Agency tips for better resource management
With a large, multi-skilled pool of creatives, developers, designers, UX people, testers and project managers working on projects large and small, for a wide range of clients, how does a digital agency make sure it completes projects on time and budget? Good resource management means treading the fine line between efficiency and redundancy. You want to keep your people as busy as possible while ensuring enough spare capacity to handle unexpected developments.
In this post, I’ll outline my approach to maintaining this delicate balance in a busy digital agency.
Know your team
The first step to successfully resourcing projects is knowing what resources, i.e. people, you have access to. In-depth knowledge of who everyone is, what they do and how they work is crucial. This includes knowing their particular skill-sets and experience levels, and familiarising yourself with their recent work. Analysing previous projects which went over budget can help you identify where the additional time on tasks was spent. You can then work out where and why the breakdowns happened and make adjustments for future work, like rearranging teams or bringing in new help where required.
Work out what you need
The second step to successfully resourcing a project is working with a detailed proposal which outlines the timeframe and budget. The aim is to work out what resources are needed to complete the project in terms of days/hours per job function. Make sure you’re clear on when the deadlines fall and that everyone has the same understanding. Timings are always moving around, so make sure you highlight when workloads shift and ensure everyone is aware.
Gather all the data
Good quality data is critical. Data should be gathered from what is already known from the project, rather than referring back to the original estimate. There’s no way to know how quickly a project is burning through budget unless all the time spent on it has been recorded. This is why it’s so important for people to fill out those timesheets – it has a direct bearing on the financial health of the agency.
Weekly reviews of your resourcing forecast requirements will keep your projects within budget and on time. To maintain profitability you need to constantly be comparing actuals against forecasted projections.
Time tracking software like Harvest or FreeAgent can really help with crunching the numbers, while resource management tools like Harvest Forecast and Resource Guru generate reports and visualisations that help you spot early where things are going off track. Conrad has recently written a post featuring some of the best digital delivery tools.
Redistribute where necessary
Is one project well ahead of schedule while another is falling way behind? Switch resources from the former to the latter, but only where those resources are sure to have a positive impact on their new project. Also bear in mind that too much switching between projects can have a negative effect on productivity and quality.
If a team or a skill-set is really overloaded or struggling with a particular piece of work, look to the wider team to support them. When one of our development teams was stumped by a thorny issue recently, we took advantage of another under-utilised team to help mini-hack a solution to the problem. The key to running these kinds of workshops successfully is setting a clear short-term goal to keep the costs down but productivity high.
If a project is burning through budget much more quickly than projected then something is wrong and needs to be addressed. Where is the extra effort going? Perhaps work has started with too little information or with erroneous assumptions? Make sure the team is having regular sessions to review the work done and prioritise and plan the next cycle of work. Increase the frequency of these sessions, e.g. from biweekly to weekly, if necessary.
Keep scanning the horizon
It’s just as important to have a clear view of what’s coming down the pipeline as it is to have a clear view of what’s happening right now. Regular meetings with your new business team give you the opportunity to share your forecasts of team capacity. You can also review the requirements of the projects they anticipate bringing in, and highlight where clashes might occur.
Of course, nobody can predict the future with much accuracy. Surprises, in the form of unexpected absences, new projects which come out of the blue, and unanticipated hold-ups, are inevitable. Following the tips above should help you spot these kinds of surprises early and make a backup plan. Where that’s not possible, they should make sure you have all the information you need to improvise a solution.