Resource Planning for Creative Agencies
If you work for a creative organization, you’ve probably spent time looking for a resource planning tool. Whenever a new project manager on-boards, the question “How did you do resource planning at your last job?” invariably comes up. Everyone has a different answer, but usually adds that whatever solution they used, the company was looking for a better one.
What is Resource Planning?
At its most basic, resource planning is the process of managing and allocating resources to perform tasks within an organization or a project. It’s key to delivering projects on time and on budget—ensuring your internal team has everything (and everyone) they need to do their work and the project is meeting the client’s expectations. Resource management can mean matching a developer with a specific skill set to complete the task or hiring new designers to keep up with the project timeline. By adopting a solid resource management plan, you can avoid overspending and improve team productivity and morale.
The Problem with Resource Management
For resource planning, the process can range from every PM spending most of their time doing data entry (and re-entry) into an all-encompassing-mega-tool to basically “winging it” and hoping for the best. Resource planning for creative work is not the same as resource planning for a factory and comes with a lot of challenges—for example, client timelines can change daily, so whatever tool you use has to be flexible.
You also want to be able to accurately forecast a creative person’s utilization without them feeling restrained.
A few years back Think Company was rushing headlong into the transition from small company to medium-sized company; from being able to manage projects through organic communication and tight-knit project teams. We needed scalable tools and someone focused on project management without having to do double duty with another role. We needed a good tool for resource planning.
Resource Management Tool Requirements:
A good resource management tool will help improve any inefficiencies in staffing, budgeting, and forecasting projects to drive your business forward. It should give you the complete picture with all the moving parts—who on your team is available for the project’s timeline or if you’ll need to hire new talent to fill any gaps. Likely, you’re not the only one involved in resource planning—a collaborative tool with the ability for multiple team members to work and communicate right in the platform is a positive for any application. Forecasting is crucial when working with a creative agency resource management tool. A powerful reporting component should help you spot trends and understand your agency’s performance now and in the future.
When searching for a resource planning tool here are some items to consider:
- Have the ability to show people’s planned utilization per week, per project (in hours)
- Filter that same information by department
- Forecast out far enough, accurately enough, to help predict hiring needs
- Accommodate projects in the pipeline
- Allow multiple users to access it at one time
- Be easy to use
Bonus points if the resource planning tool…
- Ties into your time tracking system
- Allows you to see project budget health
- Has a reasonable price point
- Looks great and is a great user experience
How to Improve Resource Planning at Your Creative Agency
We knew that any effort to improve resource planning should start by taking a look at project plans. Maybe the resource planning tools we were using were fine, but our project plans were inaccurate. Resource planning is only as useful and accurate as the project plans that inform it. We ended up with MS Project for all our project managers, running on a Parallels / Windows solution. That gave us the tool we needed to tighten up our project plans.
We also knew that our team didn’t like to be called, or treated like, “resources”. We didn’t want to use a system that turned every moment of the day into a task to log and squelched the rare phenomenon we get to experience – the feeling of enough space to stretch out and be creative when working for clients.
Using Excel for Resource Planning
None of the available tools seemed to check all the boxes on our requirements. What we decided to do was modify our current resource planning Excel solution to meet our needs.
- Created more views (sheets) in our workbook
- Used our pivot table skills to create a sheet that told us who was booked on what for how long, and when
- Filtered the data by department and included pipeline projects
- Used data to forecast hiring needs
- Manually input data from time tracking software The price point was perfect and we even found a macro that allowed us to “lock” the file when someone else on Dropbox was accessing it.
Online Resource Planning Tools to Consider:
While we didn’t decide to work with these tools, below are several online resource planning tools to consider when improving your resource planning process
Resource Planning Tools:
- Basecamp (We use this, but not for resource planning)
- 10,000 Feet
- Pivotal Tracker
- Netsuite Open Air
- Team Work PM
- Project Bubble
Resource Planning Wrap Up
What are some resource planning best practices you’ve come across? Have you found the perfect resource planning solution for your creative agency?
As a team of designers and developers, we’re used to using many different tools and applications—they’re necessary to do our jobs. We also know what we like, dig into research and trials, and enjoy finding solutions—maybe that’s why we chose to go with our own customized Excel sheet. But there is no denying that the time tracking, project staffing, and forecasting capabilities (to name a few) that these tools offer ensure teams have enough resources to stay on budget and avoid staffing issues, which keep teams and clients happy.
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