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Create stronger processes, to become a lean mean agency machine

Improving your agency’s processes will not only drive efficiency and profit. It will also build your agency’s value and make you more appealing in a sale. After all, resources come and go, however your processes are your agency’s DNA.

But having processes isn’t enough. They need to be documented so they don’t spread like Chinese whispers when new employees join or vanish when a loyal employee leaves. Processes need to be documented, owned and policed with consequences for not following them

In this piece, we highlight how solid, documented processes can help you prevent common project pitfalls to become a lean, mean, agency machine.

Processes to ensure you manage your projects right from the start

A project is doomed before it’s begun if you don’t get the planning right. Below we highlight the common reasons project planning fails and show how the right processes can prevent these common pitfalls every time.

1.The scope of the project hasn’t been understood correctly

You can’t produce an accurate figure on how long a project will take to deliver if you’re not clear on what you’re delivering. Ensure you ask clients questions, understand and document what is agreed and crucially get this document signed off by the client and a senior agency team member. Document this in a process. This process will cover you if ever a more inexperienced team member has to produce the scope, they’ll know exactly what information they need from the client. And the approval will cover you against scope creep.

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2. The estimate isn't right

This can happen for a number of reasons - we wrote a whole piece about improving your agency's estimating. Two common reasons are, you haven’t been collecting data on previous projects so you simply don’t know how many hours a project will take to deliver. Or you reduced your estimate because you wanted to charge the client less. It’s important to note that the time it takes to deliver something doesn’t change, depending on what you charge for it. It takes as long as it takes. You need clear processes around how your agency produces an estimate, and what happens when you want to charge a client less – and crucially why you might want to do this! Charging less just to get work in can be damaging to your agency’s profits.

3. The scope of the project is understood but it isn’t communicated clearly

This is where your process needs to be solid. Your approved scope document should form the brief to the project teams. Documenting this in a formal process will make sure that a step is never missed so on smaller projects the scope isn’t replaced with a quick verbal brief. You can be confident that the client, a senior agency member and the person delivering the work are all in agreement on what’s being delivered. This process will reduce amends, avoid mistakes and prevent the need to repeat chunks of work.

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4. The project hasn't been planned

This is a scary one. It’s not that you can’t see how many hours have been used against budget or when the project needs to be completed by. It’s that these metrics haven't been fixed. This creates the prefect opportunity for timescales and budgets to run and run and run. Terrifyingly, you wont even know how much you've overserviced by until the very end of the project.

Processes to monitor project progress

If you document, review and communicate solid processes around the above, then your project is set to start very well. But it won’t automatically mean your project’s delivered on time and to budget. There are still reasons a project could take longer than the correctly estimated hours and timescales to deliver.

Here are some common process pitfalls when it comes to project delivery.

1. It's not clear who's running the project

Is it a Project Manager or an Account Manager? On bigger projects you may feel there is a conflict of interest if an Account Manager has to deliver the project on time and to budget, whilst trying to please and grow the client. On smaller projects however, an Account Manager with project experience could lead. Regardless of how you structure it, someone needs to own the project. They need to be responsible for tracking progress against hours and budget and this needs to be followed via a formal process, not a quick check when it feels like the project has been running for a while.

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2. Nobody is monitoring project progress vs budget

You need to continually assess project progress. How many hours have been used against the estimate - if half, are you half way through the project? And is the remaining work going to be completed by the project deadline?

Your process needs to outline who is responsible for monitoring this on each project and when they should check. Is it when a specific budget is reached, at a project milestone or continually via a live dashboard view? This needs to be clear, documented and updated if/when you find better ways to work. It may even be that progress monitoring is handled differently on different project types- as long as this is a conscious decision and not just people working in different ways.

TIP: When you’re monitoring your project progress vs budget, you need to make sure the metric you use is how long your project will actually take to deliver and not how many hours you’re charging the client. For example, you may have worked out that the project will take 50 hours to deliver, but you’re tactically only charging your client for 40. If you track your progress against 40h and not 50h then you’re destined to run over.

And it’s worth noting that sometimes the process fails not because people aren’t looking at budget vs project progress but because they can’t see it. This is often the case if you’re using lots of siloed systems. Data in one area isn’t integrated with another so for example, timesheet data isn’t automatically updated against budget and you can't see the true amount of time spent. A good integrated Agency Management system will let you see everything you need in live dashboard view so project budgets don’t run away with you.

3. You stop tracking progress

Sometimes when a project starts to run over people simply stop tracking it. It’s not on time and to budget so it’s just left to roll on. Projects that could have been 10% over, become 20% or 30% over because you stopped caring and stopped looking. Your processes need to involve continual monitoring of work no matter how the project is shaping-up There also needs to be honesty within the agency and with your client. For example, if scope creep is causing the delays and overservicing is happening, don’t let this roll on, address it quickly internally and with the client. If you can show that something is out of scope, the chances are your client will be reasonable about increased costs. The project doesn’t have to be a lost cause. And If possible, change your process for next time to avoid making the same mistakes.

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Don’t assume everyone in your agency is doing the same thing. Record and monitor your processes for how a project should be delivered. This isn’t more admin, it’s the foundation on which your agency will be built. Create a culture where everyone follows set processes, with consequences when they don’t. And monitor how your processes are working. Ensure you have visibility of when projects are running over and why, then you will be able to continually develop your processes to avoid issues, learn and grow.