Episode 139 – How to Use the Post Project Review to Scale Your Firm – Member Case by Nicole Merrill

Listening to clients intentionally is a core competency for service firms attempting to scale. There are 5 listening techniques appropriate for a boutique service firm. They are: 1- client advisory board, 2- post project reviews, 3- client satisfaction program, 4- win loss program, and 5- conferences. In this session, we take a deep dive on #2 post project reviews. Learn what they are, why they are required, the benefits they produce, and how and when to perform them.


Greg Alexander [00:00:10] Welcome to the Pro Serv Podcast, a podcast for leaders of thriving boutique professional services firms. For those that are not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community focused on the unique needs of the boutique processor firm. My name’s Greg Alexander. I’m the founder and I’m going to be your host. Today on in this episode, we’re going to talk about one of the listening techniques. We discussed five listening techniques in the book, The Boutique. And one of those is called a Post Project Review. We’re going to talk about what it is, why you should be doing them, when you should be doing them, who should own it, how many should be done, etc., etc.. And we’ve got a great member role model with us. Her name is Nicole Merrill and she’s a CEO of Vecteris. Nicole, it’s good to see you. And you introduce yourself and your firm, please. 

Nicole Merrill [00:01:05] Absolutely. Thank you for having me here. It’s nice to be here. Vector is works with B2B professional services companies to build products that allow them to grow without adding more headcount. It’s an important area that a lot of our organizations are struggling with. So most organizations run right to the technology, you know, the app they want to build or the elements they want to build, whatever it might be, and they run into trouble. So we help those organizations by addressing the three major challenges they face leadership, vision and alignment, product mindset and skill set, and finally developing their own product innovation process. And that’s all specific to the B2B professional services space. So and my own background is in over 20 years of designing and executing the go to market strategies for those kinds of services and products. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:57] Okay, great. So let’s start with the basics. What is your definition of a post project review? 

Nicole Merrill [00:02:06] So for us, we like to use the post product review process. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:11] Yep. 

Nicole Merrill [00:02:12] Yes. Project Review Fork for a couple of different things. We see it as an opportunity to debrief and give people our clients an opportunity to ask more questions. Look for clarity. We also see it as a time where we can get feedback on the work that we’ve done for them and also a really a wonderful opportunity to explore new opportunities. How else could we be working together? So. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:42] Okay, fantastic. And the mechanics of it, how do you do them at the terrace? 

Nicole Merrill [00:02:49] So within our consulting practice, typically we’ll do a couple of things. We have a survey that gets sent out to all the participants in the project, and then we also will schedule time with the project sponsor to really get to talk through with them. Sorry. Things are about making noises here so that we get a chance to talk through with them. The. Her opportunities there, the victories that they saw coming out of the project. So there is a interview guide that we actually use to kind of walk us through that. So that’s with our consultant, with our customers. We actually also do an internal project review where everyone from the project comes together and we also do the same victories, opportunities for development for us internally. We look for the things that we want to productize, that we want to use again and again because they work so well in that particular project and look for ways that we can work to better together. So there’s kind of three layers to our post project work actually. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:57] And when you do it internally. Um hmm. What are some things that you commonly find? One of the outputs of that. 

Nicole Merrill [00:04:09] One of them is definitely to look for the opportunities that we can do more work with someone potentially, if we haven’t already identified them. It’s a way to give the team an opportunity to give each other like kudos and great feedback on Hey, you really helped me out when you did this. So it’s a good kind of team building opportunity for them. It also gives us the opportunity to look for places where we can repeat and just, you know, get better and faster and more efficient as an organization. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:37] Yeah, exactly. Okay. And is there like, who owns it inside the company? Is it the person who own the project? Is it somebody else who owns the Post Project Review? 

Nicole Merrill [00:04:50] That’s a great question. So we actually have a leader in project management who is the person who kind of owns the set up of every project and then the debrief of every project. So she makes sure that we send out that survey. She makes sure that we’re scheduling that session with the project sponsor, and she makes sure that we actually have our internal debrief. So she schedules all that. She runs us through the agenda. And then she makes sure that those pieces that we want to make sure we’re repeating end up in the right place, because she is also the person who owns our playbook. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:23] Essentially, yeah. You know, the repeating concept is one that’s worth highlighting the way that we did it in my old firm and we use different terminology, but it’s essentially the same thing. What we did was we pulled out the original scope and and then we compared the original scope with what actually happened in the project. And if we were out of scope and therefore not as profitable as we needed to be, we would analyze why, you know, if the profit margin on that project was higher than normal, we analyzed why. So it’s always a good kind of closed loop process to, you know, to go back to, you know, what were the original assumptions and what actually happened. So, okay, So we talked about what it is, why members should be doing them. Who owns it in the firm? When is it done? 

Nicole Merrill [00:06:09] We usually do it within a few days of actually wrapping up the project. So we try to do it very, very quickly as much as we can. So someone’s on vacation will wait, but typically we’re doing it within days. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:21] And the theory there is there’s more time passes, the less fresh our memories are. 

Nicole Merrill [00:06:26] You forget. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. You forget what was important or you’ve lost sometimes. Well, even if it’s a particularly long project, we’ll actually fit in something mid-stream because we don’t want to miss the things that maybe happened early in the project that could have that we will have forgotten by the end. So it’s not necessarily only at the end that we’re doing these kinds of conversations. 

Greg Alexander [00:06:47] Okay. And do you do them after every project, or is there a certain project size that gets this extra attention? 

