget, tasks involved and resources selected are all naturally related, but information about each is usually found in different places. Reviewing previous work is crucial to the planning process; however, the difficulty in pulling the information together forces planners to take on an easier, yet inaccurate approach of “best-guess” estimates.

To help all areas of the firm, provide easier access to deeper insights. You can highlight what worked previously and why it was successful, simply by bringing information together into a common system that’s easily accessible to everyone. In turn, this creates a faster and more accurate way to replicate successful projects.

When looking at new project management tactics for next year, the overriding takeaway is that the more detailed and in-depth planning you do, the more accurate your strategy will be. When utilized in an effective way, there is no such thing as “too-much information.” By combining thorough planning with clear timelines and strong resource management, your accounting practice will be in a strong position for success in 2013.

Claus Thorsgaard is Deltek’s EVP and general manager—professional services. He is responsible for managing sales and marketing for Deltek Vision, Deltek Maconomy and Deltek People Planner, enterprise software solutions that power the businesses of accounting firms and other professional services firms around the world.