Does Your Consulting Firm Need A Skills Matrix? Probably not.
“When do I know that my professional services organization needs a skills matrix?”
This was one of my favorite questions from a viewer during my April webinars about scheduling professional services projects. I shared a very simple skill and resource availability matrix with the attendees, which is what prompted the question.
The short answer is this: if you are at an embedded PSO where the consulting is primarily around your firm’s product, you should not need a skills matrix. Nearly all of the consulting work that an embedded services organization performs is related to that company’s product or products. The skills matrix is a straight line – either people have skills with your products, or they are not working in your PSO.
The utility is less clear if you are working at a pure-play professional services firm, be it industry or vertical. Attorneys can have different skills, just like IT people or marketing people. Moreover, skills matrixes are ubiquitous parts of professional services automation software and cloud-based solutions. However, that does not mean the value is universal.
An expertise-based firm will find almost no value in a formal skills matrix. Consider a firm that handles sinking container ships around the world. There are six principals in the firm and each one has a specialty, whether it is piloting ships or computer models of impact damage or hazardous materials or heavy marine equipment operations. Because there are so few people, a skills matrix would be pointless. The same is true in a small law practice or a small IT shop. There aren’t enough people to justify writing their skills down.
An experience-based firm might find value in a formal skills matrix function of a PSA. A typical ratio is one partner (or manager, or director, or supervisor) to 15 senior personnel. If there are a single PS manager and just fifteen staff, they should be able to remember who does what and who holds various certifications. However, as the organization grows regionally or the number of practice areas increases, there are efficiencies in having a skills matrix. Each supervisor might remember what their staff can do, but if a project crosses organizational boundaries (whether regional or by practice area) it is a convenience to be able to look up which personnel has a given skill set. This is a small efficiency, as the alternative would be just to ask the other practice or regional area managers if they have anyone on their team with a given skill.
A skills matrix is comparatively a necessity at an efficiency based firm. A typical ratio there is one senior partner (manager, supervisor, or similar title) to twenty or thirty junior personnel and interns. It is unlikely that a single supervisor can remember all of the skills their thirty staff hold, and as the number of supervisors increases, the problem only gets worse. Efficiency-based firms call in multiple people to work on each project, so having a clear view of which personnel has a given skill saves time and guesswork. It is more efficient to be able to search across practice or regional areas for individuals with specific skills, as well as their billing rates, as was shown in the sample during the webinar.
So even though your PSA vendor wants you to see a demo of their latest skills matrix, you do not have to use it, and unless you are at an efficiency-based firm, it might be more trouble than it is worth.