Project tracking for client work: Tips, best practices, and implementation for agencies

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Your agency lives and breathes client work. It’s what powers your business model and keeps the light on. Creative client work can take all sorts of shapes and sizes, with short and simple projects running parallel to lengthy, deeply complex ones.

Projects this varied and requiring an array of creative specialist skills are automatically difficult to track. But add in the client component — one or more people outside your organization that are in the loop on the project — and suddenly, general-market project management strategies don’t always deliver results.

Project tracking software is a powerful solution to the mounting chaos of running a growing agency. 

Here’s how project tracking software can help you refine your project tracking processes to better handle client work.

What is project tracking? And what does excellent project tracking look like? 

Project tracking is the ongoing work of documenting the various tasks, subtasks, phases, and milestones of a project. It’s a discipline within project management that maintains an ongoing, updated, accurate view of the state of the project, ideally in a format that can be easily read by team members, stakeholders, and clients.

Excellent project tracking should accomplish these elements:

  • Provides an easily digestible visual of the status of a project and its elements (including a client-friendly view)

  • Maintains accuracy over the course of the project

  • Allows for or even provides proactive updates on task and phase completions

  • Is as minimally invasive and time-consuming as possible

Why project tracking is important for agencies

Is project tracking really worth the investment? If your agency is growing and projects are spinning out of control, it’s a no-brainer. But if you feel you’re getting by fine without it, you may wonder if the benefits are worth the work it will take to implement a good project tracking system.

  • Improves communication

  • Provides a central source of truth for project information

  • Focuses team members on the right tasks at the right time (in the right order)

  • Brings structure and organization to creative teams

  • Reduces wasted resources 

Here’s a sobering fact on wasting resources: On average, almost 12% of resources are lost because of weak or ineffective project management — and that’s across the general business market. It’s easy to see how the percentage could be higher in creative fields.

Common challenges in project tracking 

Most people who engage in project tracking will encounter project management challenges. If you’re new to the discipline or the project team, or if the project cannot be modeled on previous projects, these challenges become even more likely.

Knowing which metrics should be tracked

First, successful project tracking requires tracking the right things. Collecting not enough or too many metrics and following the wrong KPIs will deliver data, but that data may not be useful or actionable.

Take the time to determine which metrics are truly beneficial, and keep the list on the shorter side if you’re just starting out.

Finding a suitable project-tracking system

Finding a suitable project tracking system is instrumental in project tracking success because the work is detailed enough to virtually require a system of some kind.

Extremely simple projects may be trackable in a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel, but as you add in even a little bit of complexity, you’ll quickly grow to a place where you need to consider more capable project management tools.

Along the same lines, some of the shiny and popular cloud-based tools (like Kanban-board-focused Trello and Asana) work well at a certain level. But once you add in complex task management, dependencies, sub-tasks, and the like, those tools no longer keep up with the needs of your project team. (The same is true once you’re ready for some project automation or need to build complex project reports.)

The work is complicated (and usually inaccurate) without a suitable system for tracking project progress. Teamwork is project-tracking software built with agencies in mind, perfect for tracking both internal and client projects in a single collaborative platform.

Learn more about Teamwork, a better approach to project management software: Sign up now.

Maintaining adequate communication between team and clients

Maintaining strong communication within a project team is already a challenge. Add in client management, and things often get a little messy. When to (and when not to) loop the client into a conversation about project scope, project tasks, or even the project schedule itself is a nuanced thing: communicate too often, and the client gets frustrated or annoyed and may even tune you out. But communicate too little, and the client may doubt your skills or commitment. 

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Navigating bottlenecks and external delays

In any project context, teams may encounter bottlenecks within the project that may impede progress and put on-time completion of project goals in jeopardy. 

But with client projects, you’re adding in a whole extra layer of bottleneck opportunities: the client.

Client approvals, changes in scope, unclear communication, and indecisiveness can all hold up the process or even cause it to reverse. The primary fear here is the threat to due dates and project timelines, but client wildcards can also affect your ability to track progress accurately. 