Nicole Merrill [00:06:55] No, for us, we do it after every single project. There’s really no project that we wouldn’t do it after. It’s it’s an integral part of kind of how we do business. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:07] Okay. And and the results that are gathered from this. Mm hmm. Are they use across the entire organization or is it just within client delivery? 

Nicole Merrill [00:07:20] The entire organization. So, you know, I mentioned early on that in our consulting practice, we do these post project reviews, but it’s really driven how we’ve developed our organization as a whole. So we’ve moved as an organization more and more into a subscription based advisory solution. And part of that was because we wanted our business model to to grow in that direction. But through these kinds of conversations is where we got that. Why, for our customers, like, why is this more important for our customers to be more in this advisory solution kind of approach? You know, we learned through having these discussions that essentially what companies were doing was almost outsourcing their strategy, and it was really important that they keep that strategy internal. And it became very, very clear as we were having some of those post project conversations that being able to work with and partner more with customers is really important and that it really kind of gave us the the why behind we were making a more a big business model shift. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:26] Yep. And as you do these post-graduate reviews and you guys are doing them after every project, which is, which is quite a lot, does it help you get a better understanding as to really who your ideal client is and therefore who you might target from a sales and marketing perspective? 

Nicole Merrill [00:08:46] Yes, I would say it does. It definitely helps us identify what are the. The things that are a bit different between each of the organizations so that we can be looking for those right companies when we see them, and also help us eliminate the ones that aren’t the right fit long term. Yeah, help us better understand the problems that they’re facing and so that when we’re upfront selling, where we’re positioning it better so that the people who really need us, they can self-identify as well. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:17] You know, in my journey from time to time, we would have a set of projects that didn’t go so well, and then we would analyze those to see what was common amongst them and they would say, Listen, you know, when you’re in the services business, you become what you sell and who you serve. So if you’re having a problem with a certain type of project and you keep selling them that project, life is going to be miserable because you going to keep putting yourself into those difficult situations. And I know it’s difficult to walk away from revenue, but not every dollar is worth the same. Some dollars are more attractive than other dollars and there’s real opportunity cost there. So I just wanted to work into the conversation on how critical it is to pull forward the post project reviews into the sales and marketing process so that what you’re bringing into the firm, other types of clients and types of projects that you want to work on because that will lead to success because again, ultimately we become what we sell and who we serve. 

Nicole Merrill [00:10:16] Now, couldn’t agree more. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:17] If you were starting a firm today and you weren’t doing this and you didn’t even know maybe what it was, would some listening to this will fall into that category and you were paralyzed because you don’t even know how to take the first couple of steps. You know, how would you get going on this? 

Nicole Merrill [00:10:34] On the process of how to do a post project review. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:37] Correct. 

Nicole Merrill [00:10:38] I’d probably chat at first. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:42] I think we’re all doing that these days. 

Nicole Merrill [00:10:44] Yeah, 100%. I don’t think. I don’t think it has to be fancy. Yeah, we, we started with a like start, stop, continue kind of framework. So we just were able to kind of help people think about all the key areas that we wanted feedback on. We’ve kind of moved into a slightly more elegant framework, which is victories, opportunities and shifts. So what are the things that really organizations felt were there where they really saw value? Where were the areas where we had maybe we had a miss that we could have filled the gap on and still maybe could fill the gap on. And then shifts in the shifts is where we get into conversations of how we do work together in the future, because it’s how their organization is shifting because of this. And we really get a nice opportunity to get expansion from those kinds of questions so it doesn’t have to be fancy. I think you can start super easy and just have a conversation with people. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:41] Yeah, I agree. You know, one thing that I might put on top of that maybe at the intermediate step, not the expert stuff, but once you pass the beginning step is to really embrace this concept of project profitability. Sometimes we measure margins in the aggregate at the firm level, and that can be a little deceiving if you’re measuring profitability at the project level. And the post project review would be the way that which you did that you start to get really granular. You know, so for example, if you were I don’t know if there were four phases to a project and phase two was 200% of scope, like what the heck happened? You know, if if Bob, who was assigned to the project, you know, had these three deliverables and he was two weeks late on each one, like what was going on with Bob, did we staff the project correctly? And then when you when you start doing it that way, you really get good and understanding scope and then you can pull that forward into the sales process so that when you put a proposal on the table for a client, maybe you can move away from hourly billing and you can move into something like a fixed, better or flat fee because you really have great understanding as to what the work is, you know, what the level of effort is going to need to be in order to pull it off. So just something to think about there for for the members. All right. Well, listen, we’re at our time here, but for members of collective 54 that are listening, I want you to pay attention to the meeting invite that will come out for the private member Q&A session, which we’ll have with Nicole. And you’ll be able to double click into this and a lot more detail and ask her her direct questions and learn a lot about the Post project review. For those that are listening, that are nonmembers. Obviously, I encourage you to become a member and you can do that. A collective 54 Adcom fill out a form and some will get in contact with you. And if want to learn about the other techniques that we advocate for, pick up a copy of our book. It’s called The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. But Nicole, you and your team have been long time supporters of Collective 54. You’ve made just a tremendous contribution to the community and you did so again here today. So on behalf of all the members, thank you so much for being here. 

Nicole Merrill [00:13:51] And I was delighted. Thank you so much. All right. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:55] Okay. Until next time, I wish you the best of luck as you try to grow, scale and exit your firm.