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DPM Podcast

Humanize Your Team Resourcing Process To Boost Long-Term Culture (with Morgan Megannety from Skeleton Crew Creative Studio)

By 16/02/2021 May 23rd, 2021 No Comments

Learn tips and tricks for humanizing your team resourcing process and boost long-term culture with agency operations guru, Morgan Megannety.

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Audio Transcription:

Galen

So, that piece of work that was supposed to get approved yesterday. Well, it didn’t get approved. Now you’re scrambling to figure out what your team is going to be doing next week. Meanwhile, a pile of front-end amends have come in from another project. Sonia is available, but she doesn’t work in React. Rishi could do it, but he struggles when handling more than two projects at once. Arlen will probably have to do it, even though he was really banking on that new project to stay engaged with his job. Now he’s a bit of a flight risk. Why don’t the puzzle pieces ever just fit? If this high-stress game of resourcing Tetris is familiar, keep listening. We’re going to talk tips and tricks for filtering out the noise and keeping things human so that you can balance your short-term decisions with the long-term health of your team culture. Thanks for tuning in. My name is Galen Low with The Digital Project Manager. We are a community of digital professionals on a mission to help each other get skilled, get confident, and get connected so that we can deliver projects better. If you want to hear more about that, head over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com.

Hey, everyone! Thanks for hanging out with us on the DPM podcast. My guest today is a former digital project manager turned agency operations guru. She’s got over a decade of experience keeping large UK agencies running smoothly, and she was once named employee of the decade by her team. On the side, she used to make stained glass in a three-by-three shed in her yard, and she’s recently given her cat the corner office in her new Vancouver abode. Today, she’s going to be sharing some of her best secrets for successfully scheduling team resources across multiple concurrent projects – something that I know a lot of our listeners still have yet to crack the nut on. Folks, please welcome Morgan Megannety. Hey Morgan.

Morgan

Hey Galen. How are you?

Galen

I’m well, thanks for coming on the show. Great to have you.

Morgan

Oh, great to be here. Thanks so much for inviting me in.

Galen

We are going to tackle a juicy topic today that people always ask me about. They’re always telling me about their headaches and their challenges when it comes to scheduling team resources for multiple concurrent projects – sharing resources, making PMs play-friendly, keeping operations running smoothly. It’s a puzzle that a lot of people are struggling with. So I’m really excited to dig in. But, first of all, I just want to say, I’ve loved our chats recently. I’ve loved getting to know you. It’s been a lot of fun. You strike me as someone who’s really energized, by what you do and you also simultaneously have what I consider to be a really, really stressful job. I mean, keeping a busy agency running at pretty much breakneck speed is a serious juggling act. And even for folks like me who have a background in digital project management, I think it’s a very impressive feat. So I wanted to ask you, where do you get your inspiration from?

Morgan

Yeah, sure. So, I guess I get my inspiration from the people who I work with. So, the thing with ops and resourcing is, is really, it’s a kind of like a process creating and enforcing job. And really the processes that you put in place are really only ones that are, you know, going to benefit the people who you work with. So I guess it’s listening to them, listening to the type of personalities, what might help them do things better, the type of technology that we use, processes that clients might need. So yeah!

Galen

See, you just love your job. That’s where you get your inspiration from. But yeah, definitely about the people I knew you were going to say that I love that answer. And I mean, you’ve been doing this for a while, and even at the level that you’re at, what are some of the things that you’re trying to get better at these days?

Morgan

Well, I mean, I don’t know if you know, um, about this thing has been happening past few months, but there’s this the pandemic going on? Yeah. Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal, so, I guess the biggest thing is, you know, how do you help a, a studio, and a team, you know, feel like a cohesive team without having that physical space, um, to, to meet with everyone and kind of like being in every single day. So that’s, that’s the thing, that’s like a constant challenge, I guess, for everyone, the world over right now. And, you know, also it’s constantly refining how we do things. So, like I said earlier, listening to what the team and the clients needs, and tweaking the processes as we go. Never staying still.

Galen

All right let’s get into it. Let’s talk about scheduling team resources, how you do it, how you stay sane, and what tips and tricks you’ve picked up over the past 10 years in operations that can help our listeners overcome similar resource allocation headaches and challenges. But first I thought maybe you could tell our listeners a little bit about professional you: your background as a producer or a project manager and your shift into operations, stuff like that.

Morgan

Yeah. Sure. So I got a job in a digital agency after being made redundant from a non-digital agency in 2008. So during the great recession, I found myself without work, but digital places were hiring. So I got a job, and quite quickly I transitioned from being a kind of like general office person to their first digital project manager. And that was really interesting, and I really liked it. There was work, which was very important to me, and, uh, I shortly moved over to a bigger digital department within a fairly large integrated ad agency. And after about six months there, I switched into ops, uh, as a studio manager, which was absolutely the right switch for me. And I stayed there for nine years and I grew the ops department from being just me as a studio manager to, by the time I left earlier this year, there were four of us: one person is specializing solely in recruitment, a studio manager, who is over the day-to-day resourcing, as well as a studio assistant, cause there’s lots of admin in an ops role.

