If you were to explain to your grandma what do you do for a living, you would probably have a hard time. Occupations have changed drastically throughout recent decades, and today profession names sound crazy sometimes. People call themselves econometricians, geniuses, scrum masters, and customer happiness heroes without batting an eye.
In this regard, working for a digital agency does not sound that weird. Working on the brink of graphic design, marketing, copywriting, and web design, digital agencies work to deliver the best possible screen products and/or services to their clients.
Naturally, people working in this industry are extraordinary personalities requiring particular management approaches. Basically, there are two categories of digital agents:
- “Deep-water beasts.” These people dive so deeply into the creative process that they often forget about deadlines, teamwork, and other “conventionalities.”
- “Polyfunctional super-robots.” When you look at them managing dozens of tasks at once, you start doubting they are actually human beings.
Although it is great to have such pros in your team, you must keep in mind that the proper organization of the work process is the key to success. To achieve that, you might want to use some project management tips and tricks.
But first, let us figure out what challenges project managers face in digital agencies.
Typical project management problems at digital agencies
When a customer addresses a digital agency, they naturally have a lot of questions, project suggestions, and requirements. Creating screen products involves the collaboration of many people and several organizational layers. So, when it is unclear who communicates with customers, who organizes the work, and who gets the job done, clients may find themselves dangling in the informational vacuum.
There must be a single entry point for clients, someone whose duties specifically include communication with customers. You need an account manager: a person who will always inform a customer about the project’s condition, reply to their emails, and address a customer’s questions and requests regarding the project.
In other words, a skilled account manager is a link connecting a customer to the processes inside the digital agency.
Contrarily to the popular opinion, missed deadlines occur not only because team members were slacking off their duties. Usually, teams set on the crash course much earlier, on the stage of preliminary planning, or workload assessment. Also, failing to keep track of the project milestones can also contribute to deadlines being missed.
To avoid all this, you might want to look deeper into delivery management. This is a relatively new concept which revolves around the idea of organizing the work process in the most productive way.
A delivery manager focuses on:
- Setting up an Agile work environment for easy coordination between team members
- Preventing and eliminating roadblocks and obstacles
- Estimating workloads so that deadlines are calculated appropriately
- Organizing a team’s work in such a way that it requires minimal management effort.
More often than not, only bigger agencies can afford to hire a delivery manager. Usually, their duties are performed either by account managers or by business owners.
Ineffective division of labor
Many digital agency teams suffer from pre-deadline rushes. They spend too much time allocated for the project unproductively, or work without a clear vision of the final result. Sometimes, people in such teams work without even knowing for sure, who is responsible for what. And then, as the deadline comes closer, everyone starts hurrying frantically.
When working on a client’s task, it is important to manage your agency’s internal resources properly. This is where a project manager comes in. In general, their task is to:
- Organize the requirements and information on the project in the form of project tasks
- Develop the project plan
- Find people possessing the necessary skills and allocate them to the project
- Manage and optimize the financial, time, and human resources at their disposal
- Work with the team closely, guiding and coordinating their work in accordance with the customer’s needs.
While account managers communicate with clients and delivery managers create conditions facilitating the team’s productivity, project managers make sure each team member does their job.
In other words, a project manager is like a Hollywood movie producer.
There is an app for that
Being a freelance platform for vetted software developers, we at Coding Ninjas often go through the same routine as digital agencies:
- Clients address us seeking assistance on their digital products
- We look through our pool of vetted specialists to find those whose skills match the client’s needs perfectly, and who are able to solve the problem in the most efficient way
- We make sure our developers deliver a high-quality product to our customers, on time.
As a startup, we regularly face strong competition, which often forces us to double our effort not just to stay afloat, but actually, make progress. Our work life is dynamic and full of challenges and complicated tasks. But what we’ve discovered is that simple tools often work best for difficult problems.
So, here is the list of digital solutions we at Coding Ninjas use on a daily basis to organize our work.
We like Gmail for many reasons. One of them is its wonderful colorful stickers, or labels, which you can attach to mail threads.
We recommend you to:
- have dedicated labels for each client or project you work with
- set up a system of filters that would automatically sort your inbox letters according to labels.
When your client sends you an email, or your team member reports on a completed task on a project, the letters will go under corresponding labels.
This way, you will be able to easily track multiple threads, and maintain work communication more effectively.
Mailtrack allows you to see whether your addressee has actually opened your letter. Neither customers nor team members will now be able to say, “Oh, I must have missed your email.”
Trello is like a lightweight version of JIRA. It is intuitive and effective in helping you to keep an eye on the progress of projects you work on.
Being an ultimate tool for creating and managing to-do lists, Trello allows you to customize the boards with your task cards to your liking. Regardless of how many stages your workflow counts, you can list and track them in Trello.
Trello supports multiple boards, which means that any member of your team can create one to track progress on their tasks.
For example, here is how our Trello board for content writing looks like:
You can share Trello cards with other team members, comment on tasks, assign and re-assign cards to different people, set work priorities, and so on.
You can also use a bunch of power-ups and add-ons for Trello:
Allow you to add story points onto the cards in your boards. This add-on also has a number of other useful functions such as setting WIP limits for cards, importing points from Scrum into Trello, highlighting cards that have been in work for too long, and so on.
Allows you to attach and preview Dropbox files and folders directly to Trello cards, and view real-time information on them.
This small add-on tracks time spent on tasks written down on Trello cards. Useful when you need to know how much time your typical tasks require.
Cards will pile up as you work. Keeping an eye on all of them may be troublesome. The Card Aging add-on for Trello lets you view the activity (or its absence) on each of the cards in your board.
