Agency Project Management: 7 Key Steps To Success

Arrigo Lupori
Last Updated:
May 8, 2024

Managing projects effectively is critical to the success of any creative agency.

It's not just about delivering quality work on time; it's about managing client expectations, streamlining workflows, and ensuring every team member is on the same page.

From graphic design to content marketing to complex 3D animations—the difference between thriving and surviving often lies in the efficiency of your agency’s project management practices.

Let me take you through the 7 steps to your agency’s PM success.

Step 1: Understanding agency project management

task management in agency environment using manyrequests

Agency project management is crucial for coordinating various creative tasks and ensuring that client deliverables are met on time and to specification.

You could say, it’s the most important part of running a successful agency.

Unlike project management in other sectors, creative projects require a lot of back and forth with the client due to the iterative nature of design and content development.

Key elements include:

  • Client management: Building and maintaining strong relationships through consistent communication and meeting client expectations (e.g. deadlines, quality control).
  • Resource allocation: Efficiently distributing tasks and responsibilities among team members based on skills and project needs. This is one of the hardest elements to pull off.
  • Quality control: Ensuring that all deliverables meet the agency’s quality standards and client specifications before they are sent back for review. One of the bigger issues agencies face is decreasing quality as more and more projects pile up while the team is overburdened.
  • Feedback incorporation: Streamlining the process of receiving, reviewing, and implementing client and stakeholder feedback. This can be solved quickly with dedicated software.

If you can keep a balance of all the pieces above, you’re on the right track.

But of course, you need to be aware of the pitfalls too.

Some of the most common are:

  • Scope creep: Projects expanding beyond their original scope without adjustments to budgets or timelines. It’s easy for agency owners to say “yes” to everything, not realizing that they are adding needless stress on very limited resources (people’s time especially).
  • Resource overload: Overallocation of work leading to burnout and reduced productivity. This is very closely related to scope creep and overall mismanagement of human resources.
  • Communication gaps: Misunderstandings between clients and team members that can lead to project delays. It’s so common to have the client say one thing, a manager recording it but not sharing it with the team, and then the team asking the same thing again. This frustrates customers to an immense degree as they feel like they’re not being listened to, especially if the question pops up again weeks after they’ve shared an answer which signifies a terribly slow process to them.

ManyRequests addresses these challenges by providing tools specifically designed for creative agencies, such as customizable client portals, integrated communication systems, and real-time feedback.

Step 2: Setting up your project management framework

A well-structured project management framework is essential for ensuring that all projects are executed effectively and efficiently. There are many schools of thought here, and most agencies end up creating their own blend of traditional methods paired with custom, in-house knowledge.

advertising agency flowchart showing typical project management workflow from client brief to delivery

As with any strategy, the 1st thing to do is define objectives.

Start by clearly defining what each project aims to achieve—whether a client’s or internal.

Then, create a detailed project brief that outlines objectives, deliverables, timelines, and budgets.

Documenting in writing is very, very important!

Working on a whim only takes you so far.

This documentation helps all team members understand their roles and the project’s purpose.

Once your brief is complete, you want to:

  1. Pick a project management methodology.
  2. Start the first few projects with a very open approach to the methodology.
  3. Hone specific aspects as your team adapts to the process.

The biggest mistake agencies make when starting their PM journey is setting everything up beforehand; processes, tools, master plans. This does not work—plain and simple.

People don’t follow rules, they follow processes.

And processes don’t appear out of thin air, they evolve over time.

Unless you’ve verified that a specific “master process” works across teams (they rarely ever do), you have to let the people in your team evolve their own process and grow into it.

Once the team is comfortable with the process (can take anywhere from a few weeks to months depending on the size of the project), you should start investing in automations.

The success of your project management framework largely depends on the cultural alignment within the agency. Inspiring your team members to value transparency, accountability, and continuous improvement can significantly increase the effectiveness of any chosen methodology.