Galen

Fair enough. It sounds like a great dream team.

Morgan

And it was absolutely amazing. And, uh, yeah, we have lots of big clients, really interesting work. So, uh, clients like Cadbury, O2, Kia, Transport for London, EasyJet, et cetera. And we did a huge range of digital projects. So from kind of standard banners and animations to Alexa apps and games and Instagram-type image searching… loads of really cool things. Since the spring, I’ve been the ops director at a smaller, nimbler studio – still doing some really cool work, less kind of digital specific, but we do a bit of digital stuff. And I’m using the same principles and kind of like processes that were key at a bigger agency.

So it’s, it’s great. It’s really cool.

Galen

Awesome. I love that: doing the job at different scales. And, I mean, talk to me about the transition from project management to ops. I mean, it seemed like a pretty seamless transition. Are there some affinities between project management and operations that, you know, is it kind of some of the same language, some of the same skillset?

Morgan

Yeah. I think that definitely having a background in project management helped me understand some of the challenges that the project managers or the producers were, were coming across, and also really being able to empathize with them when they came to me with their, um, resourcing uh, needs, um… In all honesty, I found being a project manager really, really hard. And there’s something about project management that activates all of my deepest worries. I wasn’t able to sleep at night. But, um, yeah, I became a studio manager and yeah, I think that it was basically, for me, it was this sidestep from, you know, of course as the project manager, you care about the people, but your focus is for me, it was, you know, having to deliver the project on time and on budget. That was kind of my main remit. And I found the switch to being a studio manager was all about caring about the people. And I, I, I felt a lot more excited about that. And I felt like if I could, you know, if the people felt like they were being taken care of, then the best work would come. It just sort of sat better with me and yeah, I didn’t look back at project management after that. It was, um, yeah, definitely a great career thing to do.

Galen

I love that. I love that focus on people. You’re right. I mean, when you’re a project manager, like delivery is the main accountability, whereas when it comes to a more operational role, you know, you really are taking care of the people. All right. Let’s give our listeners some bearings here. So first of all, we’re going to dive into resourcing but just for folks listening, just in case they use a different word or aren’t familiar: what is resourcing and why is it important for any organization to do?

Morgan

Yeah, sure. So, resourcing, I guess, fundamentally it’s having a group of people of varying skill sets, and effectively deciding what they’re going to be working on every single day.

Galen

Planning people’s lives for them.

Morgan

Yes. Working day, not weekends. Yeah. So what it’s about is it’s about, you know, making money for the department, and it’s about, you know, making sure that you don’t have too many people sitting on the bench at any one time. It’s about looking out as far in advance as you can to see if there’s going to be any pinch points coming up. If there are pinch points, you know, seeing if you can move things around. If there aren’t, um, making staffing decisions around either freelance hires or, you know, maybe we can hire a permanent person. But for me, the most interesting part of it is keeping people from burning out. Pairing skills to tasks. So understanding what people objective-wise, what they need to do to sort of like, you know, keep themselves interested in, in their career. You know, looking out for cool opportunities for them to, you know, continue doing whatever they are interested in doing, and really factoring the needs of the individual, keeping them engaged. And it’s not just Tetris. I think some people refer to resourcing as Tetris. And it is a little bit, especially if you look at a good resourcing schedule, but, it’s not just that, you know, you could have a development team and you have two days of tech that needs to go in. But actually, the only guy who’s available, he can’t build in, you know, the resourcing requirement that you have, he can’t build in that type of technology. So it’s like figuring out what you can do to move things around to make that work.

Galen

Gotcha. I like the sort of multi-layer aspect of things: on one layer it’s pairing people with what they can do, on another layer, it’s pairing people with the thing that they want to do. And then also the other human considerations, you know, that “building life around work-life”, if that makes sense.

Morgan

Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s also sometimes about, you know, having those chats with people that sometimes, uh, there’s gonna be a little bit of a crappy time when they’re going to possibly have to do the things that they don’t really want to do. And you know, just recognizing that sometimes people will maybe need to have a little bit of a, you know, a time to air those grievances and feel safe to be able to do so.

Galen

I like that approach to it. Okay, loaded question. What’s the key to resourcing and running a successful studio. Tell us your secrets.

Morgan

Well, I mean, ideally, you will be blessed with a team of people who are very happy to be there and you just won’t have to do anything to reinforce that. I think that the happy studio is a super important thing. So, sort of before anything, I guess, you know, working on like what is it that’s going to make the people who you work with, you know, happy to be there. But besides that, I found that it makes a lot of sense to have a set rhythm to the week. Um, so work out, you know, how you need to resource, what are the key days to do certain key meetings, and just like have a certain process and structure to, you know, the way that you and the wider team need to work in order to make sure that the rest of the team are booked on the right jobs at the right time. And, you know, we’ve got enough time to make those resourcing decisions.

