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February 2016

Managing your AE business more effectively

by Barry Goman


After spending the early part of my career in the corporate world, I founded an AE consulting business – with little capital, no staff, and a few prospective clients. But, I had a plan, plenty of enthusiasm, and was ready for a new endeavor. Each year we’ve achieved growth – but it hasn’t been without challenges. There have been many “lessons learned” shared with colleagues and clients. I believe to a large extent our success has been driven by two key factors – being very good business managers and building a strong, dedicated team.

Achieving excellence in business management requires a good understanding of this body of knowledge and consistent execution. In addition, it takes time, money, and a willingness to delegate authority – other “ingredients” that can be hard to address, particularly for smaller enterprises. Therefore, the likelihood exists that an examination of business management performance could identify opportunities for improvement in many firms.

Before reviewing examples of signs that weaknesses may exist, let’s define business management – from a CEO’s or department head’s perspective. The essence of management, and the work of managers, at the highest level involves:

  • Planning and outlining major business objectives. This process includes articulating to stakeholders how success will be achieved. It has long-term, strategic components and short-term elements.
  • Organizing and directing human resources and providing an operating structure. Leaders and decision-makers must be identified. Roles, responsibilities, and lines of communication must be defined.
  • Controlling to ensure an organization stays “on course” and goals and plans are achieved. Reliable and timely feedback mechanisms need to be established so the ROI in all key functions and with all significant initiatives can be measured.
  • Decision-making is a function of the above three elements. Failure to adequately address these leads to poor or sub-optimal decisions and ultimately reduced profitability.

The results of poor decisions are sometimes very evident – for example, losing a bid for work with a long-term client. Sub-optimal decisions can be less visible and harder to detect. So, what should owners and executives be looking out for? What are the warning signs of weaknesses in business management? Here are some key areas to consider and questions to ask:

  • CEO role: Does a typical day-in-the-life of the CEO (or other department heads) frequently involve more firefighting than planning, managing, or developing business? Would the CEO like to delegate work but doesn’t? Is there a strong second-in-command or management team in place? Is the CEO receiving timely and accurate feedback on project and financial results?
  • Client performance: Is data that will help successfully manage client relationships and develop proposals being efficiently maintained in an easily retrievable manner? Is there a good understanding of and sufficient focus on the most profitable customers? Does each client have an account manager assigned and is an annual communications plan in place? Are rules in place related to the pursuit of new business that include ROI projections?
  • Controller role: This needs to be an influential position and integrated with senior staff (including PMs). Having a bookkeeper operating a basic accounting system that is not integrated with a project control system can create inefficiencies and limits timely, accurate, and meaningful reporting.
  • Staff and project teams: Is there strong evidence that staff or project teams are motivated and able to fulfill their responsibilities? Are timesheets submitted on-time and accurately? Does reporting include the measurement of rework time and billable hour utilization? How does staff turnover compare to industry averages?

Careful consideration of the above questions will help to identify issues that may be impeding your company’s business management performance. It may be necessary to drill-down further and consider options for improving management structure, processes, systems, and staff. These options will be explored more fully in Part II of this article. Stay tuned!

Barry Goman, CMC, is Managing Director with AMR Group Limited. AMR’s mission is to help professional services organizations improve profitability by identifying and resolving problems with software systems, business processes, and staff training.

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