There are always repeating tasks. Creating cards for them every time is bothersome. Card Repeater solves this problem by duplicating Trello cards within specified periods of time.
There are many other add-ons and power-ups which can turn Trello into an ultimate project management tool. Shortly speaking, we love Trello.
Slack provides its users with amazing space for communication. You can create channels for different topics, start conversation threads within a channel, and make voice and video calls. You can use bots: special add-ons that significantly diversify Slack’s basic functionality.
Here are some examples for you:
A great AI assistant powered by machine learning, Obie can answer whatever questions your team members ask it. A great bot for on-boarding new employees.
A great option when you need to quickly examine your team’s opinion. SimplePoll allows you to create short questionnaires with answer choices right within Slack.
It is always great for a team to have an internal knowledge base that everyone could use for reference and information. Tettra can do just that: it lets you create wikis right inside Slack available to all of your team members using the app.
Monkey Test It
The idea behind this bot is just brilliant: it unleashes a horde of virtual monkeys on your website testing every possible interaction and function it has. Testing results are compiled in the form of a report and presented to you within Slack.
An invaluable goodie for all digital marketers out there, Statsbot connects Slack to analytics tools such as Google Analytics and allows you to keep an eye on your company’s KPIs.
The list of Slack bots is inexhaustible, so you will definitely have what to choose from.
Mind that if you are using a free version of Slack, your message history will be regularly erased. To avoid this, mark important messages as favorite.
This program probably does not need additional comments. A number one tool for screen sharing, online conferences, and presentations, TeamViewer is a must-have for every startup.
For more info on project management software, check out our article, “How to manage freelancers like a boss.”
Sometimes you just don’t have enough hands to handle (pun intended) every single task you face. Whatever your reasons are, hiring a freelancer is often a good option. The only problem is that it may take time to find a reliable and competent contractor.
More often than not, you do not have time to check every freelancer bidding for your contract: you just want them to hop onto your project train and get to work ASAP. In this regard, freelance platforms for vetted specialists are a good option for digital agencies.
What is vetting?
Generally speaking, it is the process of testing a freelancer’s professional skills. Usually, platforms test freelancers’ proficiency with the English language, their specialized skills, communicative habits, and overall adequacy. Platforms also strive to double-check on their contractors’ backgrounds and portfolios, too.
To learn more about popular freelance websites read our article, “Top 5 best freelance websites to hire a developer.”
Best project management tactics
Basing your workflow on Agile methodology can be a quick and effective solution. One of Agile’s key principles – rapid feedback and adaptation to changes – can be fulfilled easier in smaller teams.
Agile workflow implies that you:
- Develop the overall vision of your product, who is it made for, and how will people benefit from using it
- Outline the product’s features that will help you achieve its vision. Roughly estimate the time frame within which these product requirements must be met
- Create a release plan: decide on the launch priority of product features
- Plan sprints. A sprint is a short period of time, within which certain release goals must be achieved
- Coordinate the effort of your team through daily stand-ups. A stand-up is a brief report on what your team members have done so far, what are their plans for the day, and what obstacles prevent them from achieving their sprint goals.
- At the end of each sprint, analyze its outcomes, and plan your further work based on the analysis results.
The biggest advantage of the Agile approach is that teams can quickly notice and eliminate roadblocks occurring during the course of the project. It encourages direct communication, self-organization, and initiative. Agile is also easily applicable in companies of any scales, so you might want to stick to it instead of the more traditional management methods.
Check out our article, “Agile for non-tech teams: 8 things you need to know” for more details.
Sometimes you cannot afford to hire exclusively in-house professionals. Renting an office, paying for equipment and electricity bills, and other costs can make things harsh for a developing digital agency, This is not to mention the fact that in some regions labor force costs are extremely high, whereas in others you might not find a single soul possessing the skills you need.
Hiring people from abroad is a good alternative if you are experiencing these problems. Distributed teams comprise people working on the same project, but living in different locations. To manage them, you will need software for video-conferences, planning, and presentations; also, strict routine and regular communication are a must.
There is a number of benefits in working with distributed teams:
- Lower office rent expenses. Don’t underestimate real estate prices. In New York, renting office space for just one employee costs $14,800 annually. When your team members work remotely, your real estate expenses cut dramatically
- Their members tend to take fewer vacation days. In the United States, about half of remote workers take on average 15 days-off a year, compared to 22 days taken by in-house workers
- Higher productivity. Office environments are full of distractions, from coffee breaks to all kinds of meetings. Due to comfortable working conditions, remote workers
- More candidates to choose from. Since you are not limited by your geographical location, you can search for talents across the whole world
- Remote employees are paid only for the time they spend actually working on the project.
For more info on the specifics of working with distributed teams check out our article, “Ultimate Guide: How to Manage Remote Teams.”
In a nutshell
Project management for digital agencies has its peculiarities. Such problems as missed deadlines, ineffective division of labor, and lost customers are typical. Often, people working in the industry are extraordinary personalities with creative outlook, and may require proper organization.
Fortunately, there are tools and tactics to deal with these and many other issues. Applications such as Trello, Slack, Mailtrack, TeamViewer, and even Gmail can boost your team’s efficiency. On the other hand, Agile methods of organizing work processes and the tactics of distributed teams will help you cut the costs of running your projects, and organize flexible, adaptive work environment.
Also, if you feel like your project could use an extra pair of skilled hands, you can hire a freelancer. Online platforms for vetted specialists such as Coding Ninjas can be a great source of skilled and verified labor force. We test the proficiency of each contractor applying to work with us. So, when you hire one of our freelancers for the job, you can be sure that your project is in reliable hands. Give us a try now!