Research Paper: Utilizing Agile Practices to Improve Project Delivery in Professional Services Organization

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Innovations in technology in recent years have fundamentally affected the way companies of all types and sizes do business today, particularly professional services organizations. The traditional definition of professional services organizations has expanded to include a number of industries that can benefit by integrating information technology solutions into their business model to gain a competitive advantage. To determine how this can be accomplished, this study examines how professional services organizations can benefit through this integration of information technology solutions in ways that contribute to their agility and project delivery performance. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the study's conclusion.

Utilizing Agile Practices to Improve Project Delivery in Professional Services Organizations

Introduction

Today, professional services organizations transcend traditional definitions to include a much wider array of enterprises. While these enterprises compete in divergent business sectors, they share a common need to use agile practices to improve their project delivery function in order to gain client trust and establish the long-term relationships that provide a competitive advantage. To determine current approaches, this study evaluates the research opportunities in the use of agile practices to improve project delivery in professional services organizations. A description of the evolution of this aspect of the delivery process, the current, or state-of-the-art, thinking about how it should be done, what open issues might be subjected to further research, and why these issues should be investigated is followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Significance of new developments in the end-to-end information technology delivery process and justification for the assessment.

Innovations in information technology (IT) have affected businesses of all types and sizes in recent years, and professional services organizations are no exception. Professional services organizations typically include well-known examples such as law and architectural firms, banking, accounting and healthcare practices and so forth, but the definition has expanded in recent years to include other entities as well. In this regard, Zardkoohi, Bierman, Panina and Chakrabarty (2011) note how definitions of professional services have changed in recent years and add, "The problem of defining an industry is that while a given definition may in one context neatly correspond to the existing organizational structure and ownership, changes in the context can render the definition irrelevant over time" (p. 180). To help overcome this problem, Frolovicheva (2006) offers the following definitions of professional services:

1. Deed, act, or performance;

2. An activity or series of activities. .. provided as solution to customer problems;

3. All economic activity whose output is not physical product or construction;

4. Intangible and perishable... created and used simultaneously;

5. A time-perishable, intangible experience performed for a customer acting in the role of co-producer;

6. A change in condition or state of an economic entity (or thing) caused by another;

7. Characterized by its nature (type of action and recipient), relationship with customer (type of delivery and relationship), decisions (customization and judgment), economics (demand and capacity), mode of delivery (customer location and nature of physical or virtual space); and,

8. Deeds, processes, performances;

The common theme that runs through all of the alternative definitions of "professional services" is that they involve a quid pro quo arrangement of pay for performance "in the sense that this phrase captures the fact that it is the activities of the provider for the client that are the essence of a service, as opposed to the exchange of an artifact or product being the essential element" (Frolovicheva, 2006, p. 39). In fact, today, professional services organizations include such diverse industries as information technology consulting, insurance brokers, telecommunications providers and facilities management (Frolovicheva, 2006). Likewise, Weitzul (1999) reports that in contrast to the traditional definitions of professional services organizations, the concept has been extended to include virtually any type of firm that provides professional consultation services, including actuarial services, advertising, architectural design, human resources, communications, construction, engineering, financial planning, public relations and so forth.

Another commonality among professional services organizations concerns the mutual responsibilities of the firm and its clientele in achieving a mutually satisfactory outcome. In this regard, Frolovicheva provides the example of a physician prescribing a diet and exercise regimen for a patient. Although the healthcare practitioner has provided professional services, the onus is on the patient to conform to the physician's guidance in order to attain the benefits desired from the consultation process. This mutuality of responsibilities is an important factor when considering how IT solutions must operate to provide professional services organizations with end-to-end functionality; it also emphasizes the need for real-time information that can be used to monitor the progress on ongoing initiatives based on client feedback. In this regard, Frolovicheva points out that, "In business services, if the client does not install the new IT systems and train the necessary people in the reengineered process the client firm will not receive the benefit of the service" (2006, p. 40). Consequently, professional services organizations must ensure that their clients are following their guidance and this type of oversight can be facilitated through appropriate IT solutions, depending on the industry context involved (Froloveicheva, 2006).

This aspect of services provision also contributes to creating the trust that is an essential element in successful relationships between professional services organizations and their clientele. Virtually all professional services organizations seek to establish long-term relationships with their clientele in their capacity as consultants in a process that eventually results in trusted advisor status (Vosburgh, 2007). The following characteristics of personal credibility are essential for professional services organizations in achieving this status:

1. Effective interpersonal relationships and skills (emotional intelligence);

2. Understanding the issues and delivering the results;

3. Great communication skills: up, down, across, inside, and outside; and,

4. A reputation for meeting commitments (say what you mean and do what you say) (Vosburgh, 2007, p. 11).

Consequently, professional services organizations are primarily focused on selling services, based on a mutual understanding concerning the issues that are involved and the potential solutions that are available on which all parties can agree (Vosburgh, 2007). According to Vosburgh, professional services organizations succeed or fail based on their ability to forge long-term relationships with their clientele rather than trying to make a quick profit on a single exchange. In order to achieve long-term relationships, professional services organizations must gain the trust of their clientele by remaining responsive to their needs and consistently providing high-quality consultation services over time. In fact, the issue of trust is a key to success in professional services organizations. In this regard, Druskat, Sala and Mount (2006) emphasize that, "In professional services organizations, we know that those who are good at sales gain the trust of their clients and deliver high-quality service" (p. 130).

Besides the foregoing characteristics that are essential in forging such a long-term relationship, professional services organizations must ensure that they:

1. Deliver viable solutions;

2. Provide sound and timely advice to their clientele concerning what is actually possible; and,

3. Remain agile in an ever-changing environment (Vosburgh, 2007).

These are challenging goals by any measure, but they represent the essence of what is takes to remain competitive in a rapidly changing environment that demands real-time awareness of what customers want and need. Since definitions of professional services organizations have expanded to include a wider array of firms in recent years, the information technology (IT) solutions that are required for this purpose may differ in substantive ways, but there are some commonalities involved in this area as well than can provide important insights concerning how the end-to-end IT delivery process is contributing to their agility and these issues are discussed further below.

The most cogent sources of information on the current thinking and new developments in an end-to-end IT delivery process.

While industry sources provide a timely source of information concerning what IT solutions are available for professional services organizations, these sources will likely be biased in favor on their own products and services to the exclusion of potentially superior ones. Consequently, the most cogent, balanced and objectives sources of information concerning the most current thinking and new developments in an end-to-end IT delivery process will also include peer-reviewed and scholarly sources as well as popular media such as trade magazines and consumer reports. Unfortunately, by the time many analyses reach the press in these venues, many of the IT applications described therein have become obsolete or have diminished usefulness. Therefore, this study consulted all of these types of sources in compiling this analysis.

Evaluation of sources of information on the current thinking and new developments in an end-to-end IT delivery process and arguments to support the evaluation.

It is axiomatic that in order to evaluate something, it must first be measured in some fashion. With respect to sources of information concerning innovations in end-to-end IT delivery processes, this measurement requires a subjective weighting of the resources that are involved. A review of recent publications shows that some are more relevant and useful than others, of course, with the best adopting an objective approach to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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