Guide to Agency Workflows: The Best Process for Agencies

Lucija Bakić

March 14, 2024

A screenshot of agency workflow software displaying a project management dashboard with tasks categorized under 'Planning' and 'Design,' including status, start and due dates, assignees, and priority levels.

The agency workflow is the step-by-step process by which an agency conducts its business operations.

This guide examines various types of workflows for agencies, discusses their importance, and provides tips for successful management.

Key Takeaways

  • Agency workflows are a structured approach to agency operations, encompassing everything from project initiation, planning, and execution to analysis, ensuring tasks are completed efficiently and objectives are met.
  • An undefined workflow can lead to critical resource gaps, project delays, budget overruns, decreased employee efficiency, and client dissatisfaction.
  • On the other hand, a well-structured workflow enhances your operational efficiency strategy by improving project management, deliverables, communication, and client satisfaction.
  • Operations management solutions are essential for supporting agency workflows. These tools can automate repetitive tasks, streamline collaboration, and provide real-time analytics. This helps reduce manual effort and make data-driven decisions for your agency’s success.

Understanding Agency Workflow

The agency workflow is a way to contextualize your agency operations. It’s a structured approach to completing tasks, managing projects, and delivering services effectively. It usually involves moving through various stages, each with particular goals and challenges, such as initiation, planning, execution, and analysis.

Workflows can consist of multiple workstreams, defined as sets of activities or tasks within a larger initiative (learn more about what is a workstream and its importance).

Exploring Workflow Types

Agencies can manage their workflows in various ways. Most will utilize different types of workflows during their day-to-day operations. We can roughly categorize them into three groups:

By Process

  • Manual workflows: An example of a manual workflow would be creating an invoice by hand. The steps include entering client details, extracting billable hours from timesheets, and calculating the payments.
  • Automated workflows: The same workflow can look quite different when automated by software. For example, certain accounting tools can streamline calculating billable hours, pull this data to calculate payables, and fill out all relevant data.

Although usually less customizable, automated workflows can be more reliable and efficient than manual ones. Automating data-heavy or repetitive tasks can be a good idea to achieve more accurate results and free up your resources for creative workflow solutions.

A screenshot of agency workflow software showing a purchase order with order number 12, issued on 2 May, 2023. It details a service for LinkedIn paid ads with a quantity of 1 and a total amount of $500.00, with no delivery date provided.

Productive’s Purchase Orders are an example of streamlined expense management

By Timeline

  • Sequential workflows involve completing tasks one after the other. This includes situations where certain tasks are dependencies, such as writing code after a design has been completed.
  • Parallel workflows include tasks that are completed simultaneously. Marketing teams can write a copy draft while a landing page is still in development.
  • Conditional workflows are usually utilized when a third party influences the course of a workflow, such as a client. For example, if approved, a design goes to implementation; if rejected, it goes back to design.

End-to-end project management will usually contain all of these types of workflows. Sequential vs parallel workflows are especially interesting, as some tasks can be completed with both approaches.

A screenshot of agency workflow software outlining a content planning timeline for blog posts. It shows tasks under 'Plan and estimate' for 'Visual direction,' 'Explore concepts,' and 'Create moodboards,' along with 'Branding assets' and 'Presentation,' set against a calendar timeline from late April to May.

Productive’s Gantt chart is a great way to visualize your workflows

Sequential workflows usually involve less collaboration and back-and-forth, which can lead to quicker completion, especially with experienced teams. On the other hand, parallel workflows are more flexible and can bring more creative results.

A good project manager will know how to best balance these benefits and downsides.

By Occurrence

  • Project: A project workflow is seen as a self-contained process with varying project requirements that require developing individualized solutions.
  • Process: A process workflow considers the general challenges faced by agencies and how to approach them. In short, it involves repeated situations. Projects that re-occur can also be considered as part of process workflows.
  • Case: A case workflow is used to tackle a unique instance that may occur during the larger project or process workflow. Even more than projects, individual cases and the tactics to tackle them can vary significantly from one instance to another.

The Challenges of Undefined Workflows

According to research by PMI, agencies who undervalue project management report 67% more of their projects failing. Furthermore, 11.4% of agency investment is wasted due to poor project performance.

Although agency workflows can encapsulate broader agency management processes, they are equally important for the success of your projects.

