Since the beginning of civilization humans have been dealing with rising complexity. Since the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel, we have risen and created whichever tool we needed in order to achieve our personal and collective objectives.
Creative agencies follow a similar, although more recent, development. The amount of processes involved in projects is increasing, and even if the amount of steps involved in managing a project are multiplying, the desire to do it in an effective and profitable way is nothing new. How can these complex processes be managed in an effective way?
For creative teams, time and resource management are at the crossway of what makes a business cost-effective, they are the nucleus of what allows an agency to be ready to deliver an added value to their services. Effectiveness is profit, and this rings especially true when talking about professional service businesses. When their workflow and performances are not streamlined, there’s only room for revenue loss.
Project management softwares have evolved greatly in the last years, and as different and wild as any agency’s need may be, there’s a tool to help improve upon their processes, often allowing for customizable functionalities. Nowadays, team members are diverse and often include freelancers and talent from other areas, like financing or administration. Multifaceted teams demand better management software, a solution that encompasses what present creative teams really need.
Artificial intelligence: the future of project management
Administrative tasks are not only tedious and energy consuming, they absorb hours that should be destined to creative projects. Automation is one of the ways Project Management solutions simplify and reduce the scope of administrative tasks, reducing human error on spreadsheets, reducing proofing hours, and time tracking, and increasing the profit that is gained out of the team’s working hours.
With the help of an agency project management software, augmented by artificial intelligence, there’s a chance of gaining vital insight of the inner workflow of the agency and its services. With a clear idea of how much each project actually makes in profit, and how much revenue each different type of service brings to the company, the C-level personnel are in the right spot for making important business decisions that can bring growth to the company. It allows for better pricing and accurate invoicing.
Solutions in real time
With Gantt charts, time tracking, task management, and real-time scheduling functionalities, an agency can develop better systems and implement an increase in the overall efficiency out of each billable hour. Thus, paving the way for better and faster deliverables, and for the maximization of the value they bring to each brand and customer.
A true Project management software isn’t a glorified timesheet. It’s an aid for economic and business growth, for better income, for smarter workflow and better quality deliverables. With the help of a functional creative project management the distance between estimated and real delivery times can be bridged. It’s possible to measure the real value of projects and to assign a correct pricing to the services offered by the advertising and marketing agency.
Digital traceability and collaboration
Another important item for project management softwares in this industry is that team collaboration for creative projects is huge. In mid to big businesses a lot of important information is reduced to area silos, eventually reaching a point of missed creative and financial calls. This is why clear communication is key, the channeling of information should be a streamline, and the collaboration tool chosen must be one that manages to support an operation that counts with all types of documents and cross-platform requirements.
Inviting the client
This type of communication tool can even be utilized as a way for giving and receiving feedback with customers, easily communicating with freelancers and external talent, and, most importantly, it must work as a place to keep track of the overwhelming amount of files shared to and for communicating between team members in each step of a creative project. This is also a great way of proofing and approving deliverables with clients themselves.
Main Features of Project Management Software for Creative Teams
How about we dig a little deeper and zoom into the big picture that is project planning? Which aspects of Project Management lifecycles are generally supported by software solutions? Which are the requirements of advertising and marketing agencies? Let’s break it down into 3 clusters of functionalities: Project Management in its purest form, Communication, and Resource Management.
The basic package
In Project management, the basic needs of any professional service business amount to task management, task lists, track progress, workflow management, scheduling and organizing team members’ calendars and their progress in relation to the requirements of the projects.
The objective of this cluster is to aid the team and pave the way for a seamless workflow, where every member of the team is assigned the required number of hours, and is reminded of due dates. Basically, it means getting every part of the team and stakeholders, on top of their game via monitoring their progress and their needs.
In project management platforms this is often reflected on Gantt charts, timetables, task allocation via drag-and-drop, or even Kanban boards. Depending on the work methodology in place, be it agile, scrum or waterfall, there may be a difference of importance allocated to each functionality. But these key features are the basis of any project management solution.
The importance of digital traceability for creative teams
We could also argue the need to incorporate a function for file sharing and document management in the PM’s basics category, although it could also be at home inside the Communications functionalities, the sheer quantity and volume of documents shared by creative teams is not something to treat lightly. Project management tools for creative agencies require a Document tracking or management solution. How many times does a file go missing? If there’s no system set up in place, then there’s no way information and digital files have a safe storing place. A deliverable could be shared via mail, Dropbox, Google Drive, or any file management platform, even through a creative’s personal email.
This is why it is of the utmost importance that the platform offers the traceability of processes. It is not necessary to pay for a tool that has a big tracking ability as long as it can be linked to other platforms like Google Drive and Dropbox. Project management solutions present a way to track documents along their lifecycle, there’s an imprint on how, where, when, and by who it has touched.