So yeah, having a good schedule for your week, I think is important from a kind of resourcing point of view. And yeah, building on that, having some kind of systems in place. So, you know, I think we’ll probably get onto this later, but it doesn’t have to be like a very advanced resourcing, system, but just some way to keep track of all your resources, to keep track of all your requests, just some kind of structure there to help people make sure that they’ve got the right thing happening at the right time.

Galen

That’s totally fair. And it’s funny because that is the piece that is anxiety-inducing for me about your job: legitimately, you’ve got five working days to figure out next week. That could be staffing, that could be shifts in project timelines, that could be shifts in priorities, and there’s only so many hours in a day. There’s only so many options. And you have to get it all solved by the following Monday. So I hear you about having a solid rhythm.

Morgan

I mean, that’s, that’s, that’s the thing. I think a solid rhythm and also like a solid way of, like, this is how I will accept your resource requests. Do it this way, please. Like, please don’t just grab me in the hallway. Please don’t just send me an email or send me a Slack. Like if there’s, you know, 25 producers, I, I can’t, I can’t keep on top of things.

Galen

There’s literally no time for anything to slip through the cracks. Like that’s how rapid the sprints are, and that’s how high the urgency is. And just to kind of put this into context for folks, like we’re talking about a large agency here, uh, for example, I mean, what was the average number of projects happening at once and sort of what is the average project team size, and how many projects are people working on at once, and how many resources are getting shared across different projects?

Morgan

The agency I spent my most time out was an agency of about a thousand people worldwide. The vast majority of those were in London. The digital studio was about a hundred people by the time I left. I’d say about 75 of those were resourceable people – so, people who were booked on projects. Within that, we also would, uh, bring on freelancers. You know, often, like there would be, I don’t know, at minimum, usually five to 10, sometimes more freelancers, um, across all the skillsets. Job-wise, I guess like between 75 to a hundred jobs at once, um, of all sizes. Some would be, you know, a couple of day-long, little production jobs. Um, maybe just doing some little social posts or a little digital out-of-home automation or something. Something that will be in and out within a week. Uh, other jobs will be multiple months like a, you know, big design system for, you know, a big telecom client or something. But then we had the wider agency as well. So, yeah, it could get pretty big.

Galen

How about, uh, concurrence? Like, is there like how many things is one person generally working on at a time? I mean, I know that the sort of scale can be different as well, but.

Morgan

Yeah. I mean, it really depends on, on the type of the jobs that are going on a studio, but also the type of person or resource, if you want to refer to them as their robot name. Um, so, uh, we had discipline leads, so those guys and girls uh, would be across multiple jobs at once. So they could be across like 15 jobs. But they weren’t ever operating as the production people. So they wouldn’t even sit down for two, three days at a time heads down designing something. They would be leading the people who were. They spent most of their time in and out of meetings and overseeing production designers or developers. And then the more kind of like production-focused people would have maybe two to three max jobs. We would try not to spread people too thinly and always everything that was resourced or scheduled in would, you know, have had conversations with the discipline leads to make sure that we were putting aside enough time and, um, the skill sets matched and all that stuff. But, you know, sometimes there would be like one crappy day where a nice juicy chunk of work fell out or was postponed for a couple of days. So therefore they ended up having like a bunch of amends across, you know, four or five different jobs come in, but that would hopefully be a rarity mean. We didn’t, didn’t like to have many days like that. But sometimes, you know, it’s just what the projects need. You’ve got to have a bitty day.

Galen

And I guess, when it comes to like flexibility, we talked about having a really good system and I think maybe some people are listening, thinking, okay, well that sounds pretty rigid. And maybe it has to be that rigid in order for things to work. But what is your philosophy when it comes to scheduling resources and like changes as they come in and just life happening? Like, are you machine, or are you more dancer?

Morgan

Yeah, full dancer. Full dancer. I mean, I really bang on a lot about processes and systems and all that stuff, because I believe that if you have those things in place, it helps you be more flexible. If that makes sense. Like it’s, it’s basically not everything is flying at you at all times. You know, the vast majority of things, you know, you’re able to process through and deal with and allocate effectively and all that stuff, which means that when, you know, something comes at you on a Friday, which is you’ve like beautifully lined up four UX designers to start on Monday, that you’ve had to work through recruiters and you’ve placed them and they’re all ready to go. Then someone comes on Friday afternoon and says, “Hey, really sorry, but the project’s not going to be ready until next Wednesday.” It means that you can deal with that.

