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PSA Tool Evaluation Part 2 – Key Functions

I’ve written in a past post about the key perspectives that need to be considered when evaluating a PSA (Professional Services Automation) tool – Team Member and Manager. This week I’m going to go into a little more on the functional side of things to consider when evaluating a PSA tool.

The most important thing to remember when doing your evaluations is to constantly remind yourself why you are searching for a PSA tool in the first place. For most organizations it’s all about process improvement and realizing efficiencies. Organizations reach a certain level of organic growth when they have to move from a startup mentality (see: hair on fire/working non-stop/anything-and-everything) to a more process-driven way of doing things. Part of that growth is trying to regulate your processes and practices as well as try to leverage technology to help automate some of those processes. For some organizations it can be about replacing multiple disparate systems with one enterprise solution and reducing the overall technology footprint in the organization. Here are some key features and functions that you should consider when evaluating a PSA tool.

Schedule & Budget Management

The most visible and asked-about components of a project are the schedule and budget. “How much?” and “When?” are the two most commonly asked questions of project sponsors and stakeholders. Your PSA tool should make it easy for your project managers to input and manage your schedules and budgets. Most PSA tools will have a Gantt chart view where you can create tasks and subtasks, set predecessors, effort and durations for each task. This inherently can build your schedule for you as well as help drive your project budget. Being able to see opportunities in your plan to buy back some schedule or perhaps reduce your budget can be a big benefit to using a proper project planning tool. Having this in your PSA system and integrated into my next point, time entry, is where the power of a good PSA tool really starts to shine.

Time Entry

This is the heart of a good PSA system. Coinciding with a good platform for schedule and budget management, a good time entry system will be a God-send to your team members. In most of the organizations I’ve worked at, time entry is viewed as a necessary evil – that ‘thing’ we have to do at the end of the week that is a huge inconvenience. It is however a critical component to most professional organizations and the need for accuracy is paramount. Timesheet templates, smart searching and a slick user interface are just some key items to having a well-embraced time entry solution in your PSA system. By being able to tie your time entry to your schedule and budget, it sets up for my next point – Analytics and Reporting.

Analytics and Reporting

This is the heartbeat of a good PSA. Having a great system for inputs is useless unless you are able to extract the information back out of the system in a format that is of value to you and your stakeholders. Basic project reporting as well as whatever advanced metrics you need to support your business. This is where a lot of PSA solutions tend to fall down or at the very least, cause some frustration among their user bases. Managers are very keen to get critical information out of the system as soon as they can and can grow impatient or even frustrated when the information they need is not at their fingertips (as it was in their old system – Excel as an example). This is typically the greatest learning curve for most PSA tools is being able to adjust their processes and expectations for reporting to whatever the system can provide for them. That being said, there are some key analytics that I feel should be readily available in every solution.

  1. What’s my project budget, how much have I burned and what do I have left?

  2. What is my percentage complete of the overall project or of a major task?

  3. What is my estimate at completion (EAC)? (i.e. where am I going to land?)

  4. How is my schedule? Are we ahead, behind or on track.

If your PSA tool cannot answer these questions almost immediately, you should have alarm bells ringing.

These items are just a few (albeit very important) items that you should look for when evaluating and ultimately selecting a PSA tool for your organization. In a future post, I’ll continue on with some other criteria that you should use for evaluating a solution for your organization.

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