In my first article in this series I tackled the topic of how conflict between client representatives and empowered teams can be used within an agency to increase profit and improve product quality. In this article I will look at how an agency can adapt it's resourcing model to create an environment where empowered teams can thrive. You can read here about how having an empowered team can benefit you.
The Traditional Agency model and The Problem of Empowerment
The Traditional Agency model operates by costing projects and / or charging clients according to a concept of billable hours. These billable hours are often split according to different roles within a project using a variable rate card. This may be transparent or opaque to the client depending on the sales strategy of the agency. Projects will often incur additional expenditures which may be either absorbed by the agency or passed on to the client directly, either through an initial quoted cost or via a transparent charging mechanism of some sort.
It is common with an agency for these sales based working models to be carried through to the creative working model. While the model may fit well for sales and client relationships it leads to a very restrictive and inflexible working model where work is assigned in blocks to developers, designers and other creatives and often specifically with individual members of the team being allocated to different projects at specific times. Within agencies, this process is known as 'trafficking'.
Where this impedes empowerment is that the 'Makers' (developers, designers and other creatives) have no control over what work they are doing and when. This is inherently an inefficient mechanism as, arguably, the 'Makers' are best suited to know which one of them is best suited to take on a particular task. Without this basic level of workload control any other form of empowerment fails to be effective. To achieve the positive effects of an empowered team at all the team must first be able to control it's own workload.
Models for Empowered Teams
There are essentially two key models for resourcing to integrate your sales based models with an empowered team and begin to realise the advantages of such. There is a third option available for larger projects. Each of these can be varied significantly to fit the needs of a given business but as a basic template these are the options available.
Skills Teams Allocation
In this model, rather than resourcing blocks of work to an individual they are instead resourced to a team. The assigned team will be a team consisting of members with similar skills such as a 'Web development' team or a 'Designers' team. The traffic / resourcing manager, rather than allocating specific work will, instead, manage all pending work for a given team by moving pieces of work around in priority.
Mixed Team Allocation
An alternative approach is to have a series of mixed teams with a variety of skills. These teams can then be responsible for a set of clients and they will only be allocated work for their clients. As with the skills team allocation work will be prioritised however, due to the mixed skills within the team more 'cherry picking' of tasks will occur.
In particularly large organisations when large projects are undertaken it may make sense to pull together a dedicated team to work on that project. Allocation of time and tasks then becomes relatively straightforward within this bubble. I would recommend this set-up if you have a group of staff working consistently on a project over 75% of the time.
For any of the above strategies to be effective I recommend applying the 'finish what you're doing first' strategy. This, in essence, means that once a piece of work is started then, unless it becomes invalid, it is completed before starting anything else. The team member, when a piece of work is complete, will then pick up the next most important piece of work off the list of items to be done unless they do not have the appropriate skills to do so. If this situation occurs then the team is responsible for ensuring that piece of work can be started as soon as possible (potentially by handing over a piece of work or by picking up additional skills).
It is important for the Traffic / resourcing manager to liaise with the teams so that, in the event that tasks require new skills or their are additional technical dependencies, that new tasks can be created to ensure that the team and technology is up to speed before taking these tasks on. These tasks become dependencies and will have a direct effect on the realistic deliverable date of the dependant task.
To complete this picture for billings you need to know what work has been done on different projects. The logging of this time against the allocated tasks becomes the responsibility of the creative team so that the time to be billed or reported against to analyse profit is accurately reported.
In my next article in the series 'Optimising Project Delivery' I'll be looking at how you can apply certain agile techniques to quickly highlight blockers in the delivery pipeline across the organisation to minimise inefficiencies.