The ultimate guide to project management for digital agencies
As a digital agency owner, managing your team’s time efficiently, keeping clients happy, and monitoring your profitability are all integral elements of growing your business into the agency you want.
Without scalable processes in place, it’s easy to get lost in the confusing chaos of never-ending email threads, missed deadlines, and breakdowns in communication.
Successful project management for digital agencies can be broken down into three main areas:
Clear communication between the team, contractors, and clients
Accurate tracking of deliverables, deadlines, progress, and results
Regular analysis of those results to improve processes, evolve workflows, address issues, and ensure the agency stays profitable
In this guide, we’re going to share some tips on how project management can be streamlined and simplified, ultimately making projects easier for you, your team, and your clients.
By implementing the actionable advice in this guide, you can become a project management hero and bring your agency into a new era.
So what does an effective digital agency process look like?
Before we dive into the deep end of project management, let’s have a quick top-level look at the lifecycle of an average digital agency project:
1. Client onboarding and research
To kick things off, many agencies start with a discovery phase. This includes a few meetings between the client and the agency.
You need to clarify what is already in place in terms of their website and marketing, future ambitions and goals, and the key problems to be solved during the project that the agency will be working on.
With the client’s side of the project scoped out, agencies can do more in-depth research into the client’s website, marketing plans, and social media during a full audit. Armed with this wealth of knowledge, the agency can build out a solid online strategy and set clear KPIs (key performance indicators) for the project, to be approved by the client.
2. Content and design
Once the scope of work is agreed and the agency’s strategy is approved, it’s time for content creation and design.
Copywriters scribble away at the written content that fits with the company’s brand voice and designers create mockups and wireframes the website will be built to. If the client is having professional photography completed, this happens during the first couple of weeks of the project too.
Clients give feedback, then approve the work, allowing the project to move on to the next phase.
A team of web developers takes the approved designs and content to create a stunning new website (or app, or whatever it is they’re building!)
In the testing phase, the QA team ensures that everything works the way it should, fixing any bugs that jump out in the process.
Once everything’s running as it should, the client is given access to their final product to sign off on.
When the development team and client are happy with the final product, it’s time for the project to launch. All that hard work is released into the world - bringing in leads, conversions, and sales.
But that’s just the beginning!
To ensure continued success, the agency monitors the project to see what works and what doesn’t. Some time after the launch, agencies get a report ready for the client to discuss results and what can be improved to keep achieving the goals set in the beginning.
Depending on the contract and the services offered by the agency, these reports can turn into weekly or monthly marketing campaign updates, and strategies can be adjusted for the changing needs of the client over time.
Speaking of time, we know your time is limited, so let’s get right to it.
Here’s how to keep track of your projects through every step of the web design and marketing journey and ensure smooth communication with your clients and your team.
How to keep a project on track, on time, and within budget
It can be tough to keep an overview of what needs to be prioritized and get an efficient workflow going, as project after project lands onto our desks and our to-do list starts to resemble Matrix-like lines of never-ending code cascading down our screens.
Starting to feel overwhelmed? You’re not the only one.
Teams in agencies of all sizes get to this point and before the morale is completely down, it’s time for the person in charge to come to the rescue. No agency owner or project manager wants to overwhelm their team.
To prevent standards from going AWOL and for everyone to keep a cool head, PMs need to have an overview of what everyone is working on and a way to shift priorities easily. This way we’ll know who has more working capacity, who’s under too much pressure, and what projects are heading towards the danger zone.
“Without Teamwork, we would still be using an endless amount of Google Sheets to manage our ongoing project work. We made this work with a small client list, but now we have the tools to meet deadlines as more projects and clients come to us.” ~ Ryan Jones, Digital Marketing Executive at Imaginaire Digital
Read the Imaginaire Digital story.
If you’re aspiring to be that project management hero, you might go off and dig out that Gantt chart planner you created a few months ago. But before you start breaking out in a sweat trying to find multiple spreadsheets hidden in your Google Drive every couple of days, there is a way to have quick access to your entire team’s workflow.
With the Workload feature in Teamwork, you can get instant insights into multiple client projects at one time - including a quick summary of what every team member is up to, project timelines and individual tasks’ progress.
