Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The importance of a discipline of professional practice

Back in September 2006 in Towards a Discipline of Practice I began a discussion on the importance of the development of a discipline of practice that spanned disciplines. Here I said in part:

On the surface, the application of each profession in practice may not seem connected. What do, say, law and medicine have in common? At least this:

  1. Common techniques can be used to analyse the processes followed by professionals in their work.
  2. A least some of the elements in those processes are common. For example, both lawyers and doctors have to begin each engagement (matter in the case of the lawyer, consultation in the case of the doctor) with a diagnostic. Comparison of the different application of common process elements between professions can yield fruitful insights.

The commonalities between management of practices across professions are better understood. However, there is in fact a gap here.

If you look at the literature you will find a range of general advice and principles drawn from management. You will also find a volume of nitty gritty material classified under the general head of practice management. This is often encapsulated in specific practice management courses and qualifications.

The gap as I see it between the two, and I think that this holds even though David Maister among others has written on the topic, is the gap that Prem points to, the absence of a fully articulated philosophy of practice that takes into account the unique features of professional practice.

The link to Prem's comment is included in the original post.

Back in June in Reflections on professional experience, I said: 

I have been off-line for a little while simply because I have been thinking! Part of those thoughts relate to my own directions, part relate to the core focus of this blog.

Over the last few years, I have changed my mind on some issues. For example, I am a stronger supporter of partnership models than I was so long as the partners accept the limitations involved.

On some other issues such as the the profit per equity partnership concept, I think that they are just as dangerous as before unless very carefully defined.

Then, on some issues such as time based charging, I have formed the view that a lot of the discussion simply misses the point. Time based charging has its problems, but it still is the best approach in some circumstances.

I have also become frustrated about my inability to get advice across about the need for change.

Part of this relates to a purely professional question that I have discussed before. What do you do when your client wants advice that you know won't work or must be just plain wrong? Part of this relates to my own professional skills, my inability to get a story across. However, part also relates to current management structures and attitudes within professional services. Some of this is just plain wrong.

Over the next week or so I thought that I might record my conclusions from all my thought. It's hard for a professional to accept his/her failures. Yet if we don't, how can we improve? 

As so often happens, events intervened. However, experiences over recent weeks have reinforced the need to write something. Bluntly, we professionals are letting down our clients. Worse, we are sometimes doing it through our narrow definition of what constitutes professionalism.

I have no truck with approaches that guarantee clients higher costs and worse results, even accepting that clients are their own worst enemy!

So, given this, over the next few posts I want to continue my discussion on a discipline of professional practice.  

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