Time tracking maturity model for the consulting industry

21 April 2016 Consultancy.uk

Time tracking is, besides the actual consulting work, arguably one of the most fundamental activities for consultants. Consultants charge for time and completed work, and therefore need to record time spent and deliverables, which subsequently triggers the invoicing process. Over the years, time tracking has been made easier through a plethora of more user-friendly systems and apps, while at the same time its importance as a strategic tool has, amidst a changing landscape, been on the rise. A newly developed maturity model helps decision makers in the industry understand where they stand, and what they can do to improve.

Time tracking is an approach used across most industries and business models. Through time tracking, managers can continuously understand what a companies’ pool of talent is doing, and how effective they are. For the consulting industry time management stands at the heart of internal operations, as it embodies what keeps the business up and running: chargeable hours. Consultants track their time, at the highest level differentiating between two types of time-spent: time spent serving clients (‘billable hours’) and time spent in support of internal activities (‘non-billable hours’). On average, entering and submitting time registrations is estimated to take three minutes per day, research shows, that is if employees are fully on board and up to speed with the (technical) process.

In consultancy, time tracking is at the outset linked to financials and control & monitoring. Hours tracked on engagement work can be tallied and billed to clients, while time spent internally is written-off and generally taken under scrutiny to assess if the tasks completed sufficiently support the consultancy’s overall direction. There are however a range of other benefits that can arise from time tracking. The micro management of time, for instance, allows business advisory firms to strategically assess their internal investments: what does the company spend its time on – and is it effective? Analysis of project portfolios and time spent on business development (in combination with account management) also allows for better forecasting, a process which in turn provides key input back into the time management cycle.

From an operations perspective, time tracking is the fundament of business optimisation initiatives, such as processes implemented to improve time and project estimation, to boost financials such as contribution margins and advance billing efficiency. “Consulting firms that implement time tracking in all aspects of their business benefit from a management tool which answers strategic questions based on solid data rather than a gut feeling,” comments Søren Lund, CEO of TimeLog, a company that provides software solutions to the consulting industry.

A glimpse of large trends in the industry – changing client behaviour, pressure on margins, growing shift to performance based pay – reveals that over the years internal operations has become increasingly important for consultancies, for large to medium-sized and small firms. “In line with these development we see a growing need to grasp and optimise time management, in fact several case studies show it can even serve as a key competitive differentiator,” says Lund, who says his statement is grounded on a performance assessment of TimeLog’s more than 700 clients in the industry. And looking ahead, Lund, along with consulting analysts across the globe, foresee a growing role for time tracking in the field, a movement which links closely to the rise of data analytics and technology-driven innovation.

Despite the importance of the topic, Lund says that his firm signals that consultancies sometimes struggle with their own time tracking performance, as well as understanding where they stand vis a vis their peers. “There is little representative data available on time tracking operations across the industry, and more so than in other sectors, internal operations is typically shrouded with secrecy by partners.”

To help decision makers at advisories gain insight in where they stand, and the improvement potential ahead, TimeLog decided to introduce a maturity model specifically for time tracking within management consulting and IT consulting. The model consists of five levels of organisation maturity*: Heroic, Functional Excellence, Project Excellence, Portfolio Excellence and Collaborative.

Level 1: Heroic
At this level, simply implementing a time tracking system is everything. The company typically implements a time tracking system to create a basis for invoicing. 30% of all organisations are at this level – and nearly every single one starts here.

Level 2: Functional Excellence
At this level, time tracking is in effect and the company is accumulating a statistical basis for estimating future projects. You are free to budget projects and easily follow up on them. Some workflows are optimised, but not all workflows adhere to company best practices. 25% of all organisations are at this level, says Lund.

Level 3: Project Excellence
At this level, all processes are standardised, and time tracking is implemented across all functions. You can schedule alongside project management and time tracking. 25% of all consultancies find themselves at this level.

Level 4: Portfolio Excellence
At this level, the company has an automated resource management plan. This means that the company is able to plan in detail and perform according to that plan – but also react to changes and adapt the plan accordingly. This requires, however, that all time registrations are processed in real time, and that project planning and resource allocations are integrated with the registrations. 15% of all consulting firms are at this level.

Level 5: Collaborative
At level 5, the company is constantly optimising its workflows in an integrated learning loop. They are using time registrations to change their behaviour and, as a separate objective, continuously improve their workflows. They benchmark to continuously monitor performance and improve workflows. “Just 5% of the enterprises in consulting enjoy such a high level of maturity.”