A handy Capacity Bar displays where each team member is in the design/build process. To help you stay profitable for every project, you can view the hours that each team member has spent working on a project, and how much work there is still to go.
Get your Sherlock hat and pipe handy and go on a deeper dive into the Planner View to see a breakdown of the workload and capacity of each team member. This way you can find free slots to allocate.
For example, one team member might show as busy in the overview, but when you investigate it turns out that they are inundated on some days but not on others. If that is the case for a couple of team members, you can allocate and share tasks by dragging and dropping them, restoring balance to the world like a true project management hero.
When you're allocating tasks, you can add as much detail as you want, and add as many resources as needed to get the job done, without overwhelming your team. Teamwork adapts to your agency’s unique agency processes, growing with you, and adapting to your needs.
How to streamline communication during a project
After assigning tasks to your team, you lean back and think you’ve earned yourself a nice cup of coffee. That’s it, right? Your team will be happy to work on their tasks and you’ll get on with your own.
Yes, that might be the case at first, but what if after your coffee break, you come back to an inbox full of questions?
The copywriter is looking for that client brief to get started.
The designer is searching for the notes with the feedback you took during the client call last week.
… And there’s another ping coming from your laptop to notify you that your client is requesting a status report.
You remember vaguely that somebody made a start on that last week, but where did they put it in the Cloud? Which app did you use to take notes in and where did you save that again? Should the client brief not be in the same place as usual or did the new salesperson just save it on their laptop?
When instructions, files, feedback, and resources get lost in a clutter of emails, chaos ensues and your team can easily get frustrated, as they spend half their time looking for files or clarity on who is in charge of what.
Not to mention, it piles more work onto your plate - and you have your stuff to worry about.
Once again, team members will be looking to the owners or project managers to step up, activate that super hero brain, and basically know everything. Multiple clients and projects will quickly overwhelm your team. You might be an aspiring project management hero, but you don’t have the storage capacity of a supercomputer. And you don’t have to.
“The in-built tools of time tracking in Teamwork and the Teamwork Chat app have enabled us to cancel our subscriptions with other, separate solutions, and to roll up our requirements into one tool. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.” ~ Laura Hampton, Head of Marketing and PR at Impression Digital
Read the Impression Digital story.
Store everything (and we mean everything) in one place. You can store all communications between team members and clients in one place and have a record of all decisions for each project. Keep everyone in the team in the know about their responsibilities and your clients can access the status of their project easily.
You can track billable (and non-billable) time, as well as manage resources and projects with full visibility for you, your team, and your clients in that one central space. With different access levels available, you can also keep some resources or threads designated to internal use only - which keeps the information that’s private away from prying eyes.
Instead of getting lost in an email chain, all your communications around projects will go where they belong - with a specific task, designated to the person who will be working on it. Hello, increased efficiency!
If there are still some unanswered questions about a particular project, team members can use Teamwork Chat to set up project channels. Project channels automatically include everyone involved in a particular project, so it’s easy to find the person with the answers to your questions.
Did you know that you can also pull in other tools you love into Teamwork? Easily transfer data between Teamwork and other software via seamless integrations for an efficient workflow.
Teamwork provides one central space for files that every team member (and client) can use as a reference point. Your team is happy knowing what they have to do, and have the resources to reach that deadline, and in turn, make your clients happy.
How to automate your way to efficiency
Every day repetitive tasks that might not seem time-consuming at first glance can soon add up, costing you time that could be spent on more important work to keep your clients happy or promoting the agency. For example, there is no need to draw up a new invoice every time you bill a client, manually add new events to your Google Calendar, or create new project outlines from scratch.
On your way to becoming an agency project management hero, you want to eliminate your arch enemies: manual and duplicate work. It’s easy to get carried away and lose sight of what could be done more efficiently when you’re stuck in the weeds of things.
Manual and duplicate work sucks the time out of your day, frustrates you and your team, and has long-term effects on your agency.
“Another of the tools that do practical and fast work is the use of templates, with which we can automate the entire planning process and organization just by having a template that assembles all the tasks and distributes them in an order and appropriate times.” ~ G2 Crowd
Put your Sherlock hat back on because the game is afoot! No seriously, it’s time to figure out those processes and administrative tasks that can be automated.
