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 a 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 a team in a way that distributes the load optimally among the available resources.
It takes into account team members’ strengths, availability, capacity, throughput, and anything else that affects how much and what kind of work a team member ought to be given.
Managers, team leaders, and stakeholders skilled in workload management build successful project schedules where the most team members possible are sufficiently busy with work they’re good at and enjoy, while no one is overloaded or sitting idle.
Piece of cake, right?
We know – you probably wouldn't be here if it was that simple. But the truth about workload management is that it's notoriously difficult to get right. And even when project managers stay highly organized, there's still potential for team members to get under or overutilized.
We know this isn’t easy, but we’ve got multiple strategies that can help you improve your efforts in this crucial area. Workload management may be complex and challenging, but it’s infinitely easier when you use the right tools.
Teamwork powers up your workload management efforts with easy-to-use tools like our Workload planner which was built specifically for this purpose. If you want to get started for free right now and see it in action yourself, we won’t stop you!
10 ways to better manage team workloads
People are as complex as much as the projects they work on. Managing workloads for the entire team across multiple projects can suddenly feel like you're trying to hit endless moving targets.
But don't lose sight of your end goal, which is to simply keep order amongst your team and prevent bottlenecks across your projects. Here are 10 tips that will get you well on your way to better workload management:
10 ways to improve workload management
Evaluate the full workload across your team or company
Adopt powerful project management software to organize, streamline, and visualize workloads
Implement time tracking to learn realistic workloads
Hire an operations manager or detail role responsibilities to keep tasks organized
Create templates for repetitive project-based services
Provide ample time for feedback, sick days, and vacations
Prioritize time for teammates to focus on one task and avoid multitasking
Be an example of a healthy workload for your team
Pay close attention to your headcount
Have regular check-ins with team members
1. Evaluate the full workload across your team or company
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 company.
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 sure does! Our resource management features help client services teams quickly find people with the capacity to take on new or extra work while ensuring no one is overworked.
Our tools help estimate team member availability and allocate tasks the right way the first time around so everyone's workload is properly managed. This also allows teams to prioritize 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 tasks organized
If you’re a leader at a new agency without a formal project management solution, you're going to 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 adds massive benefits to your business.
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 a significant amount of 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 give you the opportunity 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. Team communication through email, Slack, or whatever else you use is essential to keep up pace avoid projects coming to a halt when someone leaves 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 2 to 4 weeks per year. If that's not scheduled into your workload management, 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 keep your teams deeply 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 workload management — it could be time for some introspection. Are you and the other leaders at your company 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 themselves find a way to avoid overworking.
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 you have 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 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 crucially important that project managers and team leads are regularly checking in with every member of the team.
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, plus they 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 company 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.
Learn why teams turn to Teamwork to manage and organize their workloads
Workload management isn’t ever going to be easy, 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 that can help you better 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.