Six Tips for Successful Creative Agency Resource Management

Resource management has long been a challenge in project management – especially in creative agencies – with poor resource management often leading to delays and projects going over budget. This fact was displayed in Wellingtone’s “The State of Project Management Annual Report 2019.” It showed that poor resource management increased by around 60% compared to 2018, with a lack of proper forecasting being the biggest contributor to the increase.

The problem hasn’t gotten much better since.

Today, almost half – 46% – of marketing agencies say it’s difficult to find skilled resource managers, indicating that they’re still struggling to cope in this area. But perhaps finding the right people isn’t the key problem. Agencies may have improper practices in place for managing their resources, which an unfortunate resource manager is forced to step into and work with rather than make the improvements they envision.

Let’s change that for your creative agency by looking at six tips for successful agency resource management.

Tip 1 – Understand Why Proper Resource Management Is Worth Your Time

No matter what undertaking you decide to follow in your creative agency, there’s always a key question to ask before getting started:

Why?

Why does resource management even matter in a creative agency, especially one that’s still delivering a quality service to its clients? The answers are numerous and primarily focus on taking an agency – even a working one – and making it better.

By building better resource management processes, you develop an understanding of your agency’s current and maximum capacity. Both are crucial. Current capacity tells you how much work you can take on before hitting a breaking point, with maximum capacity being a useful indicator of when you’re actually taking on less work than you can handle.

There’s more.

Once you know your maximum capacity, you know how far you can scale before you need to hire more, invest in new technology, or otherwise grow the internal workings of your agency. You’ll also see whether you’re capable of dealing with a sudden surge in demand – if you’re already at maximum capacity then there’s no chance you can take on more. Finally, resource management is key to your project planning and revenue forecasting. Both require you to know what you have – both in use and available – before you can create accurate reports.

Tip 2 – Spot the Signs of Poor Resource Management

Now you know why resource management is so important; it’s time to figure out if you have a problem with this vital aspect of creative agency management.

Thankfully, though unfortunately for those agencies that struggle with managing resources, there are a few signs:

  • High Client Turnover – An inability to deliver what a client asks is usually a symptom of high client turnover rather than the chief cause. Usually, ineffective resource management lies at the root of your turnover problems. It means you’re unable to deliver because you can’t dedicate the appropriate resources to a client. Trust erodes. Clients become unhappy because they’re not getting the attention they require. And your lack of resource planning sees many of them waving “bye-bye.”
  • Lack of Growth – Stagnation is the enemy of a growing agency, but it’s precisely what you’ll see when you have poor resource management practices. The reason is simple – you need resources to scale. If you don’t have them – or don’t know what you have available – your agency can’t grow no matter how talented your team and how superb your service may be.
  • Employee Burnout – The majority of your current employees – 77% of them according to Deloitte – will have experienced burnout at some point in their careers. Some may be experiencing it right now. If that’s the case, you likely have a resource management issue. Again, the reason is simple. Lack of resources leads to piling more onto the plates of people who are already working at or near full capacity. They get stretched beyond their capabilities, and you start to see tired employees whose morale has reached an all-time low.
  • Low Employee Retention – What do employees do when they’ve reached the end of their ropes? They either quit or shut down to the point where they’re unable to perform to the level your creative agency requires. Just as with clients, if you’re struggling with high employee turnover rates, you have another symptom of poor resource management.

So, the tip here is simple:

Look for these four signs in your creative agency. If you spot even one of them, you’ve seen an indicator that you need to get your resource management practices under control.

Tip 3 – Set and Track Utilization Goals

The concept of a utilization goal is to set a target – either for individuals or your agency as a whole – that allows you to make the best possible use of the assets available to you. They can be implemented in every aspect of your agency, from its general service capacity to your use of tools and your employee productivity.

Think of them as key performance indicators (KPIs) for resource management.

Honing in on your people, focus on time spent on billable work as a utilization goal. In a perfect world, you’d be able to spend 100% of an employee’s time – which is the resource you’re really tracking here – on work that generates money. But the reality is that this is impossible. Employees have to attend meetings. They need to handle paperwork, engage in training, and deal with correspondence, both internal and external.

As such, a realistic utilization goal for an employee’s billable hours falls into the 70% to 80% region. Of course, this also depends on their role within your creative agency. For instance, admin and accounting staff will have far fewer – if any – billable hours because their work is internally focused. For them, utilization goals may relate to the number of reports generated or ensuring invoices are sent to clients on time.

