Let's say that you wanted to develop an informational seminar for your financial practice. The goal is perhaps to generate new business, and one objective is to figure out how much new business by measuring new client acquisition.

Sounds simple enough. But doing it means bringing a rational process to bear-performing a series of steps and managing resources to bring about your goal. To be effective, this process should be outlined with goals, objectives, steps, assignments, accountabilities and time lines. Along the way, you have to look for potential obstacles and think of ways to overcome them.

Without such a process template or checklist to follow, the project could easily be derailed, be delayed or simply fail. What's required is an effective platform to accomplish the project within stated guidelines-a project management strategy.

To develop our seminar, we might take the following steps:
1.    Develop the seminar presentation
2.    Develop a seminar invitation letter
3.    Purchase or acquire a list of prospects to send the letter to
4.    Set up a seminar meeting location (perhaps a restaurant or conference location)
5.    Arrange for refreshments, hors d'oeuvres, etc.
6.    Send out the seminar invitation letter
7.    Do follow-up phone calls to respondents
8.    Conduct the seminar itself
9.    Follow up with attendees and solicit initial consultations
10.    Review the success of the project (by looking at the number of new clients)

These ten steps must then be fleshed out. Tasks should be created for each step, when you decide who on your staff is responsible and accountable for what. There must also be a time line established to control and monitor the project to make sure it is on schedule. And you may need to train employees to handle the tasks associated with the project, tying their efforts to the project's overall goal.

Perhaps most important is a cost/benefit study to determine the cost of your project weighed against the benefit in dollars. That is something often lacking from financial advisors' projects. For example, if the cost of a seminar program came to $2,500 and only one client purchased a product-giving you only a one-time commission of $1,500-you might decide the results did not match your expectations. That calls into question the viability of the project or its parts. If, on the other hand, the project garnered several profitable clients generating continuing fees or other revenues, you would likely think that the project was a great success. Even if you netted less-than-stellar profits, you would be able to assess different components of the project to find out what worked, such as the seminar topic or the quality of the invitation list, etc.

But it's not only seminars where you could apply project management techniques. You could also use them when you're developing an electronic document storage and retrieval system to complement or replace existing paper files. A project like this can take several months to implement, and one of your chief concerns will likely be whether you can successfully implement such a system while keeping costs down and keeping the interference with daily staff activities to a minimum.
You can also use such project management techniques when you're relocating, accounting for all the steps and costs associated with an office move. Or proper management could help you hire new employees, setting out the steps for advertising, interviews, background checks, psychometric tests or skills testing.

Very important to such projects is keeping track of all the steps in the process. For this you may want to consider a project management software program. One obvious choice is Microsoft Project, generally regarded as the standard among project management software programs. However, for more limited projects requiring simpler, more focused steps with less complexity, MS Project may be too much (or too expensive; the standard version is $549.99, the professional version $949.00).

An alternative is to develop a spreadsheet with a checklist of items, say in Microsoft Excel, where you can develop the steps with details and links to progress charts, etc. The process becomes more visual here and can be replicated in the future. But if you go this route, you lack interactivity with other applications such as your client relationship management software.

Redtail Technology (www.redtailtechnology.com), a Web-based client relationship management platform, offers an integrated checklist that could be used for simpler project management. This effective tool integrates with the larger client database and can be monitored by management, integrated with the calendar, etc.

Another program is Project KickStart (www.projectkickstart.com). Project KickStart Pro Version 5 offers all the features needed by financial advisors (and other businesses) without the complexity or cost associated with Microsoft Project (Version 5 is priced at $299.00). The software offers a quick, intuitive interface that can be learned in about 30 minutes or less, which means you can be up and running with the software right away. Interestingly, it permits you to export to MS Project, if necessary. Of greater interest, though, is the export feature that creates a PowerPoint slide show instantly from your completed project setup. This is a very powerful tool for training and requires no effort or extra expertise on your part to create a set of slides that fully illustrate your project and all of its parameters. KickStart also offers several export capabilities to popular software programs such as Excel, MindManager, ACT and others.

Beyond just setting up goals, objectives tasks and assignments, the software also creates a fully adjustable Gantt chart for time line monitoring. It can be viewed in weeks, months, quarters, etc., depending on the length and needs of the project. And you can save these as templates for different projects in the future, cutting down on keystrokes and development time. In short, Project KickStart saves you time and money while giving you an efficient platform to set up and monitor your firm's projects.

David L. Lawrence, RFC, ChFE, AIF, is a practice efficiency consultant and is president of EfficientPractice.com, a practice consulting firm based in San Diego, Calif. (www.efficientpractice.com). The Efficient Practice offers an advisor network and a monthly newsletter.