Resource Management for Creative Teams: 3 Ways to Improve Resource Utilization

by Sam Petersen
, 6 min read

For creative directors of an in-house creative services team, resource utilization (a fancy phrase in project and resource management speak that refers to how effectively you're balancing your team members' skills and time) is a constant concern. Maybe you've asked yourself questions like these: How do I ensure everyone's workloads are balanced? Does Stacey have too much on her plate? Does Richard have enough on his plate? Does Brent have projects that match his skill set?

If resource utilization isn't one of their biggest worries, perhaps it should be, considering 80 percent of creative marketers feel overworked and understaffed, and one in five of their team members is currently looking for a new job.

Creative leaders need a better way to make sure their resource management practices include ensuring that resources are utilized as efficiently as possible. That means managers need visibility into their team's workload—both work in progress and work in the queue.

Here are three best practices for achieving the visibility you need to better manage your resources and make your team more efficient—without increasing attrition rates:

1. Embrace time tracking

Time tracking is the chore most creatives love to hate. It's not that they don't appreciate the benefits, it's more that they are concerned about interrupting the creative process. Most likely they chose the creative field because they enjoy the artistic, imaginative, and innovative challenge—not because they're excited to punch a clock at every turn. This is likely a big factor as to why 43 percent of creative teams don't track their time.

But effective resource management requires a baseline, a metric to work with, and that metric is time—total team hours worked, hours per task or project, hours per team member, etc. With this baseline you gain visibility into how your team members are spending their time, who's staying late at the office to finish their work, who's spending more time on administrative tasks than on creative work. You can then interpret the data and decide what actions to take to improve your team's utilization.

In addition to its benefits to resource utilization, time tracking will help you more accurately estimate and budget new tasks and projects, prevent missed deadlines, justify additional resources, and help prove the value of your team to clients and executives. (Refer to this other post for more tips on how to implement time tracking on your creative services team.)

Benefits of time tracking: * Allows managers to better understand how resources are allocated across projects * Releases insights into how long projects typically take the team to complete * Helps teams give more accurate project timelines and cost estimates to clients * Keeps team members and clients accountable * Helps to justify additional headcount * Offers better visibility into resource utilization and each team member's workload

2. Hire or designate a resource manager

Time tracking establishes a baseline to improve resource utilization, but it's only a first step. Although you now have a way to understand what people are working on and how long it might take, requests are still coming in to everyone on your team from all directions; coworkers call in favors and bring cookies as bribery, clients ask for their favorite designers, and business execs cut in line. Request chaos creates confusion, project overlaps, gaps in work, and the general inability to see or know who is working on what and when.

Hiring or designating a resource manager can cut down on the chaos, as well as the client interruptions, which marketers say is one of their top four work inefficiencies. To be successful, the resource manager must assume a few key responsibilities:

Centralize incoming requests. A resource manager serves as a single point of entry for work requests helps ensure all work gets tracked and nothing gets missed. Funneling all new work requests to one person allows that person to have complete visibility over the entire workflow. The resource manager can then coordinate and deploy resources more efficiently, allowing work to get done better and faster. Although you will have to change the behavior of some clients, most will be happier in the long run.

Prioritize and distribute project tasks. Even though, in theory, team members may be able to manage their own schedules, it's difficult to prioritize incoming work requests without being able to to see the big picture. A resource manager can serve both as a gatekeeper, balancing new requests against current work, and also as a scheduler, managing client expectations. This structure keeps clients from suffocating the creative team and avoids the confusion caused when one writer or designer accepts work that impacts deadlines, priorities, or another teammate.

Track resource utilization. The resource manager's most critical responsibility is managing resource utilization. This means that when a request comes in from a client, the resource manager reviews the team's schedule and determines who should take on the project based on individual skill set and availability. The resource manager should also be monitoring the team's workload to look for any resources with too much or too little work.

The resource manager role doesn't have to be a full-time position. In fact, it could be the responsibility of the creative director or designated team leader. Whoever it is needs to be someone with enough confidence and influence to push back on clients as necessary to keep the focus on the highest priority work. The resource manager also needs to have a solid understanding of the entire marketing process and suite of services in order to coordinate resource schedules and assignments.

3. Adopt agile marketing principles

Agile is a flexible, team-based technique that emphasizes rapid delivery of smaller pieces of a project, often done simultaneously, versus completing the entire project in a linear fashion. While the Agile approach originated with IT, marketing can—and does—benefit from adopting even some of the same principles. As an extra bonus, Agile aligns perfectly with the role of the resource manager.

Here are two Agile principles especially applicable to creative teams that can increase transparency into resource utilization:

  • Smaller deliverables

Agile is based on incremental iterations or sprints. A sprint is a short timeframe, usually one or two weeks, in which a team must work on a set of predetermined tasks. Each sprint usually represents a certain number of hours or points, based on the hours available to the entire team. Any request that comes to the team automatically goes into a backlog of requests, which the creative director, resource/traffic manager, or similar revisits regularly so requests stay prioritized properly.

  • Daily stand-up meetings

"Scrum" is the framework that defines the Agile work process. A resource manager (or someone assigned on your team) can serve as a scrum master, helping to manage the inflow of work requests. This role is more of a team facilitator than a team leader. The scrum master facilitates a daily scrum or stand-up meeting where team members are asked:

What did I do yesterday that helped the team meet the sprint goal? What will I do today to help the team meet the sprint goal? Do I see any roadblocks that prevent my team from meeting our sprint goal?

Although the daily standup meeting is only about 10 minutes, it allows team members to review a list of all the tasks in the sprint, and then have the opportunity to self-assign or "sign up" for tasks and report on the status of those tasks. This quick, daily check-in with everyone present provides greater visibility into which team members are working on which projects at any given time.

To learn more about using Agile marketing, see our in-depth guide, ["Becoming an Agile Marketing Team."] (http://www.workfront.com/marketing/resource/ebook/agile-marketing-team)

Better resource management means balance and happiness

Improving resource utilization not only improves the efficiency of your team (which means you accomplish more in less time, impress clients, and better prove your worth to upper management), but it also increases the health of your team. In other words, no one team member has more work than they can handle in a 40-hour work week; nor is anyone bored with work because they have too little to do. Happier clients, executives, and creatives? What could be a better combo?

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