So, you know, do what you need to do. Can they be reallocated work on some other billable work? Can we push back the start date of the contracts? Are we just going to have to suck up the cost and therefore can the client take that hit for at least a couple of days? Like what, you know, what can be done? So like flexibility, always, always, always, things are going to change constantly, and a resource person’s job is just to deal with that. And it’s just part of it, you know? Yeah, you just, uh, you know, things, things always change and that’s kind of what, you know, it keeps it interesting. Uh, yeah.

Galen

I love that. I love the notion of having the system so that you have the bandwidth to do that on the fly problem solving, which you seem to enjoy.

Morgan

Yeah, I do. It’s, it’s very stressful. You know, it doesn’t always feel awesome and sometimes you think like, “Oh no, everything’s going to crumble!”, but then it, again, it always gets sorted. Um, somehow, and we have a nice rush of, “Hey, we did it. It’s cool. And now we can have a nice weekend, right?” Yeah.

Galen

Maybe you just are damn lucky.

Morgan

No, I don’t know. I don’t think so. There’s been a lot of these, a lot, a lot, a lot of these, it’s not, it’s not, it’s just, basically, it’s not so much skills just talking to people and there’s a lot of people to talk to, you know, and I guess like having those little rules in place, like, you know, if a producer has to pass on the news that the client’s not quite ready to go. So therefore can we pushback the start of a resource. But you know, they told us yesterday, for example, that, you know, everything was totally signed off. Everything’s completely ready to go. You know, we booked in these freelancers and you know, they’ve said no to other contracts because they’re going to come and start work with us like most people are pretty reasonable. So if, if we aren’t able to move them around on other projects and, you know, with, with a busy studio, there’s, there’s very often the ability to like, you know, move things around and fill up people’s time. But you know, if, if we can’t and they’ve said no to other work, you know, we can talk to them and say, “Hey, you know, we’re really, really sorry, but like, this has come up.” But if they’re, you know, they’re in a pickle and they, the other contracts can’t take them, like it’s only right for us to, you know, see if the client will cover that notice period or something. So if they have to pay for a day of someone’s time, people are usually pretty reasonable and understanding. Like we’re, we’re there to make money. We’re not a charity to take up or suck up the cost of, you know, miscommunications or mistakes or whatever.

Galen

And I love that. I’ve worked in places where that would be well over and above, like, “Oh, well, we don’t have this job ready for this contractor, but that’s just part of being a contractor, you know, so sad, sorry, we’re going to move on with our lives”, but I love that, like, the trigger, just being like, let’s see if the client will cover it. Because most people are reasonable, and people need to live their lives. Um, and I think in, in my books, there’s a nice humanity to it.

Morgan

Yeah. And I mean, I think that also, like, there’s something… I don’t want to mess people around. I don’t want to, you know, screw over someone. Because like good people are good people and I want that freelancer to want to come work with us. I want like, cause they’re good. And, you know, they worked with us before and like, they’re awesome.

And everyone loves them and their skills are top-notch. Their rates are reasonable. All that stuff. You know, I want them to want to come back to work with us, but I also kind of like, and I don’t know if this is selfish, but it’s sort of like a personal studio PR thing. Like I want people to say nice things about working with us. I want our reputation to be one of taking care of our people: our perm people and our freelance people. And so kind of like everything that I think needs to be done for resourcing or for ops ties into that, just, you know, just the right thing to do.

Galen

That’s a huge point that you mentioned. I don’t think it’s selfish. I think it’s good business because you do, I’ve seen it happen where agencies build a reputation amongst contractors or people are like, “stay away” and then you can’t get the talent. And then you don’t have, you know, recurring, reliable, consistent work from people who keep coming back to work on other projects and sort of become a part of the team. And then you had just had this revolving door of people who just, you know, didn’t get the memo versus all of the people who, you know, that have the right talent that are avoiding you because well, word on the street is that you don’t take care of your people or whatever. So…

Morgan

It’s not worth it. It’s not nice. Like we all, you know, we all have to work or choose to work, or whatever. We have our different reasons for working. But I think like making it as nice as possible for everyone just like makes the days feel better. You gotta, you gotta care. You gotta give a shit. You gotta treat people nicely.

Galen

I like that. I love that. Uh, alright. Let’s dig into the juicy stuff. Um, let’s talk about ways of working. Now, you touched on it earlier. We were talking about team members as resources, their robot names. And we were talking about just different like life structures. You know, when people have to pick up their kids from daycare, you know, people who might need to start a little later and these sort of different nuances that need to work for people in order for them to do their work. I have it here. I said, you know, we are often tempted to refer to team members as resources, but the reality is that they’re autonomous living, breathing human beings that have different needs, motivations, working styles, efficiencies, weaknesses, et cetera. So I thought we could dig into that a little bit more. How do you account for different ways that people work? For example, I had developers who would only want meetings in the morning so that they could, go heads down in the afternoon and just code. I’ve had UX architects who only want to work on two projects in a given day. So if they’ve got three, then that third one has to go to another day. What’s your approach to different ways of working?

