You know how your IT consultancy makes its money, right? Well, odds are, you're wrong. If you don't believe me, take some time and map out your processes.
Please understand that I'm not preaching — I'm actually among the converted when it comes to this issue. I thought my consultancy had a good handle on how service calls were originated, routed, serviced, and invoiced; then my managing partners and I spent time whiteboarding everything from notes to service silos to our staff's strengths, and we realized we were missing a few key elements. I took our notes and, during one weekend, spent time drafting various processes in different programs until I felt I had a diagram that accurately mapped our operations.
When I viewed the diagram, it was easy to see where we were losing efficiencies. By mapping our processes, it helped us identify areas in which we were understaffed; also, by reallocating resources, we were able to shift existing engineers' responsibilities, improve response time, and reduce stress. That's a pretty good combination, and it happened as a result of creating a simple diagram that illustrated how service calls originate, how the calls are processed, how the calls are dispatched and serviced, how those projects are invoiced and how follow up occurs. (I would provide a sample of our diagram, but my managing partners would not be happy with me if I did; we feel the information gained by completing this exercise is that valuable and strategic.)
How to map your processesStart with a whiteboard or a sheet of paper
- Begin with a foundation layer. Record every way service calls originate within your organization. For example, clients probably call your cell phone numbers or email requests for assistance.
- Draw another layer. In this second level, list all of the functions your office must fulfill to meet client needs. For example, you likely provide project management expertise, support desk assistance, network administration skills, and more. Draw a box for each function.
- Draw another layer. (This is where it begins to get interesting.) In this third layer, create figures that represent each of your technicians and engineers. Take a moment, too, to see how well this layer matches up with the second level, in which you mapped the tasks clients need you to fulfill. You may find some gaps.
- Draw another layer that represents how your employees capture billable time and software and hardware orders.
- Draw another level that lists how clients are billed. For example, do you bill by the hour, by the project, or on retainer? This is a critical step in the diagram.
The relationships between the five layers should make it clear how your consultants are spending their time, what expertise is required to assist clients, and how your consultancy is getting paid for both.Create a processes map
To create a processes map from these layers, you can use Microsoft Word's simple drawing tools or the tools included in PowerPoint. You might be tempted to use Visio, but I don't recommend it; the operations and processes mapping should be the focus, not the diagram — you want to minimize complexity with this drawing. For my consultancy's diagram, I ultimately used Omni Group's OmniGraffle, after trying Tabula Rasa's Jot! and Gabe Jacobs Productions' Chalkboard Pro, both of which showed promise. (Image credit: Omni Group)
Once you have a decent processes map drawn using a simple diagramming tool, print a few copies. Get your partners or managers offsite to ensure you're out of the office and away from distractions, ringing phones, etc. and work through the processes map together. You'll inevitably make tweaks and refinements, and I bet you'll find a few areas that you need to develop or reallocate expertise. You'll likely also discover some gaps where your systems need to catch up or your office needs to recruit new talent.
ROI of mapping your processes
This process requires quite a bit of work, but rest assured that it pays dividends. Once you know how your IT consulting firm is actually managing operations and making money, you can fine-tune the processes to improve efficiencies and increase revenue, often without incurring additional staffing costs.Get weekly consulting tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Consultant newsletter, delivered each Monday, offers tips on how to attract customers, build your business, and increase your technical skills in order to get the job done. Automatically sign up today!
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.