A lack of structure in your operations can lead to many disruptions, including:

  • Critical resource gaps and conflicts, especially in multi-project management
  • Failing to meet project deadlines or exceeding the set budget
  • Decreased employee efficiency and productivity, and increased chance of burnout
  • Impacted agency resilience and ability to handle change effectively
  • Lower quality of client deliverables and client dissatisfaction

Manage Your Agency’s Workflows

Switch from multiple tools and spreadsheets to Productive, the all-in-one solution for successful agency workflows.

Book a demo

Introduction to the Workflow Process

The workflow process is a structured sequence of operations designed to accomplish a specific goal. It involves systematic planning, implementation, monitoring, and review to achieve desired outcomes within set timelines. Embracing a well-defined workflow process allows teams to optimize resources, manage changes, and enhance productivity.

1. Defining Project Scope and Objectives

Defining the project scope and objectives is key to the project initiation and planning process. However, aligning project goals with your specific agency goals is equally important. How should the project look to make it worthwhile for you as an agency, not just the client?

Consider the following statement:

A screenshot of a LinkedIn post by Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of 37signals, stating that a business does not need a mission, vision, or various forms of support such as AI, investors, or a board to succeed, but rather it just needs to make more money than it spends.

SOurce: LinkedIN

According to PRWeek, nearly one in five agencies are overservicing every single account, and 80% believe it’s a growing concern. The main reasons for this are identified as:

  • Goalposts shifting on projects (54%)
  • Scope creep (50%)
  • Working overtime to meet high client expectations (49%)

While it might be tempting to gold plate your tasks, this can be a significant drain on your finances (learn how to manage costs by reading our article on what is cost efficiency).

Not to mention that you’re setting high expectations for the duration of your cooperation with the client. This means that once you do have to pull back, it will likely be met with resistance and client dissatisfaction.

Realistic project expectations must be set at the very start of the project. If nothing else is working, consider pulling back on unprofitable clients to focus on more lucrative engagements:

We ended up terminating contracts with two of our oldest clients after only a few months of using Productive. We thought that we were at least at zero with them, or that we had some small earnings, but it turned out that we were losing money because the money they paid us did not cover salaries, fixed overhead per hour, and variable overhead per hour.

Ilija Brajković,
CEO of Kontra Agency

2. Resource Planning and Management 

People can be considered the most valuable resource for agencies. The importance of managing your teams effectively during the entire process is magnified by the fact that turnover can cost employers 33% of an employee’s annual salary (Employee Benefits News).

What are some things that your resource planning should aim to achieve:

  • Ensuring balanced workloads so that employees aren’t overburdened or underutilized
  • Allocating resources optimally, which means that skills and capacities should be matched to project needs
  • Visibility and forecasting across all projects, which enables easier reallocation and minimization of potential disruptions
  • Simplified collaboration and communication for team leaders and their entire team

Some key steps of the resource management process include: demand forecasting, assessing current capacity, gap analysis, and developing strategies to balance needs with availability.

The resource management process also involves breaking down the project into tasks, milestones, and subtasks, and then scheduling these elements to create a comprehensive project timeline.

A screenshot of a resource allocation and scheduling interface within agency workflow software, showing assignments and time off for team members across a weekly calendar view.

Get the most out of your resources with Productive’s responsive capacity plan

Read our comprehensive Guide to Capacity Planning to learn more.

3. Monitoring Workflow Progress

After defining expectations and managing your resourcing and timelines, it’s time to monitor your workflow execution. This involves tracking task completion across project milestones, keeping all relevant parties up to date, and monitoring key performance indicators that reflect the project’s health, such as budget burn.

The truth is, we can quickly get a pulse for where we are, at any given time. One way to get a pulse on the business is to get the monthly financials, but for the monthly financials to come in, it takes the accounting department about 15 days after the month ends before we get a picture of how we really did that month. Whereas, with the financial tools that Productive offers, you can check it on a daily basis. We have clear visibility at any given time.

Orion Jensen,
CEO at Clear Launch

Learn how Productive helps improve business operations with real-time financial tracking.

During the execution process, you might have to account for specific changes in the workflow lifecycle. This can include requests for scope changes from the client, or internal disruptions, such as prolonged employee sick leave. Change and risk management are essential to the workflow process and can be simplified using workflow management tools.

