Building a truly great project schedule from the ground up is exceptionally difficult. Just ask anyone leading a project and usually, workload management makes the top of the list for hard things to do efficiently.
We get it. Workloads change at the drop of a hat. And keeping everyone on pace toward completion can feel like an impossible task.
For example, do any of these project situations sound familiar?
Designers are supposed to have mockups by Friday, but they're bottlenecked by another department.
Devs complain they have too much to do or sprint timeframes are unrealistic.
Certain marketing members are burning out trying to keep up, while others in the department seem to have plenty of free time.
Delivery team workloads have a yo-yo effect with peaks of overwork and valleys of boredom.
Each of these project management challenges may have many contributing factors, but at their core, inefficient workload management is to blame. Team leads can right the wrong by following a few tips to better manage the team.
And in this blog, we’ll show you 10 ways to effectively control your team’s workload through better workload management practices.
Let's get started.
What is workload management?
Workload management is the process of assigning work to an entire team in a way that distributes the load optimally among the available resources.
It considers team members’ skill sets, availability, capacity, throughput, and anything else that affects how much and what kind of work a team member should get.
Managers, team leaders, and stakeholders skilled in workload management build successful project schedules where team members are sufficiently busy with work they’re good at and enjoy — while no one is overloaded or sitting idle.
Why does this matter? Because your organization thrives when resources are maximized. No one wants to be in the opposite situation, with some project team members sitting around with nothing to do while others are so overallocated they burn out or walk out.
10 effective ways to manage workloads
Of course, getting your organization’s or department’s workload balanced perfectly is really tough to do. But it’s easier with the right set of tools and strategies.
Use these 10 methods for effective workload management within your agency to start seeing stronger performance and happier teams.
1) Evaluate the full workload across your team or agency
Part of the difficulty with workload management is getting a true picture of all the work that’s happening on your team or at your agency.
Even if you’re following traditional project management best practices, it’s easy for invisible, untracked work to sneak in. Start by looking at your previous month's worth of work. This should give you an idea of what a typical workload includes so you can begin to understand what typically makes a sprint or recurring campaign.
Then detail who on your team is responsible for each task. Or, if it's easier, simply list out the most common jobs given to each team member to understand who works on what and how much that entails in the month's workload.
Even in the simplest workflows, planning and evaluating your team's capacity is so much easier with the right tool. And hey, that leads pretty well into our next topic.
2) Adopt powerful project management software to organize, streamline, and visualize workloads
It's easy to recommend adopting a new project management software, but not all tools are the same. In fact, several of the top choices don't have detailed workload resource management features.
But guess what? Teamwork does! Our resource management features help client services teams quickly find people who can take on new or extra work while ensuring no one is overworked.
Our tools help estimate team member availability and allocate project tasks the right way the first time around so everyone's workload is properly managed. This also allows teams to prioritize important tasks to make sure the most essential parts of a project are completed and follow the appropriate timeline.
You and the team can view workloads in calendar form, whether you prefer a Gantt chart, Kanban board, or simple calendar view. It's simple to assign specific work to the most relevant resources, mark start and end dates, note dependencies, and highlight due dates for project deliverables and milestones.
3) Implement time tracking to learn realistic workloads
Balancing a team workload not only requires leadership to know the capacity of each employee, but also the time it takes to complete each task. Once you understand the average time of a task, workload management becomes so much easier.
The trouble here is that this can seem incredibly difficult to measure in creative or knowledge-economy work. Even repeatable tasks like “review and revise copy” or “review and approve the statement of work” don’t always take the same amount of time.
Another big thing is most teams simply don’t work at consistent paces. They may struggle with time management after a bad night’s sleep but then turn into hyper-productive employees the next day.
Over the long run, though, task lengths tend to average out. You just have to track how long people spend on them consistently, which means starting a time-tracking program.
Your team will benefit from running a test over a temporary timespan (say, a few weeks or months) in which everyone records the time it takes to complete common tasks at a normal pace. This allows you to assess how much can actually get done in a day, a week, or a month.
