Project Managers or Traffic Manager? How to Choose

A member of Second Wind’s Workflow, Traffic and Production Group on Facebook said they are debating whether to use project management, or hire a traffic manager to control agency workflow.

“We have grown to a point where we need to add [traffic management], and are leaning to project managers, since agency work is so much more than creative services,” said the member.

Knowing When to Seek a System

If project management is working for you right now, your PMs are either very good at coordinating assignments, vendors and services; or, you are not yet carrying a heavy enough workload or working with so many clients that conflicts have developed.

The tipping point for needing a traffic/workflow system and traffic manager is around 15 employees with 10-15 active clients. It’s probably already hectic, but win a big new account, and watch your fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants system start to fall apart. At this point, you will likely need one person (or a strong workflow system that everyone embraces) to track jobs and manage schedules, even with the best project managers. PMs are often too deep in the trenches of managing their particular projects to maintain the objectivity needed to coordinate all jobs and client demands across the entire agency workflow.

Too Many Cooks?

Having multiple project managers can work… providing you have dedicated creative and production teams assigned to each project manager. PMs tend to focus on their own projects; that’s kind of the point of project management. But having multiple PMs who share the same creative and production personnel is like having too many cooks in the kitchen. Schedules will overlap; people needed for one PM’s project will be hi-jacked to complete another PM’s assignment; vendor conflicts may arise; deadlines will be missed, and clients will not be happy. Conflict and chaos will become routine. And profits will decline. All of those cooks will put your agency in the soup.

Who Leads Now?

If you have multiple PMs, who is currently directing—or at least keeping a directorial eye on—their activities? On Facebook, another agency principal said they team account managers with project managers, who coordinate with production “core areas” such as AV, digital/interactive, print, etc. This sounds reasonable, but again, as the agency grows and your client base and workload increase, there will come a point where you need someone whose sole jobs are scheduling the work… and soothing PMs and account people who expect their work to have priority.

If no single person is directing project managers, and principals cannot step in to do so without taking too much time from financial management or new business pursuit, then it is probably time to bring on a traffic manager. Start talking about the need for a better system and someone to manage it now, so your people will get used to the idea. Resistance to change is the toughest part of installing a more formal workflow system in what was a looser organization. Lay the groundwork even as you seek recruits for the job.

Matching System to Culture

Remember that your system needs to manage people, schedules and services efficiently. Some workflow management systems are more burdensome than efficient. A good scheduling/timekeeping system combined with project management in the cloud may be all that you really need right now. Make sure the system you select is compatible with your accounting software.

Also, make use of Second Wind for recommendations for system software and more customized “lean” workflow management. The best thing about membership in Second Wind is the availability of other members willing to share what they have learned from taking the very steps you are now considering. Use Forums and our Facebook group, or call us directly; we may be able to refer you to other members with insights to offer.

Every agency is different, and you will almost certainly have specific needs requiring at least some workflow customization, based on core competencies and your client list. Be patient, and take baby steps. Systems are not built in a day, or even a few weeks. Be prepared to train your people, and do your best to model the behaviors and commitment you want from your employees. Project management and traffic management are not incompatible. There are no wrong answers to agency workflow management. Like most things in life, and in the agency business, good timing and the right attitude are more important than the execution.

See also: When We Won’t Need Traffic Managers

The Lure of Lean Workflow: Decluttering Ad Agency Systems

Winning Over the Resistance: System Adoption


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