Summary of Managing the Professional Service Firm

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  • Applicable


If you manage or work in a professional service firm, this book can put your operation into perspective by explaining what drives the firm’s profitability. Author David Maister uses his personal experiences to enliven some of the dryer parts of the text with a few case studies, first-hand observations and advice. He covers the whole range of essential practices encountered by any service firm, including governance, hiring, motivation, coaching, marketing and compensation. However, there is one important caveat: This classic book was first published in 1993, including the chapter on professional compensation, which particularly needs updating. Some chapters were published even earlier in various trade magazines and journals, some dating back to 1982. Is this information still fresh and accurate in today’s business environment? Even if the personnel advice is, the compensation counsel and pre-Internet marketing advice probably is not. With this caveat, getAbstract considers this foundational work important for anyone working in or with a professional service firm.

About the Author

David H. Maister, a former Harvard Business School professor, consults for professional service firms worldwide. He is also the co-author of The Trusted Adviser, Practice What You Preach and First Among Equals.



A Special Business

Two characteristics make professional service firms different from other companies. First, most of their work demands a very high level of customization. Second, practitioners engage in a significant amount of personal client interaction. As a result of these characteristics, professional service firms rely totally on the quality of their employees. Since qualified people are so critical, professional service firms frequently are engaged simultaneously in seeking qualified people and trying to create high-quality, customized output. To accomplish great work for their clients, these firms must balance "service, satisfaction and success."

To conduct business, professional service firms have to balance the number of junior, middle and senior level staff members against the type of work they produce. The kinds of services the firm delivers determines the number of people it needs in each category, and that determines its "leverage," that is, the "ratio of junior to senior professional staff." Generally speaking, professional service firms fall into three categories:

  1. They provide specialized knowledge -To supply clients with customized knowledge...

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