But a more simplistic way is to use an employee time tracking software that is effortlessly built into the same task management software. You guessed it — Teamwork allows you to easily record the time it takes to complete a task, which is crucial for prioritizing workloads.
Additionally, time-tracking software is great for client work, so you can provide your clients with more detailed billable hours. This helps your organization avoid leaving money on the table when it comes to managing billable hours for a client.
A word of caution here: Be careful in your implementation. Team members might misunderstand the reason for time tracking, thinking it’s a way to push them to go faster, judge them, or micromanage the work they can accomplish related to other team members.
Make sure you explain that the end goal of the project is to better balance workloads so that no one feels overwhelmed or overworked.
4) Hire an operations manager or detail role responsibilities to keep team tasks organized
If you’re a leader at a new agency without a formal project management solution, you'll have a tough time moving projects from start to finish. Instead, consider hiring an operations manager that could help take the burden of your project management challenges and ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
If you can't quite afford to make operations a full-time job, at least ensure your leads understand the roles and responsibilities associated with operations so they can best manage projects for their own team.
You won’t regret detailing how the entire organization will manage the creation of tasks and staff workloads. Doing this takes time and focus, but it greatly benefits your agency.
Creating an environment where employees understand what is on their plate will remove the stress of chaos and disorganization and should also improve delivery dates and managing client expectations.
5) Create templates for repetitive project-based services
You can save significant repetitive manual work by relying on project management templates for repetitive tasks.
Once you’ve identified the comprehensive workload for your project and team, you’ll likely start to notice patterns of repetition. And the same thing will happen as you get more and more projects up and running.
While each project is unique, much of the project management work and deliverables will look quite similar. Both within a project and across projects, building templates will allow you to scale and quickly build stackable and understandable workflow management systems.
Get started with one of many Teamwork project management templates to get work done faster and put an end to repetitive work!
6) Provide ample time for feedback, sick days, and vacations
Make sure to build plenty of time into project schedules for the delays and invisible work that you know will happen. Effective team communication through email, Slack, or whatever else you use is essential to keep up pace and prevent projects from coming to a halt when someone goes on vacation.
Ideally, you’re building those subtasks into your project schedules, but there’s always at least a small amount of additional back-and-forth that doesn’t make it onto the schedule. Make sure to give enough time to cover this kind of needed work.
Project leads don't always account for vacation even though most employees get anywhere from two to four weeks per year. If that's not scheduled into your workload management process, you run the risk of a serious project bottleneck.
Businesses should scale back the total expected hours per year to more reasonable amounts so projects have a good buffer zone for unexpected or even planned resource changes.
7) Prioritize time for teammates to focus on one task and avoid multitasking
A lot of folks love the idea of multitasking because it can feel more productive and in control of your work.
There’s just one problem: It’s all an illusion.
Study after study makes it clear that multitasking almost never works. People work more slowly and make more mistakes when they multitask.
Besides working to change perceptions around multitasking, you can take other steps to help your team do their best work, staying focused on the right task at the right time.
Schedule-building and prioritizing tasks are the most important. Employees who feel the pressure of a dozen competing priorities tend to switch between them.
Those who understand what’s the most important, highest priority work tend to focus on that work. When you streamline work by keeping team members focused on the right task at the right moment, you’ll increase team performance.
8) Be an example of a healthy workload for your team
If your team feels they're constantly overworked, you're going to risk burnout.
Despite all your efforts to improve your workload management strategy, it could be time for some introspection. Are you and the other leaders at your agency modeling healthy relationships to work?
Or are you leading by example down a path full of work addiction, after-hours stress responses to the crisis of the day, and so on?
If you suspect the issue is one of culture more than actual overload, it’s time to set an example. Team leaders and managers can pave the way by showing what a healthy relationship with work looks like.
Of course, to be that good example, leaders must find a way to avoid overworking themselves.
9) Pay close attention to your headcount
Sometimes the problem isn’t time management or poor project planning and scheduling. Instead, it just comes down to your available resources, as in the number of actual humans available to do the work.
