Is Hourly Work Taking Too Long?

Leadership - Air Traffic Control


Client is a SaaS company, but the product needs heavy customization. For this reason, the “Professional Services” team is larger than the Product Development team.

Investors do not like this, because valuation of the company would be much higher if revenue were derived primarily from the Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) of license fees, rather than one-time services.

A deployment in this Client’s industry typically requires 200 hours of Professional Services labor, but for some reason this company requires closer to 1000 hours. Fiscally, the Professional Services unit runs at a loss.


Getting to the bottom of this problem required understanding the actual offering. To begin, I asked for all internal documents relating to the Professional Services process. What’s the offering? What are the customizations that need to be applied to the product? Who does the work? What’s the org chart?

I interviewed quite a few people on the Professional Services team, with a question set similar to this:

  • What is your title?
  • What are you theoretically supposed to be doing, most of the time?
  • Are you able to actually do that, or is there some other thing that takes more of your time than it should? Why?
  • Are you ever unable to complete something in your workflow because it’s blocked? If so, what do you end up waiting for?
  • What do you think is the most valuable thing you could be working on, at the Company?


The team structure was sensible; most Client engagements involved a Project Manager, a client-facing Account Executive, and a Solutions Engineer coding the actual deployment.

Close examination revealed the problem:

The Professional Services team has policies in place whereby every action must be run through multiple layers of approval. Even though “on paper” the hierarchy looked okay, the reality was that nobody was trusted to work on their own.

Project Managers would spend all day, every day, in meetings co-working with the people beneath them.

All outgoing communications, decisions, plans, and documents, needed direct approval by VP Operations — a single choke point.

The VP Operations was overwhelmed, the Project Managers were all exhausted, and the customer-facing team spent as much time apologizing to customers for delays, as actually doing work.


The Services team needed greater empowerment. Of course everything takes too many hours if two-person teams are doing work that one can do alone.

Even worse if everything needs a stamp of approval before it can go out.

Leadership needs to train and trust the team to make their own decisions, not demand approval through a logjam. Beyond the efficiency problems, infantilizing a team like that is devastating to morale.

One executive should not be Air Traffic Control.


Posted on

January 11th, 2021