Whatever the case may be, set your utilization goals across the company and track them. Whenever you see the baseline you’ve set isn’t being hit, you’ve found another indicator of a resource management issue.

Tips, Techniques, and Tools for Efficient Resource Management

Learn the benefits of resource management software and how to evaluate suitable options for your agency

Tip 4 – Use Resource Management Software

When it comes to creative agencies, you have three key resources to manage:

Time, people, and budgets.

All have to be considered when creating projects and assigning tasks, with many agencies using manual processes – such as noting down resource utilization in spreadsheets -to track resource usage.

Don’t do that.

Manual processes waste enormous amounts of time, especially when you have the option of agency or resource management software available to you. These software tools help you to schedule projects – keeping your people’s available time in mind – while ensuring those projects meet your budgetary requirements. But crucially, all the information used is centralized within a single piece of software, with automation built in to alert you when you’re stretching a resource too far or not using it enough.

Take basic project timelines as an example.

You may have several projects running simultaneously, all of which require website design. Your agency only has one designer, so you naturally assign them to every project. With resource management software, you can ensure this valuable resource isn’t tasked with completing web designs for all running projects at the same time, dealing with the capacity issue. And, if avoiding having that designer go overcapacity isn’t an option, the software’s essentially telling you that you need to hire another designer to deal with your workload.

Of course, the main drawback to these software solutions is cost. Most run on the “software as a service” (SaaS) model, meaning you’ll pay a monthly subscription fee to use them. Prices vary widely, though The Digital Project Manager suggests a price of $30 per user per month is a solid baseline.

Tip 5 – Establish Strong Communication Protocols

Email still dominates the workplace, even in an age when we have project management and communication tools – such as Slack – to streamline communications. CIO Dive points out that email is used in 91% of cases where employees need to communicate, which can be problematic from a resource management perspective.

Why?

Email often leads to fractured communication, especially once you get to the point where you’re cc’ing multiple people into a thread. That’s often the case for large creative agency projects, for which you could easily have a dozen stakeholders. This fracturing – which includes missed messages and slow responses from people who aren’t checking their emails – leads to delays, causing your key resources (your people) to sit idle.

Countering that with a stronger communications protocol than just “send questions via email” is key. Good project management software – such as the aforementioned Slack or an agency-specific tool like Function Point – often helps here. By offering real-time chat tools, with notification systems built in, they allow project teams to ask and answer questions quicker, reducing delays and ensuring your agency hits the utilization goals mentioned earlier.

Tip 6 – Assess and Evaluate After Every Project

So, you’ve set utilization goals, meaning you have some KPIs in place for your people. You’ve even invested in resource management software that allows you to assign resources – people, time, and budgets – to specific projects.

Everything’s running like clockwork, right?

Well…hopefully.

As detailed as your resource management protocols may be, they’ll never be “set and forget” rules for your agency. Even with those protocols in place, you have to constantly monitor them to ensure your resources are being used effectively at all times.

The best time to run one of these assessments is in the immediate aftermath of a project. Once you’ve completed and delivered your service to your client, schedule a “wash-up” meeting that brings everybody who worked on the project together.

The focus of this meeting is simple – figure out what you could improve for future projects.

For instance, let’s assume you projected to spend 40 hours on the project. However, upon completion, your resource management software tells you that you spent 45 hours, meaning you’ve used up five hours of your valuable time resource – perhaps for free – that you could have dedicated to other billable work. That five hours may have been the result of a new requirement from the client, in which case you’ve hopefully tracked it in your software.

Or, it could demonstrate that you under-assigned resources, leading to delays, which is a problem you’ll have to confront in your next project.

Assessment and evaluation inform your future resource planning, helping you to tweak what you have so your creative agency is as efficient as possible.

Manage Your Resources and You Manage Your Creative Agency

Effective resource management underpins everything that your creative agency does. After all, every project – no matter how small – requires resources, and you only have a finite amount to spare. Wasting your resources, or otherwise not assigning and tracking them properly, turns your agency into a breeding ground for the sort of inefficiency that leads to delays and unhappy clients.

So, get a grip on your resources.

The six tips shared here help you to do that, as does agency management software – with a resource management component – like Function Point. Book a demo today. All it takes is a few minutes of your time to see how Function Point can centralize workflows and provide you with real-time views of capacity and staff utilization.

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