If you put your magnifying glass to the daily tasks of your team, does the entire setup for a project need to be done manually for each client? What about client reports and invoices, should these be created manually every time they’re needed? If you’re well on your way to becoming a digital agency project management hero, your answer to these questions is a clear No.
Free yourself from repetition!
By embracing templates you can ensure that your projects, processes, and client experience stays consistent across your agency. In Teamwork, you can create project and task list templates to reduce setup time at the beginning of your projects. The chance of errors is also significantly reduced if all team members are using the same uniform documents for reports and invoices. Some great templates for agencies to start with are the client onboarding, digital marketing plan and OKR templates.
As you’re moving through the workflow of your project, you can also set up triggers in board view. You can set up a trigger that changes who the task is assigned to when it moves from one stage of the working process to the next.
For example, one member of your team might be responsible for writing a piece of content while another might be in charge of proofreading. In board view, you can drag and drop the task from ‘Work in Progress’ to ‘Review’ and when triggers are set up, the assignee changes automatically. Goodbye manually emailing your teammates to let them know something has been completed.
Are you and your team members tired of the tedious task of moving data between all the different apps you’re using? This can be solved by using Automate.io, which creates a connection between two cloud-based apps and helps to tie in your Shopify, Gmail, or WordPress accounts with Teamwork.
The connection works through combining triggers to complete one action in an app when a trigger occurs in another. Combine these triggers and actions and you get a bot that automates your processes.
When you need to find out the status of a project, you can set up custom dashboards to view project health (and all the other information you need) at a glance instead of having to drill down and examine every single task.
You can even automate project status and health updates to save time on manually reporting on project progress.
If after all that there are still some pesky repetitive tasks scuttling around, catch them all by setting a daily, weekly, or monthly reminder to get them all completed in one go.
How to avoid bottlenecks in digital project management
As your agency grows and you have to keep track of hundreds of tasks across multiple projects at a time, you might get caught in your cape and fall, frantically scanning task lists for the information you need.
Where are we at with deliverable A on project A, where’s report B for project B, or where can I find a status update for project C?
Chances are that your team members are suffering a similar fate, lost in a confusing pool of messages questioning each other about the status of tasks while another deadline they were unaware of sails by.
Avoid the time-consuming flood of emails and chat messages as well as the lack of overview of deadlines. We’ll show you how to keep your team on track for the successful completion of your project and happy clients who recommend your agency to other businesses.
“My stress is way down because my team members are in the driver’s seat, and I know what’s happening every day. I’m focused on priorities, mentoring, resources, and supporting them with clients when discussing strategy, etc. This is what a CEO needs to do; I’m not spending time on red tape, and trying to figure out what’s going on.” ~ Kfir Pravda, Agency Owner/CEO at Pravda Media Group
Read the Pravda Media Group story.
To keep your team happy, a digital project management hero should always be able to get an overview of where all projects stand at any time. This way, you know your resources and the current capacity of your team to make informed decisions and delineate project roles.
Be sure to set up realistic deadlines from the start and make your agency a no-stress zone, as everyone is aware of what is expected from them and is getting the job done in the time they need.
In Teamwork, you can get a quick overview of multiple projects in the project view. Filter by project health to see at a glance what needs to be prioritized or escalated to keep your team working successfully. Don’t forget to add these “Latest project updates” and “Project health breakdown” filters to your dashboard.
If you want to have a look at a specific project, use the dashboard or project summary and get a breakdown of tasks, milestones, project budget, and more.
Whenever a quick overview is not working for you to allocate tasks, drill down to see how workloads are distributed in more detail and which team members are free to take on more work, or who might need some support to finish on time.
Avoid bottlenecks by shifting priorities and relocating work.
With a clear overview, you’ll be able to catch the right moment for a change of plan. We know that we can’t control most of these changes, but as project management heroes we’re going to control how we deal with change efficiently.
Clear communication is key and preferably we don’t want to switch around between ten different tools to communicate with other team members and clients.
