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October 10, 2017
If you’ve made the switch from product sales and one-time services to offering your customers ongoing solutions, odds are you’ve become familiar with favorite project management tools such as Asana, Basecamp or Jira. But just throwing one of those tools into your service offerings as a one-size-fits-all platform doesn’t ensure you’re providing a project management solution that’s truly specific to your clients’ needs. Different products have different benefits and primary use cases. If you want to offer your customers’ businesses—or your own operations—customized solutions, there are a few things to consider first.
A project management (PM) tool helps plan, organize and manage internal resources to reach peak efficiency so your customers can focus on doing business instead of shuffling through emails or spreadsheets to try and get a sense of where they are in a project. The proper PM tool can help ensure projects are delivered on time and give quick and simple visibility into the burn rate of a project’s budget, allowing managers to scale up or down accordingly.
Perhaps most attractive, the right PM platform can really facilitate streamlined communication. Many PM tools have a collaborative feature like chat or a message board, which allows all communication regarding the project to be centralized within the tool, instead of scattered across other tools, like an office messaging application or email.
Before you even consider weaving a PM tool into a customer’s service package, make sure you have a conversation with them to determine if they’re even ready for it, says Jess Cash, a Dallas, Texas-based project manager who works with digital marketing agencies to help them hone processes and ensure they aren’t hemorrhaging money because of inadequate oversight. If they’re still monkeying around with ad hoc ‘processes’ with no real established workflows, a PM tool will be useless to them. These platforms are meant to support existing processes and improve planning and profitability, but they won’t magically create order where there is none to begin with.
Once best practices are in place, it’s time to help your clients evaluate their resource management capabilities.
“Resource management is just figuring out how to use your resources as efficiently as possible. It’s making sure that the right people are working on the right projects or project elements, according to whatever their skills and abilities are,” says Cash. “A good project management tool will have a feature for resource planning. For instance, some have an interactive schedule with a dynamic timeline that’s hugely helpful in evaluating whether the organization or team can take on additional projects.”
There are a few other key features Cash says you should look for when helping your clients evaluate and select a PM tool:
Flexible and project-specific permissions: The last thing you want is for a junior team member to start messing around with adding or deleting projects and users from the tool, or have visibility into billing. Make sure the platform you go with has the ability to assign permissions as appropriate. Admin permissions related to planning or budgeting should be reserved for only key decision-makers and trusted account managers, with bit players in the project only having access to more tactical elements.
Seamless integration with existing tools: This should be a no brainer for channel pros, but Cash says you’d be surprised how many times a PM tool is implemented without thought of how some of its features will impact existing processes. Common features of a PM tool typically include features like collaboration support, reporting and analysis, resource management, scheduling, document management and time tracking software. If your customer is already using a secondary tool for any of these purposes, the implementation of a project management tool could centralize these effort and eliminate the need for more than one tool.
Scalability: When considering the cost and ROI of a PM tool, make sure your customer is aware of the platform’s ability to scale according to future business goals. There are dozens of project management tools all along the cost spectrum. Depending on the need and the number of users, costs can range from as little as $70 per month to upwards of $50 per user per month. But a tool that costs $50 per month per seat might appeal to a three-person shop, but if the business grows and the number of users doubles, so will the price. Ostensibly, the value the tool provides should increase with the addition of users and projects, but that doesn’t mean the price should necessarily follow that same upward trend. Evaluate the pros and cons of companies that offer tiered pricing models as opposed to per-user pricing to see what fits best with your customer’s goals, both short and long term.
There aren’t many organizations that wouldn’t benefit from the efficiencies that PM tools offer, says Cash, provided you’ve chosen the right one to fit business needs. That means that if you position it right, it’s a service that you can legitimately sell to virtually all of your clients as a real value add to their businesses.
“So many companies I work with tell me at the start of the engagement that they don’t think they need to invest in a proper project management tool. But when I go through the books and show them how much money they’re essentially throwing away on these ad hoc processes, the numbers speak for themselves.
“Let me be clearer: A project management tool is essential for any company interested in delivering projects on time and within budget. Period”
Head of Channel Communities, Zift Solutions
Kris Blackmon is head of channel communities at Zift Solutions. She previously worked as chief channel officer at JS Group, and as senior content director at Informa Tech and project director of the MSP 501er Community. Blackmon is chair of CompTIA's Channel Development Advisory Council and operates KB Consulting. You may follow her on LinkedIn and @zift on X.
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