Morgan

At my old agency, we did try to do it, I think it was like the first two hours of the day would be meeting free. so everyone could just have head downtime. There are some people whose jobs are basically to just like be in meetings all the time. Producers are absolutely one of them, but then they wouldn’t have time to write their scopes of work. So like let’s set aside these two hours. I think that that could work at some places. For us. It didn’t work because we were this integrated agency that had other departments that would tie in with us. But I think it is worth trying those kinds of things to see what works for the team. For sure. I think in terms of like the only wanting to work on two jobs thing, that’s an awesome aim. And that is like, I think people can be spread too thinly for sure. but I also think like if tasks are allocated and scheduled based on like a realistic estimate or the time that they’re going to take on that time is available in a day. You gotta, you gotta do it.

Galen

It comes back to what you were saying earlier about having a system so that you have flexibility, again, setting boundaries and expectations, and yeah, that’s the ideal, but sometimes. You know life happens. Everyone’s going to have to be a little bit flexible, but if you can set those systems and boundaries, then at least there is a, at least there is a chance, or at least most of the time you can work in your optimal working situation. Sometimes there’s going to be that meeting in the morning. Sometimes there’s going to be those amends that come in and you have to work on three different jobs in a day. But for the most part, thinking through the way people work. And having that as a consideration and at least trying to fit that mold, maybe not always, but as often as you can.

You know life happens. Everyone’s going to have to be a little bit flexible, but if you can set those systems and boundaries, then at least there is a, at least there is a chance, or at least most of the time you can work in your optimal working situation. Sometimes there’s going to be that meeting in the morning. Sometimes there’s going to be those amends that come in and you have to work on three different jobs in a day. But for the most part, thinking through the way people work. And having that as a consideration and at least trying to fit that mold, maybe not always, but as often as you can.

Morgan

Exactly. And I think that it’s also, it’s also absolutely worth understanding like why, why are people having troubles? Or like, why is it a problem having more than two jobs in any one day. And I’m guessing that’s only a problem because the right time hasn’t been put aside to do the tasks that are booked in. So it’s just also like getting, you know, under the hood of like, what’s happened. Why, why are you only down with two jobs in a day? And if, actually it ends up because being, because that job is supposed to take two hours actually took six, then like that’s a whole other conversation that needs to be had. So, yeah, I think it’s just kind of understanding where people are coming from and, you know, addressing any concerns that they have, and trying to do something to kind of like make their days better.

Galen

And I think that’s a really good point in the sense that, you know, in some cases, it’s going to be context switching and context switching might take time, but if that’s been built into the estimate of time, the allocation of time, you know, a 15-minute job is rarely a 15-minute job. It’s probably going to take you 10 minutes to get your head straight, get the sort of background material together, then do the 15-minute job. So if you’re booking it in for 25 minutes, half an hour, then that might be the trick that gives people the headspace to context switch multiple times a day. Maybe.

Morgan

Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. It’s also things like, yeah, making sure that whoever’s briefing them in has, like a briefing document that they’ve filled out. Like all the files are in the right place. If someone has to pick up work from someone else, like another UX designer, you know, it’s, uh, like making sure that they’ve, they’ve structured their files properly. So that’s like goes across like how the whole agency needs to work so that just everyone can do things as quickly as possible because everything is done as efficiently as possible. Yeah.

Galen

Yeah, no, the systems, absolutely. No, I like it. Yeah. Being organized, making sure people are set up to be successful in whatever they’ve been asked to do that day. And I like that, which I think maybe brings me to my next question, which is that um, a lot of our listeners, what they struggle with in terms of resourcing is granularity. It’s kind of a, the big question mark is what level of detail does one need to go into to plan all the work? You know, we’re going down to like a day by day, half-day by half-day, hour by hour, minute by minute. How deep, how deep does one need to plan in order to be successful at resourcing?

Morgan

Well, I mean, I guess part of it depends on how you’re paid from your clients. We had some retainers, near the end of my time at my last agency but most jobs were, you know, paid project by project. So, therefore, basically every I’m going to say every minute needed to be accounted for. Uh, we obviously wouldn’t resource down to the minute, because that is insane. But a good aim is, is down to the 30 minute or hourly slot. You know, that is, potentially a bit more work for project managers, but I think that thinking through like what a project actually needs is, is a good thing to do at the start. Especially if you know, it is a team of multiple people. So maybe that says, multiple designers, developers, um, working on lots of different jobs.

