Agency Traffic Or Project Management: Is There A Difference?

Project Management as a discipline has been growing in the creative space. At Function Point, we have made it our mission to help our clients manage their jobs and projects to be as profitable as possible.

Whether your company is a traditional advertising agency, a digital agency, or a design firm, the importance of managing your work cannot be understated. It is difficult to be profitable with your creative work if your agency doesn’t place enough importance on scheduling, scope management and capacity planning.

I recently attended the Adept Creative Project Management Workshop in San Francisco and wanted to share some brief thoughts about their PM approach (theory) and relate them to two high level questions that are asked often when the Function Point team is consulting on workflow development:

Traffic Manager Vs. Project Manager

Understanding the difference between traffic management and project management is crucial for agency operations. While these roles may seem similar, they have distinct functions. Here’re the key differences between the two:

Scope of Responsibility:

Traffic managers mainly handle the workflow and resource allocation for all current projects of the agency. They ensure that tasks are assigned to the right people with the right workload and capacities to meet deadlines. Their focus is on the big picture: the flow of work and coordination within the agency. 

On the other hand, project managers have a broader scope of responsibilities. They’re in charge of strategic planning, defining project goals, managing budgets, leading cross-functional teams, and ensuring project deliverables meet clients’ requirements. Throughout the project, they oversee execution, monitor progress, manage scope changes, and keep close communication with stakeholders.

Involvement in Project Lifecycle:

Traffic managers generally become involved in a project once it is in production. They take care of the operational aspects of a project, like task assignments, monitoring milestones and workflow, instead of overseeing every detail in the project.

Project managers are different. They’re integrated into the end-to-end process, including planning, estimating and have a vested interest in the successful (profitable) completion of the project. They supervise all project stages from initiation to closure, with the overarching goal is to deliver projects timely within budget while maintaining high-quality standards.

Focus on Financial Health:

Traffic managers contribute to the company’s efficiency by optimizing resource distribution and reducing bottlenecks. They help projects stay on track and indirectly affect the agency’s financial health.

In contrast, project managers have a more direct impact on the agency’s finance. They closely monitor budgets, track expenses, identify cost-saving opportunities, and make informed decisions to maximize profitability. They should work for all departments with an overall goal of protecting the financial health of your company, delivery of the project to your client and sanity of your staff.

Skill Set and Expertise:

Traffic managers must be competent in organization, task coordination, and resource management skills. They are detail-oriented, able to multitask, and excel in project management tools and software.

Project managers also need the same skills required for traffic managers. But additionally, they must possess strategic thinking, leadership abilities, risk management, and solid knowledge of project management methodologies.

Career Development:

Traffic management roles are usually considered to be more of an entry-level position ensuring that tasks are assigned and completed. However, they can serve as a stepping stone to higher-level project management positions.

On the contrary, the role of Project Manager should not be an entry-level role. You can have entry level Project Manager, but there needs to be a career path within project management. It is such an important role that agencies cannot afford to have a successful Project Manager always move to other roles (such as an Account Manager) for career advancement. Instead, the career path for Project Managers should be developed in a vertical way to make them more advanced in their field. This way, these professionals can enhance their experience and expertise to handle more complex projects, ultimately becoming invaluable assets to your agency.

Challenges Faced by Traffic Managers and Project Managers

Challenges for Traffic Managers:

  • Workflow Optimization: It’s a common challenge for traffic managers to navigate competing priorities and unexpected changes. They must balance workloads among team members while maintaining project timelines. 
  • Resource Allocation: Traffic managers may find it difficult to juggle limited resources, which mostly have to do with manpower. Balancing resource availability with project requirements can be a complex task.
  • Communication and Collaboration: Challenges may arise due to miscommunication, conflicting instructions, or insufficient documentation that makes team members confusing to collaborate. 

Challenges faced by Project Managers:

  • Scope Management: One common challenges for project managers is scope creep, which happens when a project falls out of the initial scope. To avoid this, project managers need to define and control project boundaries while keeping in mind client expectations, budget constraints, and evolving requirements.
  • Stakeholder Management: Project managers often interact with various types of stakeholders, including clients, team members, company directors, and vendors, each with different priorities, expectations, and communication styles. Managing these diverse interests, resolving conflicts, and keeping stakeholders aligned can be demanding.
  • Risk Management: Project managers must proactively identify, assess, and mitigate risks throughout the project lifecycle. Handling unexpected issues, such as budget overruns, resource constraints, or technology errors, requires strong problem-solving and decision-making skills.
  • Time and Resource Constraints: Another challenge in project management is meeting deadlines and working within allocated resources. Project managers must handle scheduling, optimize available resources, manage dependencies, and ensure the delivery of high-quality results.
  • Leadership and Team Management: Project Managers must lead and motivate cross-functional teams to achieve project objectives. They handle team dynamics, resolve conflicts, promote collaboration, and give clear guidance. Leading a diverse team with varying skills and work styles demands strong leadership and interpersonal abilities.

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Does My Agency Need a Traffic Manager, a Project Manager, or Both?

Determining whether your agency needs a traffic manager, a project manager, or both depends on the specific needs, size, and goals of your agency. 

The Adept model suggests that “Project Manager” should be a job description in all agencies, even if the agency is too small for this to be a full-time position. This role is essential for any agency due to the following reason:

As Project Managers are involved in the entire project lifecycle, they have a holistic view of the project. They oversee project execution, provide strategic guidance, coordinate with various stakeholders, and ensure the deliverables align with the client’s goals and expectations. 

The role of Project Manager will help you bring balance to your work and enhance profitability to your agency. Project Managers excel at managing scope, mitigating risks, and resolving conflicts to achieve timely and cost-effective project completion. They play a crucial role in planning, estimating, and monitoring project finances, thereby contributing to the agency’s financial well-being. Their ability to align project objectives with business goals and prioritize resources can significantly impact the agency’s profitability. By having a dedicated Project Manager, you can ensure that projects are executed smoothly and clients are satisfied, which can lead to repeat business and referrals to more opportunities.

While Project Managers are essential roles, smaller agencies may not necessarily require a dedicated Traffic Manager. In such cases, the CEO or an account manager can handle the responsibilities, especially if the team is small. However, as your agency expands and takes on more projects, having a Traffic Manager becomes beneficial. This role focuses on streamlining the workflow by assigning tasks, coordinating with team members, and maintaining project schedules for timely delivery. With their attention to detail and organizational skills, Traffic Managers can reduce the chaos that comes with managing multiple simultaneous projects and enhance the efficiency of your agency’s operations.

In my opinion, having a Traffic Manager will help bring order to your workflow and task management, but having a Project Manager will provide you with a better ROI.

What Works For You?

Does your agency have a Creative Traffic Manager, a Project Manager or both? Do you agree that there is a difference between a Traffic Manager and Project Manager in the creative industry? Would having a Project Manager who is involved from the outset of a project help you better schedule your tasks and staff and build better proposals and estimates?

Function Point’s online project management software is designed to address the unique needs and operation of a creative ad agency. We have designed our agency management system with each and every staff role in mind in an effort to make everyone’s day-to-day life a little less stressful.

Project Managers and traffic managers can enjoy an all-in-one system with time tracking, productivity reporting, integrated email and scheduling, and much more. To learn more about how FP can improve productivity and efficiency at your agency, be sure to schedule a personalized demo with one of our experts.

Please post your comments and join our LinkedIn group “The Business of Creative” to discuss your ideas and questions with hundreds of other agencies.

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