As an operations and technology consulting firm that works with both breakaway advisors and existing RIAs in growth mode, we have become adept at project management and the importance of maintaining a strict schedule with many moving parts. Building an RIA from scratch is typically a 10-month project that requires work over long nights and weekends. In contrast, an operations and technology project may be split into multiple phases and could take over two years to complete from the exploratory due diligence phase to the completion of the implementation phase. An M&A Support project may be as simple as creating a project plan for future acquisitions, or as complex as going onsite to transition clients and consolidate duplicative systems.
Regardless of the type of service we are providing, all engagements need proper project management to meet and exceed clients’ expectations. We have found there are three main requirements for successful project management:
- The development of an all-encompassing project plan and timeline with identifiable decision trees and deadlines;
- An authoritative decision maker that understands the minutia of each element of a workstream, and an agreed upon method of making decisions if there is a team of people involved; and
- A person responsible for challenging the decision maker, keeping in mind the big picture and high-level objective of the project.
Prior to starting a project, it is critical to have a malleable project plan and developed timeline to understand crucial deadlines and what key tasks, calls, demos, meetings, decisions, etc. need to occur before those deadlines are met. Every task item should have an associated decision maker and “big picture” person identified, with necessary notes or considerations documented for each. These notes may include future decision points that are dependent on each particular task line, or simple reminders of other decision points that may be dependent on other outstanding items found elsewhere in the project plan.
As deadlines are discussed, it’s also important to understand decision trees and which decision points trigger or affect additional workstreams. Teams looking to launch an RIA by a certain date must juggle multiple workflows at once, and many times they assume the various workstreams are independent of one another. For example, under a marketing/branding workflow, the team needs to order business cards and letterhead ahead of their launch. Under a separate technology workflow, phones and phone numbers must be ordered by a certain date to ensure working phones are ready to go on Day 1. Without a proper project manager connecting the dots between these various workflows, the phone numbers may not be ordered with enough lead time to have them assigned to all employees and placed onto the newly-designed business cards in enough time to allow for approval, printing, and delivery to the office prior to their launch date. A successful project manager must think of everything!
When we work with a group of partners or executives – be it three people or thirty – there are bound to be different opinions on the perceived ideal outcome of these various workflows. We have run into this phenomenon as much with RIAs selecting a potential new performance reporting system as we have with breakaway advisors choosing a color variation and pattern for their office carpet. In either scenario, it’s essential to assign a key point person that is responsible for making the ultimate decision on each of these project tasks. It is imperative that the team designates a point person to make the final call with the understanding that a majority of other members disagreeing may result in a veto. The most critical aspect, though, is to ensure at the very beginning of the project a decision-making method has been determined so as not to slow down the momentum of the project’s progress once it’s already underway. This ultimately holds people accountable and makes it easier to meet deadlines.
Finally, it’s also critical to assign one team member as the “big picture” guide that the project manager can lean on for feedback and guidance throughout the project. Ideally, this is someone removed from day-to-day decision making responsibilities, but involved enough in the project to have a full understanding of the team’s high-level goals. The project manager should leverage this team member to make sure recent decisions are in line with the project’s goals and ask for their honest feedback. If they think someone is leading the team down the wrong path or the momentum has shifted outside the scope of the project, this person can help redirect and re-focus everyone’s attention. Allow them to challenge decisions and feel confident that they will offer appropriate guidance.
How can you ensure success with your next project? Develop a project plan with each task listed along with its associated deadline, decision maker, and team member ultimately responsible for decisions associated with that particular workflow. Make sure you have team members that can get lost in the weeds, and others focused on the big picture, always connecting the dots between separate workflows. And always strive for “ahead of schedule and under budget,” allowing for enough flexibility to know when “done” is better than “perfect.”