Because Project management softwares present a way to see the process of a project even after it’s done, then there’s an open book for any part of the agency to look back upon it and use it to track documents and to study the internal workings of past projects. Thus being able to analyze what works and what doesn’t.
Let’s get into Communication. Project management softwares often count with a collaboration tool, an ingrained messaging system, where team members, stakeholders and sometimes even clients, can share files, leave messages and sign off on finished products.
The amount of individuals involved in creative projects can make one dizzy, that’s why for a creative team to achieve true team collaboration it’s important that the software solution in place counts with messaging, the ability to comment on communal work directly. Allowing a flowing teamwork that is inscribed in a centralized system, and letting every part of the team on board.
A centralized communication system helps improve response time, and streamline the approval of ideas and feedback. Some PM solutions even offer proofing functions for easy approval, or templates for kick starting ideas.
Transparency with the client
Transparency is an achievable dream with the right collaboration tool and mindset. Agencies are notorious for keeping a closed lid on their daily going about, but in the last few years there’s been a shift, a shift for better conditions between agencies and customers, a shift for more horizontal workspaces, and for clear and transparent communication. This can be reflected in the way some Project management tools added an External User function, which permits clients and collaborators to check in on the progress of the project.
This prospect may create anxiety, but is very beneficial for the relationships with the client because it reduces rework, it establishes a better relationship between agencies and brands and it gives the client a look into the work their vision requires. In this way, it turns into a negotiable prospect and into an ally when trying to win leads and transform them into potential clients.
Resource and data management is a vital part of any project manager’s operation. Information is the main tool for making important decisions. There are several levels and different types of data that can be extracted through a Creative project management software.
Let’s begin with time tracking, a lot of solutions offer this function, creatives and employees alike tend to be wary of this type of data recollection. It’s important for them to understand that this is not a medium for controlling their every move. It’s a building block for the creation of project and services estimates. To track time is a way of planning and managing the resources and expense tracking.
This area of time management is crucial for administering resources per individual project, client, and type of service. To track time is to empower them with the knowledge of how much time each task usually takes, and in doing so, it lets them know how much time deliverables will take. In this way, project managers can schedule accordingly, avoiding burn out and correcting it. It can improve the overall quality of services.
Automated time estimation
By taking into account the data gathered by time tracking functionalities an incredibly important aspect of professional business services appears: Estimation and resource planning. By using the amount of billable hours and how much that service is costing, one can know for certain the revenue the agency is gaining from it, and thus a forecasting tool is key for negotiating fees and for correctly invoicing clients.
Some Project Management Software count with financial functionalities, such as creating estimations based on the data input by the employees. Some are even able to create reports of agency-specific metrics. Thus permitting C-Levels to perform data driven decision making, and informed business negotiations.
Types of PM Softwares that Creative Agencies can use
If your agency is a small operation and you only need to cover certain functions, the market offers several simple solutions. It is worth clarifying that even though there are free basic softwares that cover different functions separately, the simplicity and integral design of an all-in-one solution may offer a holistic support.
If you have a small to medium, or big business then there are steeper tools that offer an all-around integrated creative management software. This decision is one that encases budget possibilities and scale of the operation.
For small agencies there are software programs that count with one or two functions of the several we discussed previously. For example, Basecamp focuses on task management and communication, Trello is a more visual aid, using cards to show a bird’s view over projects and allowing for project creation and task assignment. Asana works in a similar way, but improves upon the workflow point of view. Clickup counts with Gantt charts, templates, collaboration on tasks and customization of the dashboard. Some of these offer free plans, or even freemium services.
Larger businesses that are up to the investment may look at the all-in-one project management solutions the market has to offer. They usually offer all of the project management functionalities we discussed earlier, on top of financial reporting tools. Some go as far as introducing Artificial Intelligence to provide atomization of time consuming tasks, freeing time for better suited and more complex work.
Some businesses use a different approach; they utilize several PM tools at the same time. This is a possible route to take, but it can be extremely cost inefficient in the long run, with several paid plans. Having several software means having to call each customer service separately, losing time and resources. Not even mentioning the learning curve involved in each employee learning to use several platforms.
With integral solutions, the time and money saved can be enormous. If someone is looking to run a diagnosis across every area of the agency, doing a cross data examination of different platforms requires a manual extraction of information.
The talent only needs to be trained on one solution, there’s only one customer service to go through, and only one license to pay.
Some examples of this are Productive, with its project lifecycle management offer; Forecast focusing on task management and predictive features; Ravetree, which focuses on its intuitive and user-friendly platform.
Another solution is COR, a project management software specifically designed for professional business services and powered by Artificial Intelligence. COR counts with the main automation features to simplify many tasks: time tracking, project estimation and operative reports. Besides, it can generate a great insight about necessary data to make excellent business decisions with the ability to make estimations and performance reports.