Use the project messages feature in Teamwork to get information across efficiently. You can put any important information, files, or links about the project into a message. Here are some quick tips on good project message etiquette:
Make sure the message has a title that doesn’t leave the reader guessing.
Keep a thread dedicated to one topic only and move any other conversations to a new thread.
Ensure that you only add team members to the thread that need to learn about the information you’re sharing.
Save any documentation that needs to be reviewed to the files or links area of the project that everyone can access.
Be clear about actions that need to be taken when new information comes in or highlight new due dates.
How to get your estimates right and maintain profitability
How long will it take? One of the clients’ favorite questions, right?
For some agency project management heroes out there, this question can turn into a daunting nightmare, as you struggle to estimate how long deliverables will take and which resources you might need to get the job done as quickly as possible.
If only you had a tool that keeps track of how much time a piece of content or a design took your team to get ready in the past, a tool that would tell you how much time it will take you to complete the next project, and ensure profitability.
You do have a few spreadsheets and Gantt charts set up that you could consult to retrieve that kind of information, but it would be a time-consuming process that you don’t want to have to squeeze into your already-busy schedule.
Maybe it is time to find the sidekick to your hero in an agency project management software like Teamwork.
“We've been able to really mine the data so we can pull out reports on pretty much everything that we need in terms of how long people are working on things and then we can drill down into why it takes so long to do certain things, how long on average it takes to do certain tasks, which teams are hitting the targets and which aren't which individuals are delivering what they should be.” ~ Nicci Beacham, Project and Quality Manager at Liberty Marketing
In Teamwork’s Workload feature you can get instant, accurate data insights into your team’s efficiency and find out how much time was needed for certain deliverables. You can also measure billable and non-billable hours to get a better picture of what your team is capable of. Then you can set up time budgets from the outset to ensure time is used efficiently.
If priorities are shifting (which let’s be honest they often do!) you can change course alongside them instead of scrambling to get the work done. Generate project or task list time reports to track progress against the agreed timeline and budget.
With these reports under your superhero belt, you can react quickly and know where workflows need to be adjusted to save the day and steer clear of the rocky waters of last-minute changes.
With dashboards set up, you can track project time budgets and billable time completed to see immediately when projects are at risk of becoming overdue or unprofitable. With all that data at your disposal, you can swoop in with a fluttering cape and answer all your clients’ questions on timelines, track the success of your projects, and then spot where improvements are needed in your processes.
How to manage client expectations (and stay on top of Mount Workload)
As an agency project management hero, you want to be able to react quickly to the challenges of a new day in the creative agency world. You want to be there for your clients and have your team’s back at the same time. This can sometimes become a difficult balance when project decisions delay the progress of a project and create capacity issues.
As your business grows, it can become overwhelming to keep up with all the communications that go with approvals for various deliverables on multiple projects.
“With 95% of our clients, we can simply introduce Teamwork and demonstrate how we use it. Then, just like that, we’re ready to collaborate.” ~ Christina Siegler, Associate Director of Client Delivery at 10up
Start by simplifying all your client communications by centralizing all the important discussions and decisions in one place. To do this, just give clients access as client users or collaborators in Teamwork.
Clients can leave feedback and comments on tasks, as you go through the project keeping both them and the team up to date on the current status.
When all decisions, work breakdowns, and communications are located in one place, you can avoid misunderstandings, as everyone moves around in the same space within the project.
No more lengthy email threads when you can @mention clients, who will get an automatic email notification and can reply within the relevant task. If something comes up, and priorities need to be shifted or changes made, both you and your clients can keep informed and on track, making this a true collaboration.
Project management is truly an artform in itself. It takes dedication and drive to unite your team and your clients to create an unforgettable online experience.
Whether you’re an agency owner or project manager at a creative, web design, or digital agency, we hope this guide will help you on your journey to becoming an agency project management hero. And don’t forget your sidekick project management software to help you on your way!
With the right PM software supporting you, you’ll have everything you need to create the agency you want.
Here at Teamwork, we started our journey as a digital agency. We know what digital agency owners need to scale their operations and increase their profits.
Our software was built specifically for agencies - and is now trusted by over 6,000 agencies around the world. Find the right solution for your agency’s needs today.