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Managing resources well is critical for creative teams and agencies because it allows them to do more of their best work and bill more hours consistently. 

But it can be a bit like playing Tetris to get all of the moving pieces to align perfectly so that no one is “riding the bench” or having too many peaks and valleys in their schedule. 

What Is Creative Resource Management?

Creative resource management is the process of managing your creative team’s schedule and coordinating activities to complete project work.

This involves determining how many hours each person (or resource) will need each week for their projects to be completed by the deadline and whether any team member is over or underbooked.

Once you have this information, balance those workloads. This might mean bringing in freelancers if your designers are overbooked, spreading work over multiple weeks, or shifting deadlines around.

Your creative team should have a workflow around resource management for the short-term and longer-term forecasting process. This will help you better predict future resourcing needs and determine when and how much new work your team can take on.

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Why Is Creative Resource Management Important?

Creative resource management is important because it:

  • Allows you to optimize profits and time: Having all of your project team members fully allocated to billable hours and work (if you do billable work) is a good way to maximize profits. If you work on an in-house team that doesn’t invoice clients or customers, resource management lets you work more efficiently and maximize your time. Having lulls in assignments for specific resources means you’re paying them to “ride the bench”.
  • Prevents overwork and burnout: Consistent work, rather than periods of overtime and underworking, helps keep team members from burning out (especially agency resources). Planning ahead is a good way to prevent this.While some people may prefer the peaks and valleys (as do many freelancers and contract resources), others prefer the stability of a predictable schedule.
  • Decreases the risk of layoffs or furloughs: While this responsibility should never fall directly to the project manager, they should be able to help with projections and resource utilization, and share this information with leadership or the business development team. This way, whoever is responsible for booking or initiating new projects will know where the gaps are and what type of work they should prioritize to keep utilization balanced.
  • Improves forecasting: Doing resource management consistently will lead to better forecasting in the long term. Keeping spreadsheets or resource management software up to date as project timelines shift will help better predict future resourcing needs. It can also help team members better plan their schedules and avoid scheduling a vacation over a big launch!
  • Improves team collaboration: Team members with balanced workloads help foster better team collaboration. In some creative agencies, teams are put into pods that work together on projects. This means that there should be ample time for good handoffs or so developers can consult with the design team earlier in the process to spot any risks or issues. These types of collaborations are not possible when workloads aren’t balanced.
  • Helps manage client expectations: For example, if your client signs a contract and then finds out that you don’t have the available resources to start the project for 6-8 weeks, they won’t be happy. Conversely, promising a specific launch date without having the right resources immediately available causes stress on your team or may result in team members needing to rush or cut corners to meet the deadline.

How Does Resource Management Differ On Creative Teams Compared To Other Industries?

While almost all teams need to manage resources at some level, creative teams need to manage their resources effectively. This is because creative resources usually have highly specialized skills.

For example, if your team has three graphic designers, all three may have very different skills. You might have a senior designer who has significant user experience training or who can ensure all digital designs are accessible. 

Another mid-level designer may be more adept at logo and brand design, and your final designer may be a more junior designer who, with some direction from one of the more senior designers or your creative director, can help bring creative concepts to life.

Because of the differences in skill sets, you can’t just randomly assign one of these designers to a new project. When considering creative talent, it's important to understand the skills needed for the project and assign the right person at the right phase of the work.

This may be unlike your development team, where there may be differences in experience, but multiple developers should be able to code in the same programming language, and should be more interchangeable from project to project. 

Five Best Practices For Effective Creative Resource Management

Here are five best practices for creative resource management.

  1. Start with capacity planning: Lay out how much time each team member has booked vs. available. Take into consideration non-billable responsibilities, planned PTO, or commitments like professional development. This will give you a picture of how much of the team’s time is available. If you use freelancers, ask them for their availability each week or month in case you need to relieve pressure if the team becomes overloaded.
  2. Conduct resource allocation before kickoff: As you’re planning new work, start allocating resources before kickoff and take a beat to get everyone in place and up to speed before the actual work starts. This can help save time once the project starts. To allocate resources, look at the statement of work and required skills. For example, the design phase of a new website might need UX support, a designer, and a developer to start the information architecture and some low fidelity wireframes. You might consult a content expert or SEO specialist to set up for success in the later stages of the project.
  3. Balance workloads: Keep an eye on your resources as project timelines and scope change. Let’s say you planned for your designer to work on wireframes for a two-week sprint, but you received stakeholder feedback that will extend the time to four weeks. If she was fully booked with other work for the second sprint, she can’t do both. To balance her workload, you have two choices. You can push back the second sprint’s work by two weeks or reassign it. The question here is about skill sets. Some designers may be interchangeable, but if a specialized skill is needed, it may not be possible to shift the work to another designer.
  4. Analyze the data: Look at past performance on similar projects. Just like we do when it comes to estimating new work, we can look at data from our task management tools to understand what steps need to be taken and how long those steps took on similar projects. This way, we have a baseline that we can plan for.Make sure you adjust for variation in skill sets and task complexity, and regularly review time tracking and utilization data for valuable insights into resource performance.
  5. Plan and communicate in advance: While some of what we’ve discussed here seems intuitive, that’s not always the case. Not everyone is thinking about how project progress (being ahead or behind schedule) could impact resource management or even project planning for new projects. Having resourcing meetings to discuss the team’s current workloads and potential future work can be a huge help when it comes to spotting resourcing needs and balancing workloads. 

Software Tools For Creative Resource Management

There are many project management tools out there that can also help with creative resource management. When choosing the resource management software you’ll use to run your creative projects, consider selecting a tool that has the ability to show you different resource allocations and their impact on the project timeline and scope, saving you the valuable time and effort you would have spent comparing these manually. 

If you love your project management software but it doesn’t have integrated resource management, consider choosing a tool or tools with integrations that do just that. Our favorite resource management tools for creative endeavors include:

What’s Next?

While this article was meant to help you with best practices around creative resource management, there is more to learn. Join our community to read more about resource management from other practicing project managers. You’ll also get access to 100+ templates, samples, and examples for important project documentation like Gantt charts and resource plans. 

By Marissa Taffer

Marissa Taffer, PMP, CSM is the founder and president of M. Taffer Consulting. In her consulting practice, she helps organizations with project management processes and tools. She also serves as a fractional project manager supporting digital agencies, marketing departments, and other consultancies.