You know, if there is a project that is maybe two days work initially upfront and then a day where there’s nothing. And then the following day, the client feedback comes in. Like, when is that client feedback going to come in? Is it going to come in? Like any time or is it best to assume that it will be in by the afternoon and when it does come back or how much time are we giving them? How much time did we estimate, you know, in the project plan, but also the proposal, like how much are they paying for? Uh, cause if they’re paying for, and we think the project needs like a half-day to, you know, tweak anything on that initial first two days at work, let’s book in the whole afternoon, But if it’s going to be less and there’s hardly anything that you’d potentially change, you know, a couple hours is fine. But what that allows the resource person to do is put in other jobs around that. So, you know, it’s going back to kind of like, like, yes, it’s Tetris, cause it is. Like a resource schedule. It does kind of look like Tetris so you can call it that, but it’s putting in the different jobs, with the right people. So if we do have that, we know that we have that gap time, and it’s going to be definitely that morning is free. Like what other jobs can I fit in there? Yeah. So I, I mean, I’m very much down to the. Like I love granularity, but I know that that is not always the case for everybody. But I found that in a busy studio, you know, where we having lots of jobs going on and some of those jobs were kind of bitty, granularly is good, but then at the same time we had, you know, lots of bigger jobs that would be running sprints. And they would have the same person booked on them for, you know, weeks or months at a time. And that time would be paid for and would be only booked on that particular job. So, therefore, resourcing that was absolutely a breeze because you just put the big block in and drag it for weeks. Don’t even worry about it because, you know, the producer’s sorting all that stuff out. Um, but yeah, I guess like, so it really, it kind of depends on the project.

Galen

Uh, something I get asked is should, should managers account for internal meetings? You know, you’ve got your project running so smoothly. Nice, good sprint cadence. Wait a minute. Friday is town hall, eight hours of, you know, non-billable, non-project-productive time. Uh, whoops. To, what degree are sort of those internal meetings factored into your resourcing plan?

Morgan

Yeah. I mean eight hours, I would be pissed if an eight-hour meeting went in that wasn’t accounted for. Yes. That should absolutely be in the resource schedule, for weeks in advance. It should be in there. But there are lots of smaller ones, uh, that happen like we had Monday morning kickoff meetings, studio team kickoff meetings – so not like project, ones, that, that was about half an hour worth of time. That was not in the resource schedule, but everyone knew that it was in there. Because I think that there’s, there’s some things where it can just get a little bit too… Because I do say I, you know like I am all about the granularity, but then also I don’t put all the internals in. If it’s in everyone’s diaries and they see that, great, today, I know it’s Monday. So I have this, this half an hour thing to start the day, that’s usually okay. There’ll usually be maybe once every two weeks, possibly, the discipline team meeting, maybe that’s okay. But it is also down to the person, the resource, just to flag if they are absolutely flat out and they can’t attend. So it’s sort of, like look at your diaries, flag if there’s any problems with like you attending this meeting or whatever. It is probably easier to put absolutely everything in the resource schedule, but it sometimes can be a little bit micromanaging diary-ish. I just think it’s easier if you just put everything in. It just means that everyone can see what’s going on. And also it means that you know, for the resource person, when they’re booking that thing in, they can say to the discipline lead and the producer, um, Hey, there’s a design team meeting happening this day. Do you think that’s still going to be fine for that designer to still handle this amount of work in any one day? And then they can say, yeah, or they can say, well, actually, no, it’s going to be a really, really busy day. Can we please book in the first two hours of the following day? So yeah, put everything in, please.

Galen

I mean, so much hinges on, and I think that the important thing you said is that having enough information to have the conversation and having those conversations, so, and having those channels available and having people feel comfortable to have those conversations for someone to raise their hand and say, listen, I think that’s going to be a problem. If I’m going to have this internal, uh, you know, departmental meeting that day and my deliverable is due at the end of the day, I think this is gonna cause, cause some friction, whereas, you know, there are a lot of folks that I’ve worked with that are like, yeah, don’t micromanage my day. I can go to a meeting and I can still get my work done. That’s just part of work, um, for me. And that’s like their different style, but I think having the opportunity or creating a culture where you can have those conversations and that dialogue is I think what is, the thing that kind of keeps coming back in this conversation at, which is that yeah, we need to be talking to one another. We need the systems, we need the processes, but we need to keep it human as well, because, you know, at the end of the day, we all need to get along. We all need to get work done together. Um, we’ve been talking a lot about the systems and the stress around a busy agency with lots of jobs and lots of things happening, maybe sometimes too much work. But what about the flip side of the coin? We talked about having folks on the bench, how do you keep up the morale of folks who find themselves sort of not working on a project or waiting for feedback to come in? All of their peers are doing stuff – they’re busy – and they’re kind of sat there. You know, maybe they’ve been given that busy work project for the time being, how do you kind of keep them engaged?