Happy teams = happy customers :)

Step 3: Effective client onboarding

client onboarding screen welcoming the customer into their new manyrequests client portal

Effective client onboarding is critical as it sets the tone for the client-agency relationship, increasing their long-term satisfaction and making the whole project a lot easier to manage.

Some best practices for client onboarding:

  • Welcome packages: Along with access to dedicated resources, send a welcome package that includes key contacts, media resources, and an outline of the onboarding process.
  • Initial meetings: Schedule kickoff meetings to discuss the project scope, timelines, and objectives in detail, ensuring all parties are aligned. These meetings can be documented and stored in agency management software like ManyRequests for easy reference.
  • Setting clear expectations: Keep communicating what clients can expect in terms of deliverables and timelines. Customers tend to forget what they initially signed up for without reminders and that can lead to scope creep. Proactively reminding them keeps the whole project on track.

Using agency-specific tools like ManyRequests can give you an extra edge here:

  • Customizable client portals: Provide each client with a personalized portal where they can submit requests, view project progress, and communicate directly with the team.
  • Automated intake forms: Create and customize intake forms that gather essential information about the client’s needs and expectations right at the beginning of the engagement.

This early investment in client relationship building can lead to more engaged clients and a much smoother project execution. The last thing you want is to start on a bad note!

Step 4: Communication strategies for success

inline chat in manyrequests to keep context of work with agency customers

Effective communication is foundational to successful project management, especially in a creative agency where projects are iterative and require frequent updates or feedback.

Give regular updates to customers without over communicating.

(i.e. Don’t text them every day unless you have something of substance to share)

Also, take time to write messages manually where possible; unlike what most AI automation companies will tell you, customers don’t like to receive messages that feel like they’re written by bots.

One way to speed up communication is to keep everything in one place:

  • Deliverables
  • Meeting recordings
  • Briefs & documents
  • Contextual chats

This is not easy to do via email due its “threaded” nature.

Messages and files get lost in a sea of text.

Instead, use software like ManyRequests to keep everything stored in the context of the customer’s project and their organization—helping you and your customers retrieve important information quickly.

By standardizing your communication process and giving regular updates (weekly should work well for most projects), your agency can mitigate the risk of project delays and misunderstandings.

Step 5: Implementing a project management platform

manyrequests kanban board for agile agency project management

Project management platforms like ManyRequests are designed to simplify the entire delivery process from start to completion. To do that, they offer tools that fit naturally into a creative agency’s workflows.

3 of the bigger operational areas for an agency are:

  1. Tracking timelines & deliveries, i.e. overall project management.
  2. Resource planning, e.g. time and budgets allocated.
  3. Monitoring progress & quality control.

And here’s an important (but sometimes hard) truth…

» You cannot scale an agency without all 3 components above in place.

You can certainly make it work for yourself and some other coworkers, but you can’t take it to 100s of customers and dozens of employees. If that’s your goal, start investing in all 3 today.

Some things to look into are:

  • Project timelines: Set up comprehensive project timelines on a Gantt chart. Include all key milestones, deliverables, and check-ins with customers so you have everything in view.
  • Task assignment: Give managers the freedom to assign tasks to team members based on their availability and skill set, helping to optimize workload distribution.
  • Visibility: Allocate time and money for each project, then stay within the limits. This is fundamental to running a profitable agency and it’s in the best interest of everyone, customers included.
  • Efficiency: Use platforms like ManyRequests to make the process of delivering faster while keeping quality high. When everyone shares the same context, projects are easier to manage.
  • Weekly monitoring: Keep track of client projects’ health every week, look into team productivity and re-assign them where necessary. Make sure everyone goes in the same direction.

Although software is powerful, effective project management in your agency requires a holistic approach to leadership and team dynamics. Make sure you have that down 1st—use software as an accelerator.

Step 6: Using tools for design feedback and revisions

design annotation feature that makes project management easier for creative managers

In creative projects, design feedback is a critical phase that often requires several iterations to get right. The traditional back-and-forth via email or call / meeting is super inefficient in this area.

