Professional Services by Design (PSbD)

Applying Quality by Design practices to your professional services offerings results in predictable margins, on time delivery, lower risk and more happy clients!

Quality by Design (QbD) has been embraced most fully by the automotive industry as well as others such as electronics and semi-conductor manufacturers.  It was more recently endorsed by the FDA in its guidance to drug makers (Pharmaceutical Quality for the 21st Century: A Risk-Based Approach).

I am a big proponent of lean and six sigma practices for improving and maintaining quality, both in my own organization and for improving and optimizing customer business processes.  Practitioner Michael L. George has written Lean Six Sigma for Service, an excellent book on applying lean six sigma to services. It is highly recommended reading for professional services leaders who want to get the most out of their organizations.  While lean six sigma is great for optimizing services and speeding service delivery, it assumes an existing process that needs improvement — that is, these are reactive techniques.  QbD is a proactive approach that seeks to build in quality from the start.

What does poor quality look like for a services business? The age old challenge for professional services is delivering projects on time, on budget, within scope and with minimal defects.  We’ve found ways to mitigate these risks, such as time boxing, applying agile techniques, and actively managing customer expectations.  But often times these efforts are not enough, and the end result is missed deadlines, busted budgets and the unplanned “firefighting” needed to salvage endangered client relationships.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to confidently predict delivery dates and project margin, and consistently make customers happy?


The solution that I propose is what I call Professional Services by Design, or PSbD.  PSbD means designing services from the start, by offering repeatable processes and pre-configured, targeted products and solutions that drastically increase the probability of success and decrease overall risk.

The traditional services engagement starts with a scoping study, where you identify unique requirements and then plan and estimate an engagement that is unique to that client.  But most likely you service customers in a small number of markets, who for the most part do the same kinds of things.  This repeatability from customer to customer is rarely leveraged by professional services firms, and is the key to successful PSbD.


Let’s take a look PSbD in action.  A number of years ago, my team was struggling with the large, risky enterprise software deployment projects that we were undertaking with our customers in pharmaceutical manufacturing.  While the configuration of the software was often very similar from customer to customer, each engagement was started from scratch and treated as unique.  This led to implementations that were subject to scope change, cost overruns, and unnecessary risk of dissatisfied customers.
Upon analysis, we determined that these customers were mostly doing the same things in the same or very similar ways, from sample tracking to chemical analysis to product release.  Not only that, but all of these companies were using the same ICH methods for chemical analysis, and were under the same FDA mandates for validating their regulated systems.  They were not so unique after all.
Our consultants combined had decades of experience working with pharmaceutical manufacturing customers, so we decided to package a common, pre-validated configuration of the enterprise software and a repeatable engagement methodology (service offering) to go with that configuration.  The result was a combined product and service offering that we were able to demonstrate saved the customer more than 75% of the cost and time to deploy as opposed to a traditional implementation project.  At the same time, we were able to drastically increase our confidence in project profitability, predictably allocate resources, practically eliminate the chance for project failure, and quickly create ecstatic reference customers. 


There will always be the need to improve the quality of your service offerings.  There will always be value to applying lean six sigma and other techniques to your existing service portfolio.  But you should start by applying PSbD to new service offerings, creating them with quality in mind from the start.  The additional work up front will result in happier customers, who will be more likely to serve as reference customers and help to drive your business success.
What do you think about PSbD?  Do you have an example of PSbD in action at your professional services firm?  Post a comment and share your thoughts!

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