Morgan

Um, well, I mean, for, for us in the past, and I think this is also the same, you know, within the agency that I’m at now as well, always having lists of internal projects that need to get done. So it could be, a showreel. It could be, we want to do this like a proactive piece for this client. There’s training opportunities as well. Like maybe learning a new aftereffects plugin would be really cool and that’s part of someone’s objectives. So having, put in the time and the thought to basically make sure that people know if you have downtime, first let resourcing know. Then also like, know your own objectives, you know, things that you can work on, but also for us, it’s, you know, having that list of things that would be really cool to get done that there’s never time to schedule in, like I think it’s the same with every single agency. Like our own internal work always goes on the back burner, always the first thing to shift, right. Because, you know, no one’s paying us for that, So, yeah, I think, I think, you know that and if someone seems really down because they’ve been on, you know, maybe some not so cool work for a little while, you know, just having a chat with them and, maybe having them shadow someone, or like work alongside. Uh, a lot of their like leads managers, learn some cool new stuff, you know, make sure earmark them for the next cool project that comes in, that that fits, basically to give a shit about them. And yeah,

Galen

I like that seems like help helping them find their balance. What about the tougher decisions? Um, obviously resourcing has a lot to do with staffing. sometimes there’s going to be underutilization. Uh, so talk to me about what comes into play when making decisions about layoffs and furlough.

Morgan

Yeah. Yeah. So you’re absolutely right. Um, sometimes there are tough decisions that have to be made. You know, I think that sometimes it’ll just be down to the clients pulled some work, maybe, they, they, uh, had a specific stream of work that required a specific person or set of skills and they no longer need that anymore. So. If that kind of thing happens, like, is there something else that, that the person can do and kind of pivot them into like taking on a different type of work? Can we drum up more of that type of work from other clients? Cause you know, it sucks losing people. Like it’s not, you know, no one wants to lose good people. They’re hard enough to find. So keeping them around is, is really what would be the best thing. But of course, everyone needs to be paid for within, within reason. Um, but then I think sometimes there’s also like there’s, there’s the trickier ones, which is, you know, sometimes hires just don’t fit, you know, could have interviewed really well. You know, everyone gets super well, but actually in reality, like, it’s just not, it’s just not a good fit, you know, in terms of skill set or output, or just like general attitude or sort of willingness to work, and that those are trickier conversations, but, you know, they, they happen sometimes. But I think like always just being transparent and, you know, having conversations with people and trying to like work out, like what is there, because you know, it could be that like they’re having a really hard time trying to, like, understand how a new place works. And that’s the thing that sometimes you can lose sight of if you’ve been going into the same place for years and years, and years and everything just like, you know, clicks. So it’s just like just taking the time, always to understand where people are coming from and, you know, he can do anything to make it better for them. And if not, then, HR can help But it sucks like no one wants to do that. But it happens.

Galen

So you create these layers. I mean, you know, some things that stand out to me is, okay, you’ve got people on the bench, but if you’ve built your system, right, you have some briefs organized for internal projects and they can start working on that. There is training. There’s conversations about, you know, are they fitting in with the workplace? Somebody who might not be fitting in and again, having those conversations to make sure that they are set up for success before all of this before it’s a conversation about, okay, well maybe, it’s not working out and maybe we’ve got to let this person go. Let’s lighten it up a bit. Let’s talk about tools versus techniques. So I know a lot of folks in our community. Yeah. Let’s go from very dark to, I dunno, let’s just talk about software. Um, let’s, let’s lighten it up a bit. Let’s talk about tools versus techniques. So I know a lot of folks in our community. Yeah. Let’s go from very dark too, let’s just talk about software. I know a lot of folks in our community, they’re always looking for the right resourcing tool. They’re looking for something that works the way that their organization works. Usually, it’s like looking for a unicorn. So I thought I’d ask you – software: does it, does it make a difference and what’s worked well for you in the past and why?

Morgan

Yeah. I mean, I think it really does make a difference. I think that you are totally right, that it is like finding a unicorn and the dream dream dream system is one that ties together your finances, your timesheets, your resource requests, and your resource schedule, your project management software, all of that stuff. I have not found it. I love Float. Float is great for me. it’s, uh, super easy for everyone to use. Uh, there’s different kind of like levels of, uh, use. So I can pull reports. There is a timesheeting function. If you want to use timesheets. Um, I liked that Float. Like I can just put in our overall budget, which I take from our proposals, and when I need to put in, say like, you know, on Thursday, um, we’ll be putting in work for the week ahead. Uh, if I put in like, you know, half a day of someone’s time. I can see if we’re over and if we’re not over like how much money we have left in our budget. That’s really cool.

