Examining the characteristics and managerial challenges of professional services: An empirical study of management consultancy in the travel, tourism, and hospitality sector

Alistair Brandon-Jones, Michael Lewis, Rohit Verma, Matthew Walsman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Citations (Scopus)
131 Downloads (Pure)


This paper finds that OM’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ characterization of professional services, namely high levels of customer engagement, extensive customization, knowledge intensity, and low levels of capital intensity, does not hold when carrying out a ‘deep dive’ (to the best of our knowledge, a first in this area of OM) into consultancy in the US travel, tourism, and hospitality sector. We analyse mixed-method data (semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and a best-worst choice experimental survey) and observe that consultancy can actually be quite remote and passive and that any periods of face-to-face ‘engagement’ will typically be time limited and focused on specific project phases. Moreover, and further confirming the value of a study that allowed us to investigate professional service operations in a specific market context, our data suggest this may often be at the behest of the client. The significant variation observed in levels of customization we interpret as confirming Maister’s (1993) notion of a portfolio of brains, grey hair, and procedural work. We also observed relatively high levels of capital intensity; reflecting perhaps the vintage of most OM characterizations and the dramatic ICT-related changes that have occurred in all business operations in the last 20 years. The work also demonstrates the necessity of a more contingent perspective on PSOM. We assess the impact of both firm (scale, specialization) and individual level (leverage) characteristics to demonstrate significant variation within what might be expected to be a relatively homogenous group of professional service operations. For example, investigating the effects of specialization (via a typology of consulting operations: super-specialists, generalists, deep knowledge traders, deep market knowledge traders) revealed that relative degree of interaction may be dependent upon degree of expertise, such that it was the super-specialists in our sample that spent less time with clients and the more generalist firms who were complementing their limited expert status with high levels of interaction (networking, etc.).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-24
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Operations Management
Issue number1
Early online date2 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2016



  • professional service firms
  • professional service operations management (PSOM)
  • empirical research
  • mixed-method data
  • consultancy
  • travel, tourism and hospitality
  • contingency

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