Best Practices in Project Onboarding
- Client onboarding sets the client's expectation and confidence at the start of a project. Instilling assurance early promotes team culture, communication and cooperation.
- Clients are understandably nervous at the start of projects. Most consulting firms have loosely defined onboarding programs and don't recognize their casual approach can contribute to client anxiety.
- A formal project onboarding program is the best way to instill confidence.
4 Professional Services Onboarding Best Practices
A Smooth Handoff
Professional services firms engage in complex sales – that is selling creative or technical solutions to committees of buyers over lengthy periods. Much information is accumulated during the sales cycle and that information is valuable to both the client and the delivery staff.
The ability to transfer not just contracts and documents but the history, sentiment and the options explored is extremely helpful in understanding each client's goals, expectations, assumptions and other success factors.
Software technology can assist in completing the sales to consulting hand-off. The CRM software system should be able to produce the client history in a semi-automated way. When CRM is integrated to Professional Service Automation software the salient activities and notes captured during the sales cycle can be automatically posted to the project profile record. This history will better prepare the consultants, put clients at ease and reduce communication fumbles.
Client on-boarding is often the first project delivery customer experience. A professional services best practice is to align the on-boarding program based on a combination of client and project type. A range of options is useful to both personalize and scale these events.
For example, a tech-touch on-boarding approach may use an online, self-service and low-cost model that can scale and reduce costs to serve. A high-touch approach requires additional labor and investment and therefore may need to be reserved for high dollar or high margin projects.
Professional Service Automation (PSA) systems can dynamically display on-boarding templates with checklists or guides. PSA software can be configured to deliver a tech-touch on-boarding process that includes a video welcome message, online view of the project profile or plan, client services with links for access, an enterprise social network (for asynchronous communication), a content management system (for project plans, status reports, etc.), real-time progress measurement, FAQs, tutorials and a case submission tool for client's to create help tickets. Using PSA software templates streamlines a repeatable process and aids the professional services provider is scaling an important event.
Methods Adoption Workshop
For more sophisticated engagements, consultants will find that many client project team members have not been through formal training on essential programs such as agile, Scrum, organizational change management (OCM) or business process redesign.
A consulting best practice is to deliver a Methods Adoption workshop at the start of the project. This high-level educational review of the methods to be used during the project will accelerate client staff members learning and significantly improve their confidence.
This workshop should be limited to the methods that will used during the course of the effort. It's also helpful to break the workshop into sections by audience. Business managers may need instruction on things like governance, implementation methodology, risk management or change management.
For something like a business software implementation project, technical resources may benefit from instruction for things like DevOps, system administration or more tactical measures such as a software naming convention process or User Story Traceability flow.
These methods adoption workshops give project team members an opportunity to view the end to end process, ask questions and increase their comfort level before commencement. These sessions combined with on the job exposure will provide client staff with knowledge that will benefit them for the current and future projects.
The diagram below is an example that shows the topics included in a Methods Adoption workshop for a recent Salesforce CRM implementation.
Begin with the End in Mind
Use the on-boarding process to reaffirm the business problem to be solved, the most significant project objectives and the success measures.
For sophisticated or lengthy projects, it is easy to get consumed in the weeds and lose focus on the most important objectives. Most clients have internal competing interests that can shift their goals during the course of the engagement. The problem is exacerbated if the client's goals are vague or infrequently reviewed. It is essential to affirm SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals at the start and position these goals as your North Star throughout the effort.
In also important to affirm the client's definition of success. This will help achieve consensus in how to reach agreed upon timing, milestones, review gates and progress benchmarks. Because many clients will state measurable improvement goals, but have no baseline to measure from, an early task may be to determine the current (baseline) state.
Finally, it's a good idea to understand the obstacles that have thus far challenged the client's goals. These barriers can then be proactively mitigated in the Risk Management Plan.