8 obstacles to effective agency resource planning

 |  In: Managing resource

Getting your agency capacity planning right can be an everyday battle. Even the most organised of agencies are hit fairly frequently with the unexpected. A new (inevitably urgent) job, a big project suddenly delayed or cancelled, staff off sick or absent... suddenly the best-laid plans can be upended.

Here, we look at the eight most common reasons resource planning can be scuppered, and how getting the right agency resource management system can help you to navigate these hurdles.

1. The Pollyanna effect

The prospect of a new project can be so tempting that many agency leaders promptly put on their rose-coloured glasses and forget any past issues of taking on work that’s not properly planned in. Agencies often overestimate resourcing availability when there’s an enticing new job on the horizon and turning it away can often seem counterproductive.

When opportunities arise, try to stay grounded and ask ‘Do we have the resources to do this work? If not, could we bring them in-house in time?’

2. The ‘this one’s different’ approach

There’s no such thing as an ordinary new project in agency land. They’re all special, different, going to open doors and lead to huge amounts of new work in the future. Meaning any natural cautions are often overruled and overturned.

Be realistic. Judge each new project on its own merit, of course, but experience will tell you they don’t all become big work winners.

3. We can squeeze this one in...

Little jobs, small projects, it just ‘needs a quick look’ – can all strike fear into a creative’s heart. Because they’re usually asked to squeeze it in around existing projects and, realistically, even small jobs still need due care and attention. No client is happy with a quickly churned out job, even if they’ve set an unfeasibly tight deadline and have a tiny budget. Beware the numerous little jobs that can tip team members into stress...

If you can take it on and do it properly, do. But if it’s not worth your time or money, or this client is in the habit of giving you tight turnaround, unprofitable work then you probably want to consider it more carefully.

4. The uphill battle

Manually cross-referencing projects against skills and team member availability and forecasts and so on and so forth... it all gets complex, convoluted and confusing. It’s a major effort and a big headache. Not least as the picture changes every day, with client demands, unexpected problems and staff absence all adding to the mix. It’s no surprise that resourcing difficulties are often cited as an agency’s biggest pain point.

If you’re still working with manual systems, looking at introducing an agency management system will help to lift some of your daily burden

5. Can I just borrow you?

A crisis crops up and team members can all too easily be hijacked from one project to another. Sure it’s good to be flexible, but if you’re constantly lurching from one emergency to another, it’s time to stop and take stock.

A daily crisis isn’t good for anyone. How can you put them back in the ‘once in a while’ box? It might be time to look to your system.

6. Creeping up...

Scope creep is incredibly common. Clients asked for ‘just a little change’ which sadly rarely comes with ‘just a little increase’ in your fee. Left unchecked, this can lead to continuous and barely documented creep. And it can have a huge impact on other projects. In particular, inexperienced team members are prone to being leaned on like this, wanting to keep clients happy above all else.

Setting some parameters with clients can help to prevent scope creep. Agree upfront the amount of amends which are included in your quote, with any further work incurring a new charge. Read: How to manage client amends

7. Sudden impact

Without a system, there’s often zero advance warning that things might be about to go wrong. So when projects blow up, it’s too late to take the preventative actions which could have helped.

Not every project can be saved. But careful tracking against time, budgets, quotes and estimates can help you keep a tighter rein over them.

8. Pick me, pick me

The loudest and most persistent voice is often the one which wins. But in terms of project resourcing, giving way just to appease a more forthright account manager isn’t doing anybody any favours.

Get transparency over priorities and workload, so resources can be balanced much more beneficially.

How the right system can help

The right capacity planning system can help you circumnavigate all these potential pains, giving you:

  • Total visibility of projects, time, clients, resources and priorities, and how they all fit together in real time.
  • Consistent up-to-date information across all users, so no-one is working with obsolete data.
  • The capability to make continuous adjustments, safe in the knowledge that the update flows where it needs to across the entire system.
  • Senior management buy-in because the reports are at the heart of company performance indicators.
  • Empowerment of your teams. People who previously worked in isolation now see the day-to-day impact of their work on capacity, resources, commercial implications and how everything fits together.
  • Better decision-making at every level because of the bigger-picture awareness.
  • More informed discussions in client-facing roles, because team members can now steer clients and projects in ways that optimise resources and improve client satisfaction, increasing profitability at the same time.
  • Improved forecasting and estimating.
  • Objective internal capacity decisions, which are fact-based and transparent.
  • Fewer lost business opportunities.
  • Reduced team burnout and staff turnover.

Keeping your capacity and resources under tighter control may seem somewhat at odds with the concept of a creative agency. But you want to be profitable too, and letting work come in and out without a plan or an agenda is a one-way path to pain. Using the right system to keep your planning informed and calm, on the other hand, can smooth even the choppiest of waters.

Read how to manage your agency's capacity with synergist or to learn more about Synergist’s all-in-one agency management software, book a demo today