Lawyers, clinicians, engineers and other professionals have a few things in common. They are all smart, busy, and have super specialized jobs. What they also have in common is that their services need modernizing. That is, they need to incorporate new technologies and service models that clients have come to expect in the 21-st century. Modernizing professional services - or how you want to name it: innovation, new business development, new service development - requires the execution of internal projects that clients won't pay for in advance. These projects are challenging to execute for several reasons.
In any organization, adopting, developing and implementing new technologies and processes is challenging. Plenty of famous authors have written about these perils, from Christensen about the dangers of disruption to Ries about the need for more entrepreneurial thinking when executing these projects.
All evidence suggests that you need a structured approach to execute these projects successfully. A lot of money is at stake. Without a structured approach, office politics, wishful thinking, and confirmation biases diminish the chance of successful outcomes.
In the professional services, there are a few additional challenges that are rarely mentioned. Among others, the fee-for-service business model, complex concepts, demanding clients, and limited scalability make executing these modernizing projects even more challenging than it is already for any other organization.
For example, the fee-for-service business model most professional service organization use - hospitals, law firms, engineering firms, and consultancies - make that the organization comes into action when there is a client with a request.
On the flip side, without a client request, nothing happens. Unfortunately, clients are not going to ask (or pay upfront) for these modernizations. They expect professionals to be up to date.
Who and how modernizing is going to happen is therefore a major challenge in any professional service organization. As for any provider, engaging in these activities will hurt their short-term performance.
Modernization activities just never will have the same urgency or status as today's client requests.
How to go about it?
Recognizing the problem is half the solution:
Ideas are not the problem
There are plenty of opportunities and ideas. Everybody is just so busy and focused on today. That is what makes modernization challenging, not the lack of ideas.
With many specialties represented, it is difficult to recognize a modernization project's potential and prioritize projects. Too many projects in the pipeline means everything is underfunded, making modernizing a frustrating process for all involved.
Business case proposals are used to select and prioritize projects. What data and information should be covered in such a proposal? Most professionals lack the time and skills to create a substantiated proposal for their modernization project. Let alone that they have the experience to execute these projects. Yet their engagement is critical to the success of these projects.
Teams of professionals are the key to success. However, it can be stressful to find suitable teammates, challenging to find common ground, and difficult to make all members pull their weight, since most professionals rarely must work together.
To address these modernizing challenges, professional service organizations need to innovate smarter. It does not work to expect a dedicated innovation unit to innovate on behalf of the organization. We have learned - and have the research evidence - that it works much better to:
- Have your talented professionals drive your organization's modernizing efforts
- Facilitate the formation of project teams
- Support these teams with training programs
- Provide adequate opportunity to execute the work that needs to be done - work in short burst, if that fits everyone's busy schedules better
- Have the team that will deliver the new service also develop and implement it. Provide support where and when necessary
- Deliver and share successful concepts with the rest of the organization and the profession if appropriate
Without a structured approach, the above is impossible to achieve. Let alone that it will be feasible to turn your modernizing efforts into a generator of a new revenue streams.
At Organizing4Innovation we have developed programs that address the challenges mentioned above. Our programs are tailored to the needs of professional service organizations with one, a few, or a pipeline of modernization projects.