At my older agent, the old, old, larger agency, we took requests via Google form. I think that that was super useful, even though it was quite manual. Resource requests. It’s never just two days of a designer, right? It’s like, what does the designer need to do? What kind of skillset is it? What level of person is the job signed off? Do we have two assets? Do we have the copy? like, What’s the job number? When does it need to be delivered by… like, there’s just so many different questions. So I found that taking all those requests in a Google Form, which then populated a spreadsheet, which we just monitored all day, every day. But, um, you know, we, it’s just having those little systems in place, which has helped us. So yeah, I’m all about float is great. They didn’t pay me to say this I’ve used them for years. I like that. I like the, not paying me to say this, but go buy a copy now. No, but I like it. I like that there, it seems to be this balance between multi-functionality like a tool that could do it all. And integrability so like, if you want it to not use the finance function and can integrate it some way and make it work for you because I think that’s what a lot of the folks I talked to you struggle with. They struggle with making a piece of software work the way their organization does. And a lot of them just end up going to like a Google sheet because it’s manual, they can morph it. They can plug all their data in. Yes, maybe it’s super manual, but at least they can start painting a picture of the system they might need. I mean, which is, you know, that, that is fine. We, we, at my older agency, that’s what we, we used that for quite a while, but then the big thing that was lacking was the ability to do reporting. Like utilization reports are, are super key to just understanding, you know, what’s going on financially with the studio. And that’s something that a spreadsheet, you know, unless like, maybe I’m just not good enough Google spreadsheets, but, uh, I wasn’t able to get those reports from them. So, yeah. But if that doesn’t matter to you using a little spreadsheet, just have a system and make sure it works and drives those conversations.

Galen

Yeah, I like it. Uh, swing it back to the human side now. You were infamously bestowed a employee of the decade award. In addition to being described as best cheerleader, most organized, and most valued player. How do you, how do you keep a level head managing all of this chaos? Because it does sound really intense. And yet the people that you work with, I really appreciate passion and humanity you bring to it.

Morgan

Well, that’s really nice. Um, I don’t know, I guess, uh, I guess I just like everyone I work with and I, I don’t know. I want to do everything like everything that I do. Um, is all about like, what’s going to help these people who I work with, who I spend all my time with, who I really care about. I want to make sure that, you know, things go well for them. So like, what are the things that I can do to make their days better? Whether that’s like, I know that producer has like 15 jobs on right now. And I know that she’s also really stressed because she’s moving. So, therefore, like, can I just make it super easy for her to like, get what she needs resource-wise? Can I like check-in with her just to see that she’s cool? And if I can then brilliant, um, I guess the secret is really just like, I like being busy. I like there being lots of things happening at once. And I just. Enjoy the buzz of doing all that stuff. Um, yeah.

Galen

There you go. I like it. Resourcing is as much about profitability and utilization as it is about caring about the people that you work with and making sure that you are creating a culture that is enjoyable to go to every day or dial into every day, I guess, in this reality. I think that’s an important takeaway for folks like, um, you know, there is a sort of robotic reputation that resourcing has, that it is Tetris, that it is scheduling and it is just logistics, but really it’s about people’s livelihoods.

Morgan

Yeah, yeah. A hundred percent it’s um, yeah, it’s, it is not just a, I think that is also like the thing that makes it. Infinitely interesting for me is that it is all about the people. It’s not just like, how can I fit this chunk of work into this block of blocks.

Galen

Awesome, Morgan, listen, thanks. It’s been a pleasure having you on the show. I really enjoyed our chat. I love geeking out about resourcing. Hopefully, folks found this useful as well.

Morgan

Thank you. No super fun. It’s my favorite subject.

Galen

We may have you back. I know there’s a lot we can dive into in resourcing. And I literally only scratched the surface because I know we had a lot of other questions that we could tackle as well, but let’s leave it there for now. Let’s give people a, a, you know, the temptation of a sequel.

Morgan

Awesome. Well, you know where I am.

Galen

Absolutely. All right guys. So what do you think, what hacks tips, and tricks do you have up your sleeve for making sure that all your projects get the team resources you need? What works for you? What doesn’t? Tell us a story. Have you ever had team resourcing falls through on your project? Have you ever gotten really spy versus spy with your other PMs? Or how have you been able to keep things civil? Tell us in the comments below. And if you want to learn more and get ahead in your work, come and join our tribe with the DPM membership.

Head over to thedigitalprojectmanager.com/membership to access our experts, forum mastermind, mentorship groups, our library of mini-courses, or live mentorship sessions, Ask Me Anything sessions with a variety of experts, eBooks, templates, and more. And if you like what you heard today, please subscribe and stay in touch on thedigitalprojectmanager.com. Until next time, thanks for listening.

Galen Low

Galen Low

I am a Client Services Professional and Agile Delivery Specialist with progressive experience driving human-centered digital transformation in government, healthcare, transit, and retail verticals. I manage large, cross-functional teams and executive-level relationships within boutique agencies and large consultancies to drive tangible business outcomes and strategic growth. A few of my specialties: digital strategy, agile web application development, project management, human-centered design, design thinking, innovation & growth, digital government, career coaching, professional development.

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