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Profit & Growth Tips for Digital Agencies

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Why Most Project Management Software is Too Complex for Agencies

Posted by Laura Hernalsteen on Dec 31, 2015


If you’re in the market for a project management tool, it’s tempting to try and get the most functionality possible for your money.

However, the more powerful a project management tool, the more complex it becomes. The more features and functionality on offer, the harder it becomes to use - and very quickly, the tool you invested in to improve your productivity and profitability has become a sinkhole of wasted time and energy.

Today, I’m looking at three reasons why most agencies need to ditch complex project management tools, and opt for a simple, streamlined solution instead.

1) Not All Agency Projects Can Be Planned in Granular Detail

Most project management (PM) tools are designed for micromanagement, allowing agencies to plan projects in minute detail – picking out exact start and completion dates, planning work down to the minute, and adding complex dependencies between projects and tasks.

However, there’s an obvious problem with this approach: most agency work can’t be defined to this level of detail.

Projects regularly evolve alongside new requests from customers, and respond to changes in the world around us. In such a fluid environment, it becomes impossible to accurately predict that ‘In 35 days from now, we’ll complete these 8 sub-tasks’, or ‘We’ll hold a 10 minute meeting next Friday to choose featured images for blog posts X, Y and Z’.

Complex PM tools encourage rigidity, and by using Gantt charts to map out every task and sub-task, months in advance, it becomes extremely difficult to respond to changes or incorporate revised deadlines into the plan.

For most agencies, it’s enough to track the time spent on each project, and compare that to the time budgeted for it. Planning doesn’t need to be complicated, and additional features and functionality can actually make PM tools too powerful – limiting their usefulness and hindering the flexibility of your agency.

2) The More Complex the Software, the Harder It Is to Use

Functionality-rich tools are useless if they end up being too difficult to use.

With each additional feature and function, project management tools risk becoming harder and harder to use. Employees need comprehensive training to use the software, guidelines need to be created to standardise its use, and time needs to be spent actually navigating and engaging with each of the tool’s features. In some cases, an agency’s customers will want visibility into project progress; and it becomes necessary to offer training to help them use the tool. 

In most cases, agencies aren’t limited by a tool’s features, but by the ability of employees and customers to actually use the tool. Time spent getting to grips with a complex PM tool is time that could be spent on billable work; and the harder a tool is to use, the more likely it is that mistakes will occur, or employees will start resenting its use.

So, in order to choose a tool that actually gets used, it’s important to balance usability with functionality.

3) Employees Can Manage Their Own Time

Your employees are smart, resourceful people. They understand the need for speed and efficiency, and given the opportunity, they’re capable of managing their own workloads without the need for constant supervision and intervention.

If a particular part of a project overruns by two hours, your employees are capable of balancing their workload, and spend two hours less on a less demanding aspect in order to make up the shortfall. They can correct these types of problems themselves – without the need for intervention or micromanagement.

In the hunt for improved productivity and increased profitability, it’s important to encourage employee autonomy wherever possible. Unfortunately, complex PM tools can actually strip away this autonomy, and end-up encouraging directors and founders to spend their time micromanaging their employees, instead of focusing their efforts on important strategic challenges.

Simple Project Management

In most cases, growing agencies don’t need to obsess over individual projects, or plan them out in minute detail. Instead, they need to manage their resources ­– the time and skills of their employees - and ensure they’re used in the most effective, profitable way possible.

Instead of an incredibly powerful and complex PM tool, most agencies need a simple solution – a tool that balances usability with functionality, and ensures that directors, employees and customers can access all the information they need to complete projects in a fast, efficient and profitable way.

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