Enjoying this content? Project tracking isn’t the only obstacle agencies have to contend with. Check out 10 tough project management challenges for client services teams, with helpful solutions for each one.

7 best practices for tracking projects efficiently and effectively

Enough with the challenges: let’s talk solutions! Use these seven best practices to improve your project tracking initiatives. Doing so should improve your project planning and workflow planning efforts, too.

Looking for even more best practices? Here are 10 broader project management best practices you can implement today.

1) Find balance in the triple constraint triangle

The triple constraint triangle highlights the three universal constraints facing every project and project manager:

  • Cost

  • Time

  • Scope

These are the three areas where limitations show up, and they’re also interconnected.

Say the project absolutely must be completed by the end of the year. At the outset, you should be able to establish both a scope and a cost that are reasonable and acceptable and that will allow you to meet the time constraint.

But if you change any of these three elements, the other two must adjust. Perhaps your client rushes the project and demands it be completed by November 1 instead of December 31. It can’t be done without increasing costs (monetary and resource costs) or reducing scope — or both.

Successful project tracking must maintain a balance in the triple constraint triangle. Crucially, when any of the three change, so must your project planning and tracking. If you keep using the same schedule and KPIs as before the change, something’s bound to go off the rails.

For more on the triple constraint triangle, read our in-depth explainer.

2) Set SMART goals for each project

Setting good goals is always vital, but when you’re working with and depending on external clients, the quality of your goals becomes even more crucial.

In other words, you need SMART goals.

SMART is an acronym for five attributes you should seek to infuse into every goal:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Assignable (or achievable or attainable)

  • Realistic (or relevant)

  • Time-related (or time-bound)

Writing SMART goals takes a little more effort, but it’s worth the investment: by ensuring every goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound, you’ll cut out ambiguity and wiggle room. Everyone will know what’s expected and when, which aids your project tracking efforts.

3) Identify deliverables and milestones 

Project tracking starts with defining parameters. In projects, those parameters include 

  • Deliverables: What will be produced during the project, whether physical or digital

  • Milestones: Key observable points demonstrating progress toward a completed deliverable

Without identifying the end goal, you may be tracking work or task completion, but you aren’t tracking a coherent project.

4) Utilize project tracking software to manage tasks and time

Project tracking software is purpose-built software that can plan, analyze, track, and report on projects. Depending on the suite you select, you may also gain access to time tracking, dashboards, integrations with other tools, project templates, mobile apps, and more.

Project tracking tools give you a massive boost in your ability to organize project data and track project progress. We don’t know how anyone lives without it, but the truth is, plenty do. And that gives you an opportunity.

Choosing the right project-tracking software can also give you a boost over the competition: With just 23% of businesses using a software tool for resource management, you’ll gain capabilities most businesses don’t have if you switch.

Teamwork is a project tracking software that will boost productivity and help to manage tasks and time. Built for creative agencies like yours, Teamwork goes beyond the basics with advanced project planning capabilities. 

Take the Gantt chart feature for example. This powerful tool for laying out project tasks and deliverables over time gives at-a-glance information that can transform your tracking capabilities. And because Teamwork was built for client work, you can easily share what you need to share with clients directly from our online project management portal.

5) Hold regular check-ins with team and clients

Effective communication was one of the challenges we mentioned earlier, and here’s a big part of the solution. Schedule regular check-ins with both the project team and the client representatives. Don’t wait until there’s a problem to call a meeting. Hold them at set scheduled times so you can provide tracking updates, clarify any questions, and refocus team members on the highest priority tasks.

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6) Ensure transparency across all parties

Effective project management requires transparency. 

But transparency gets tricky when there’s a client involved: You don’t want the client seeing a half-baked deliverable, and there are internal processes and decisions that truly aren’t the client’s business.

And then there’s the client side. You can create as much internal and client-facing transparency as possible, but you need your client to reciprocate. No agency wants to hear “it’s good” all along the way only to find out toward the end that it was not, in fact, good, and an executive at the client wants everything changed.