* The model is derived from SPI Research's Professional Services Maturity Model


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Accenture's push into the creative sector is an identity crisis

18 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

In its latest push into the creative sector, Accenture Interactive acquired New York and London-based ad agency Droga5 earlier this month, adding illustrious clients such as HBO, Amazon and The New York Times to its roster of clients. With the latest in a long line of similar purchases, Accenture Interactive further demonstrated its ambition of becoming the globe’s leading trusted advisor to chief marketing officers. Yet according to Ben Langdon, Chairman of Class35, Accenture’s strategy may be heading in the wrong direction.

A press release on Accenture’s website announcing the acquisition sits next to a quote stating that “brands aren’t built through advertising” – a huge contradiction from a consultancy firm hell-bent on becoming the ‘CMO agency of choice’. It’s not alone of course. The entire consulting industry wants a piece of the creative pie right now. In addition to Accenture Interactive, recent acquisitions by PwC Digital, IBM iX, and Deloitte Digital meant that in 2017, for the first time ever, four of the world’s ten largest creative agencies were consultancies.

So just what it is that Accenture wants to achieve from this? For one thing, it’s clearly trying to be a digital transformation business. A one-stop creative shop rivalling more traditional models, it wants to lure CMOs in with the promise of lower ad spend and a “more impactful customer experience”. At the same time, though, it’s still in thrall to those same slinky, shiny branding and advertising agencies it’s attempting to disrupt. The Droga5 acquisition and that of Karmarama a few years before are both testament to this.

There’s a fundamental problem with this, though. Digital transformation businesses don’t sell to CMOs. These people have enough on their plates trying to transform their own marketing skills in order to keep up with an ever-changing market – they just don’t have the time or the energy to concern themselves with digitally transforming a whole business. If Accenture’s purpose is digital transformation, then going after creative agencies is barking up the wrong tree.Is Accenture's push into the creative sector an identity crisis?

Worlds apart

Perhaps more importantly, these two industries are worlds apart in terms of the way they think. Creative agencies are all about ideas, campaigns and consumers. Digital businesses, on the other hand, are customer-driven – they think in terms such as lifetime value, measurement, and efficiency. Customer-led thinking is an entirely different beast to consumer-led thinking.

The reality is that the arrival of digital and an all-encompassing obsession with technology, measurement and social has led to the death of agencies in a reductive, zero-sum, efficiency-focused battle with brands. Indeed, agencies have become so obsessed with the latest tech fads, they’re beginning to forget how brands work. Worse still, they’re beginning to forget how brands are built. And, by forgetting, they’re destroying their own values.

Killing creativity

All things considered, it really feels to me as though Accenture is a chip leader in a game it doesn’t understand. Expensive acquisitions like these show that they’ve got the big money, but they don’t appear to have any idea what they’re doing with it. Take talent, for example. The best talent in the creative industry right now is out in the market; it’s not tied to any one agency. Both agencies might well be at the top of their game, but why would a consulting firm waste so much money on buying them when they could hire high-quality creative talent on a contingent basis instead?

As their presence in the top 10 creative agencies shows, there is a growing trend in which Accenture, like many of the other big players, are buying up agencies as if they were nothing more than keywords. What they’re really buying, though, is a collection of credentials, clients and IP. Unfortunately, the talent that created those credentials aren’t going to stay at the business, the clients that hired the agency in the first place won’t be interested in buying what is basically just another part of Accenture, and the IP never really existed to begin with.

Droga5, for example, was one of the few agencies that did great brand work the old-fashioned way – undoubtedly something that made it attractive to Accenture in the first place. The irony, though, is that by leading it further away from the way of working that made it so special, the consulting giant will kill its creativity.

“Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record…. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.”

If pressed, the recently acquired agency staff at Accenture will tell you just how dysfunctional the new arrangement is. They’re largely unfulfilled. Rarely do they feel their work has any sort of meaning or purpose. What’s more, the different disciplines have found little or no common ground, and find it hard to work together as a cohesive whole. It’s not surprising, then, to see talented people leaving in droves.

Beyond the window dressing 

It’s clear, then, that consulting firms and creative agencies are no easy bedfellows. But in his company’s defence, Accenture Interactive’s Senior Managing Director for North America, Glen Hartman, described its culture as being “far, far away from what a stereotypical consulting firm would look like. Our office and studios look a lot like Droga5’s.”

In demonstrating a belief that office design equates to workplace culture, this statement serves as an illustration of how confused Accenture is right now. It wants to justify its new strategy so badly, it’s started dressing like a creative agency. But if you look beyond the window dressing and see that you and your partners are speaking a different language with a different purpose, selling to different people in a different market, there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re different.

Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record, and it wants to dazzle others with its new direction. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.

Related: Space between consulting firms and creative agencies is converging.