If you’ve tried everything else and your resources are still overallocated, it’s time to look at more drastic changes. Do you need to increase the headcount or perhaps decrease the scope of the project?
One of the benefits of using Teamwork is you get access to detailed budgeting reports so you know exactly how much money you have available from your clients so you can better manage headcount.
Additionally, tools like the Teamwork Advanced Resource Scheduler allow you to plan future client work based on current headcount so you know if you're taking on more work than you can handle.
10) Have regular check-ins with team members
Last, it’s crucial that project managers and team leads regularly check in with every team member.
This can happen as a part of regular team meetings, though it’s wise to conduct periodic one-on-one check-ins. Team members need to know their project managers and leaders actually care about employee workload.
Regular check-ins send these messages and provide an easy and obvious time for workers to express their concerns regarding workload.
Pro tip: Don’t assume your teams will volunteer this information, especially if your agency culture isn’t known for openness and transparency. Proactively and clearly ask team members about their workload, making sure they know you’re ready for real and honest feedback.
Common challenges of workload management (+ solutions)
Those 10 tactics can help you improve workload management, but it’s still tough to know which tactics make the biggest impact in specific situations.
Here are a few common challenges agencies face around workload management, plus quick solutions for each.
Sometimes the problem is what a business expects of its people. This is easier to see in production or logistical settings than in creative or knowledge-based ones: no one will sign off on a logistics plan that assumes your trucks drive at 200 miles per hour.
But it’s not always obvious how many accounts a customer success rep can manage or how quickly a graphic artist should be able to crank through an assignment. And the farther the people doing the planning are from the work itself, the more likely this problem becomes.
Solution: Use a combination of qualitative and quantitative data to set performance expectations. Talk to the people whose workloads you’re managing to get their take on what’s realistic. Then analyze your historical performance data to see what the trend over time has been.
Overdemanding work culture
“You may con a person into committing to an unreasonable deadline, but you cannot bully them into meeting it.”
~ Consultant John Edwards in People Rules for Rocket Scientists
Unrealistic expectations often develop without ill intent: project managers and leaders don’t always understand what it takes to get the work done. An overdemanding work culture is when those unrealistic expectations spread into the agency's ethos. Suddenly it’s not that people don’t understand what’s possible; now those people are demanding the impossible. Unsurprisingly this leads to burnout, destroys morale, and can cause heavy attrition.
Solution: Changing culture is hard to do, but it’s easier with data. With the right project management software, you can chart exactly how much your top performers can deliver (along with what your average performers deliver). This data can show those in charge of shaping the culture what’s possible and what’s not.
Uneven workload distribution
This is what we described way back in the intro, where one department has a heavy workload and another has none. Or, on the individual level, two employees in identical roles might have vastly differing workloads.
The larger your organization and the more complex your projects, the more likely this becomes. Sometimes it’s inevitable in small ways. But left unchecked, it can create problems with morale, performance, and even retention.
Solution: Use workload management software to better handle workload distribution. Teamwork’s resource and workload management features make it easy to reassign tasks away from overloaded team members!
Last, sometimes the problem isn’t expectations, demands, or imbalance. Sometimes the problem is headcount.
If all your resources are consistently above 80% or maybe 85% allocated, you have no margin. When something unexpected comes up (or goes wrong), you don’t have many options, and workloads get out of control.
Solution: Hire more people. Of course, that requires convincing higher-ups of the need. You may want to track this data to show decision-makers exactly why you need that increased headcount, plus the ramifications of not getting it.
Learn why teams turn to Teamwork to manage and organize their workloads
Workload planning can be challenging, but you can make the work easier and improve your outcomes by implementing the right strategies and using the right tools.
We’ve given you 10 strategies to help you manage workloads and keep the work flowing. But even more importantly, we’ve created an industry-leading project management platform that’s perfect for managing and organizing workloads on even the most complex projects and on teams of any size.
Ready to learn more? You can see Teamwork in action right now! Get started for free today.