Transparency is as much an element of culture as anything else. But nearly as important as culture is the ability to cleanly track project data in the first place. Because in order to be transparent, you’ve got to have something visible and concrete to be transparent with. 

Teamwork empowers agencies to achieve the second half of that equation. We’ll leave the culture-shaping to you, but we can make the work of achieving transparency far simpler by providing clean, visual-focused project data.

7) Keep team members accountable

Project tracking supports accountability within your team and with your clients because, when done well, you’ll have a crystal-clear snapshot of the state of the project. There’s no hiding whether the designer, copywriter, or account rep took care of their assigned tasks.

Agencies and project leads with this kind of clear information at their fingertips are better positioned to hold people to their schedules and promises — and to know when things aren’t going as expected.

Benefits of project tracking software

Many of the best practices we’ve just discussed can’t happen without project tracking software (or can only operate at a very basic level). Beyond the ability to execute best practices, using the right project-tracking software delivers these business advantages.

Facilitating teams and tasks efficiently

When you’re manually juggling multiple teams or projects, just about any project question requires a time investment: you have to find where you wrote down that information or remember who to contact to find out what you need to know. 

It’s an inefficient and error-prone way to do projects.

But when you pull all your project data into a central software suite, you no longer have to track everything mentally. For nearly any question about the project, you can find a data-driven answer in just a few clicks.

Seeing real-time project status updates

Project tracking software goes beyond manual updates in a spreadsheet, tying tasks together into workflows and pulling current status into a visual format. You can also configure project tracking software to send notifications (via email or other collaboration apps through third-party integrations) that prompt the next user to begin their task.

Teamwork allows anyone on the team (whether in your organization or your clients) to see the project's status in real time. Whether in a task view, a Gantt chart, or agile views like a Kanban board, Teamwork gives instantly visible snapshots of a project that are easy to understand. And with integrations with all your favorite business tools, team members can update task completion status in several ways, so your project data stays current and accurate.

Interested in getting started with project tracking but unsure how to build it from scratch? Check out Teamwork’s project tracker template, the perfect way to start your first tracking project within Teamwork.

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Teamwork’s project tracker template

Interested in getting started with project tracking but unsure how to build it from scratch? Check out Teamwork’s project tracker template, the perfect way to start your first tracking project within Teamwork.

Learn more

Pinpointing roadblocks swiftly 

Roadblocks are inevitable in business. The real question is what you do when you encounter one. Without a clear visual roadmap for task flow, any roadblock requires significant manual intervention: You have to determine what tasks follow the stuck task, whether anything later can pick up independently, and so forth.

But with a strong project-tracking solution, you’ll see all of that instantly.

Teamwork includes robust support for subtasks, dependencies, iterative processes, and more — once again, you can quickly see a visual representation of any roadblock, one that anyone on the team can easily understand. No more taking the time to figure out which tasks in what sequence will be held up because of a roadblock; you can see that information instantly in Teamwork.

Improving team collaboration and motivation

Working on projects day in and day out sometimes saps your team’s motivation — especially on long projects where the payoff of project completion is far in the future.

Project tracking software helps you break down those projects into smaller, more achievable chunks, allowing teams to celebrate those small wins along the way. It also gives you a more tangible or visible representation of how far through the project the team is, reminding everyone of the goal they’re working toward and the progress they’re making toward that goal.

Streamline your project tracking with Teamwork

The agency world moves quickly and contains a dizzying number of moving parts. From fast-twitch projects like monthly social posts to comprehensive long-range rebrands, the varied scope of client projects is a lot to keep track of.

The right project tracking tool makes all the difference. Teamwork stands a cut above the rest, especially for agencies. Teamwork was built for creative agencies and client work. The features and functions you need are core to the Teamwork experience, not a bolt-on or an afterthought.

Ready to take control of your project tracking in a way that truly makes sense for your agency? Sign up for Teamwork today.

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