Friday, May 28, 2010

wallydownundy: Silent Planning: Agency Management and “What If?”

Running a professional services firm is a constant guessing game of “What If?” While a vast majority of our clients are on retained programs, with set fees month after month, some are project-based. We are uncertain how the business will fluctuate month to month.

And as a growth business, we’re also engaged in a number of new business discussions. These are companies we’ve not worked with who wish to retain our services - or those of another firm. We need to plan the resources for each.

Our resource is the time of our professionals. And like any resource it is finite. There are so many hours int he day, and so many people working here. The math is quite simple. And before long, you run out of people and hours.

Like manufacturing, I can search for efficiencies. Less double-up in meetings. Smarter allocation of work from senior to junior professionals. Use of technology to suicken repetetive processes, whether that’s a report on the day’s newspaper headlines of a summary of work in a month.

But unlike manufacturing, I cannot pre-purchase machinery in advance of work orders. People aren’t as readily available and if they aren’t busy with clients, it’s a squandered resource. Yes, everyone can help with running and promoting the company. But that’s not the most effective use of valuable skills.

So most of the time managers in charge of an agency play “What If?” What if we secure the new client assignment? What if our existing client delays or cancels a major project? What if we have several people out sick? (Last week we lost seven people simultaneously to a virulent flu.)

Lately I’ve been silently planning for a major piece of new business. We’ve been preparing our strategy during the days, evenings and weekends. And initial signs are encouraging. That’s forced me to look at office space, technology, people, resources. In quiet I’ve found space for eight new desks, interviewed ten people and prepared a capital plan for new technology. And that’s all without the certainty of success.

The problem is, if you don’t play “What If?” then later down the track you’re forced to deal with “What Now?” In almost every instance I would prefer to be prepared. So it’s back to planning - but don’t tell anyone...wallydownundy

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