In 2024, you must invest in design tools like Figma for prototyping, design annotation for feedback (i.e. marking a live website, graphic, or video directly with comments) and cloud storage for delivery.

Revisions are a big part of design work after all.

Some best practices in this area:

  • Keep a history of all versions you’ve delivered to customers; that way you will have a trace of the progress made against their feedback and it’ll be easier to share context.
  • Allow inline comments and annotations from customers, something that can be easily achieved with Figma, ManyRequests’ file annotation feature, and more tools.
  • Collect reviews and feedback on team performance. This is something you have to actively seek out as customers won’t always openly share their opinions on your work.
  • Implement clear approval processes, defining who needs to sign off on what and at which stage, ensuring designs meet all required criteria before moving forward.

While technology plays a critical role in facilitating design feedback, the human element of interpreting and acting on this feedback is equally important. Agencies like yours should focus on developing a deep understanding of their clients' needs and keep quality in check to build long-lasting relationships.

Step 7: Analytics and reporting

time tracking reports showing which team members have spent the most time working on specific agency projects

Effective use of analytics and reporting is crucial for assessing project performance, optimizing processes, and demonstrating results to clients. Some of the data to report on is: time spent on projects, productivity rates, number of customer complaints, profitability by service category, and other metrics.

You can report on these either manually (takes forever) or with automated tools.

Some real-world examples of how to use this data:

  • Time-tracking insights: Track time spent by specific team members on each project or task and measure their productivity. This data helps in assessing the efficiency of the team, understanding cost drivers, and estimating future projects more accurately (i.e. raise your prices!).
  • Project profitability analysis: Tools like ManyRequests offer detailed financial reports that help agencies understand the profitability of each project. This includes direct costs like labor and indirect costs such as overheads, providing a clear picture of financial performance.
  • Client activity reports: Keep track of client interactions and engagements to understand their engagement level and health scores. These reports can help agencies identify high-value clients, better understand their needs, and upsell or cross-sell additional services to grow revenue.

Analytics and reporting go beyond mere measurement of project metrics; they are essential for strategic planning and forecasting. Make sure you start gathering data early in the process.

Effective project management is the backbone of any successful creative agency. With the right tools and strategies in place, agencies like yours can achieve remarkable efficiency and client satisfaction.

ManyRequests addresses the challenges faced specifically by creative agencies, helping you manage projects, communicate with clients, and track progress in a streamlined and integrated manner.

Try it out for free today with a 14-day trial.

Frequently asked questions

What is agency project management?

Agency project management refers to the discipline of organizing, planning, and executing projects within a creative, marketing, or advertising agency. It involves overseeing the workflow and delivery of projects that typically involve creative production like web development, branding, graphic design, or content creation. The goal is to deliver these projects on time, within budget, and according to client specifications.

What is the role of a project manager in an agency?

In a creative agency, a project manager's role is pivotal. They act as the bridge between the agency's creative team and its clients, ensuring smooth communication and workflow throughout the duration of a project. Responsibilities include defining project scope, planning timelines, allocating resources, monitoring progress, and adjusting plans as needed to address any issues or changes.

What is agency resource planning?

Agency resource planning involves the strategic allocation and management of an agency's resources—staff, time, budget, and tools—to ensure optimal efficiency and productivity. It includes scheduling which team members work on specific projects based on their skills, availability, and the project needs, as well as managing the financial resources to maximize profitability.

What is the structure of agency management?

The structure of agency management typically includes several layers, starting with senior management (such as CEOs or managing directors) who define the agency’s strategic direction. Below them, there are department heads or directors for various functional areas such as creative, marketing, sales, and finance. These managers oversee teams specializing in specific services like design, copywriting, SEO, or client relations. Project managers or team leads operate within these departments, directly managing the day-to-day execution of projects and coordinating between the team and clients.