3 key questions for a service line leader

Are we on top of the service lifecycle?

The first question for a service line leader concerns the mix and maturity of services/capabilities in the portfolio and ensuring that these are matched to current and future market need.

One tool worth consideration at this stage is the service lifecycle model. This enables you to plot service maturity from development through to decline. From experience, I have seen services that were once very basic (in both my own firm’s capability and in the wider development of the service) blossom into major service lines with high client demand. I have also seen once popular services decline significantly.

The tool also helps assess whether you have a balanced portfolio of services. For example, do you have a set of new service propositions in development aligned to changing client needs or are your services reaching maturity (or becoming commoditised) and at risk of decline? There may also be differences in what is regarded as a mature service in the market compared to your own maturity in that service area.

The graphic below shows an example of service maturity for a team with services focused in the programme and project advisory space*.


How good are we really?

Being honest about how good you really are is important. We can all be tempted to over inflate our capability in an area. I once conducted a survey about our capabilities using a maturity model approach only to find that as a group we had scored pretty much 5 out of 5 in everything. This, of course, wasn’t the case and highlighted the need for honesty in assessment. We ended up re-doing the exercise to get a much more balanced view. Other areas to probe are whether you have intellectual property that is unique to you and tangible artefacts to back this up.

It is also important to consider what actually constitutes a capability. At the very bare minimum, I have always applied the following criteria:

  • There is more than one person in the business/team who can deliver the service (mapping capabilities via a skills matrix can be useful in this regard).
  • We are at least industry standard in terms of our processes and procedures.
  • We have examples of where we have delivered the service for clients.

The assessment of whether your capabilities are best practice or leading practice is an important one. Here, I define ‘best practice’ as what is generally written in guidelines/books about the service line. In my experience, by the time these have been written the service area has moved on. It’s important to test whether you are at the forefront of service line development (and creating leading practice) or whether you are following current best practice guidelines and in my view slightly behind the curve. This also leads to the question about how much investment is taking place for your service line? One thing you can be sure of is that if you are not investing in a marketable service area, someone else will be and you will soon lag behind the pack.

Finally, we are only as good as our ability to execute on our service areas. In this regard, the production of standard operating procedures can be useful. These ensure that everyone delivering the service delivers to the standards required. They provide a focus point for continuous service development and for training new hires in the service area. The best examples of service delivery should be recorded and easily accessible so that people are clear on what great looks like. The best firms I have seen have a well ordered approach to the capture and dissemination of their exemplar work.

Do you recognise when you have reached your peak?

Knowing when others can advance a particular service more than you can is also vitally important. There is no question that when I was leading a consulting service line that some of people we were hiring were able to see the service in a new light or take it to new levels – and did. Don’t assume that because you lead a service line that you have all the answers to its development – I certainly did not. Whilst I am proud of what I achieved in a particular service area (after all it was what formed my business case to make Partner), the following service line leaders were able to build on that platform and take the service line to new heights.

The final point has to be ‘don’t fall in love with your service line….fall in love with your clients’. Client needs are going to change and there is always a danger that your love of your service line means that it doesn’t adapt in the way it should as clients’ change.

*This is an example from some years back and would look very different today.