The agency world has been through a well documented change in the last decade. The traditional agency model has been ripped apart, turned on its head, and spun around three times. The move towards an evolving digital and integrated world means complex projects, more moving pieces, and higher resource costs. Increasing client demands mean deadlines are getting squeezed, budgets are getting tighter while expectations go through the roof.
The easy fix to these problems is to put more people on the projects, throw more hours at them, and work through the night. But this short term solution is a Band-Aid, and a well-trodden path to spiraling project costs, missed deadlines, unhappy staff and unhappy clients.
In the time I have spent in the creative world, across Europe and North America, with 30 person boutique shops and global groups, there is one key thread that the successful agencies have in common - resource management. I don’t mean scheduling or task allocation, a whiteboard or a list of tasks scribbled on the back of a post-it note, it is about real resource management.
Resource Management in its simplest definition is the acquisition and deployment of the resources required to deliver the project.
Lets break this down…
The key to managing resources is to know what is coming down the road, and to ensure we have the staff in place to fulfill all of the requirements. That last bit is the important piece. The requirements. And what are the requirements? Well, the hours and skill sets that were sold to the customer, i.e. the budget or scope of work. For too long the budget and the resource plan have existed in two different worlds, being created in silos at opposite ends of the agency. But how can you plan your resources, if you don’t pay attention to what you have sold the customer? This is the first step in effective resource management. Your budget, or scope of work, should feed your resource plan. The two should be linked, so that you can then forecast at the top level of the agency, what resources are needed to deliver the projects that we have committed to delivering, on time, and on budget. Making this change today will give you short term visibility of your resources, but over time you will be able to forecast your resource requirements well in to the future.
When I think about resource acquisition in the advertising world, there is one thing that comes to mind above all others, freelancers. Freelancers have long been part of the agency model, but in recent years their numbers are growing as creative agencies look to outsource tasks, leverage specialised talent pools or just to meet the demands of clients.
It’s in these scenarios where resource management is most effective. Short term freelance talent can be expensive, and is often used as a band aid, or crutch to rely on at the last minute rather than a strategic tool to deliver projects on time, in scope and within budget.
Resource management is often seen as a way to reduce freelancers, and in many cases that can true. However, the most effective resource managers see it as a way to control and manage freelancer levels effectively to get the most return on that investment.
Accurate and effective resource management with the ability to forecast ebbs and flows seeing months in advance what special skillsets are needed, and identifying gaps in the talent pool - will all allow you to increase your pool of resources while keeping your costs down and increase margins.
After you have acquired the correct resources to deliver your projects, the issue becomes deployment. This is a common challenge in the agency world. How do you ensure the right developers are assigned to the right job for their skillset? How do you ensure you are using the entire bench and not just your “A Team”? And most importantly, how do you spread the work evenly so you don’t end up with the very unproductive mix of one set of idle hands and the others becoming burned out.
As discussed earlier, forecasting becomes invaluable in this scenario. Knowing what’s coming is imperative in resource management
But what also helps is visibility; visibility of all resources, their skillsets, what they are working on, when they are working on it, and how long till they are completed. All of this coupled with visibility of the work in the pipeline, allowing the ability to match the appropriate available resources.
Of course, this makes things sound simple, and creative agencies are all but simple. The environment is fast paced, and the need to be extremely nimble, with demands fluctuating daily are vital to success. Having the means to distribute work, or re-assign tasks at a moments notice is the absolute key to meeting client demands and deadlines.
Leveraging appropriate resources, and meeting deadlines result in client satisfaction and a motivated and happy staff. All of which can lead to consistent revenues, regular work demands, and stable resource pools.
One point that is often overlooked is that creative agencies traditionally work long days to meet client demands. This can lead to employee burnout - one of the key contributors to a decrease in productivity, increased attrition and usually stems from resource management issues.
In closing, resource management is a largely undervalued role in the creative world although it is so closely tied to client satisfaction, job costs, and staff motivation. Doing it well will ultimately lead to real tangible difference in the bottom line of the creative agency, and in a world of shrinking fees and expensive resources, this could make the dramatic difference to the overall profitability of your business.
Don’t tell the clients, but maybe better, cheaper and faster really is possible after all...