A screenshot of agency workflow software displaying a 'Rebranding Campaign' progress with a purple dotted line forecast on a bar graph. It includes weekly data, budget details with total, invoiced, and remaining amounts, along with a time tracking section showing quantity, worked, and remaining hours.

Plan out various scenarios and get real-time data with Productive

For example, the all-in-one agency workflow software Productive lets you visualize and forecast your revenue and profit margins according to your resource scheduling. This real-time financial insight helps agency project leaders make informed decisions for advanced budgeting in project management.

4. Project Evaluation and Feedback

The final phase of the workflow process is a project evaluation and debrief. It involves analyzing the project’s outcomes against the initial objectives and identifying lessons learned.

This phase is critical for understanding the project’s successes and areas for improvement. This is done by analyzing your gathered data and conducting feedback with team members and stakeholders.

This practice promotes continuous improvement, allowing organizations to refine their workflow processes for future projects, ultimately leading to higher efficiency and better project outcomes.

Learn more about managing your creative process with software:

Using Technology to Improve Workflows

According to a report by Wellingtone, as many as 22% of agency professionals spend 1 to 2 days per month manually collating information on the project status, while 21% take even more than 2 days.

The right workflow management software can help you reduce time spent on complex tasks, get more reliable data, and even provide you with previously unexplored project and agency insights.

A screenshot of agency workflow software featuring 'New budgets insights' with a graph showing revenue and margin for projects like 'ABC Company,' 'Cupcake Project,' and 'Website Redesign.' The graph is interactive with options to group data and a checked box to 'Show only totals'.

Productive makes comparing data across multiple projects simple

However, with the variety of options available, finding the best fit for your agency can be tricky.

Here are some top features and criteria to consider:

Top Features

  • Automating repetitive tasks
  • Supporting team collaboration
  • Simplifying capacity planning challenges
  • Providing real-time analytics
  • Budgeting & billing support
  • Scenario planning and data forecasting

Main Criteria

  • User-friendliness: A user-friendly interface ensures your team members can quickly adapt to the software, which means you’ll get quicker and higher return on investment.
  • Comprehensiveness: A comprehensive tool eliminates the need for multiple disparate solutions, which can reduce process inefficiencies, complexity, and potentially lower costs.
  • Scalability: Outgrowing tools can drain your time and resources, as you’ll have to develop your workflows again and start building up non-transferrable data.
  • Customer support: Responsive and easy-to-reach customer support is important for minimizing implementation disruptions and tailoring the software to your workflows.

Productive – The Best All-in-One Software for Agency Operations

Productive is a workflow tool designed specifically to help streamline and optimize agency operations.

What I really like about Productive is that it’s not trying to be a tool for everybody. It’s really a tool for agencies. And I really like that because some of the pain points that an agency has are not addressed by other tools because it’s not something that is a priority for them.

Katya Vakulenko,
Founder and CEO at SOUP

Some key features include:

  • Time Tracking: Manage the time employees spend on specific project workflows with manual entry or an integrated timer. Sync your timesheets with your resource bookings for automatic time management.
  • Project Management: Switch between multiple workflow visualizations, including Kanban, Gantt, and Calendar. Productive includes easy-to-manage tasks and dependencies, automatic notifications, and client access.
A screenshot of a task management panel in agency workflow software titled 'Blog posts' for a 'Motion graphics' project. It features options to add a description, attachments, and subtasks, with to-dos for 'Visual direction' and 'Draft release'. The task is marked as 'Working', assigned to Carmen Williamson with a due date of 5 May, 2024, and includes a timer set at 00:00.

Maintain effective communication with Productive’s task management

  • Resource Planning: Organize your resources with a responsive resource plan to ensure you always have enough capacity to finalize workflows. Get resource utilization insights and forecast metrics, such as revenue, budget burn, and profit margins.
  • Budgeting & Invoicing: Manage various client budgets, including one-time (fixed or hourly-priced) and retainer. Separate complex projects into multiple phases and simplify your invoice creation.
  • Reporting: Choose between more than 50 agency-focused templates. Add agency-specific parameters with custom fields, and organize your data visualizations on dashboards.

Additional features include: Docs, Sales, Automations, Purchase Orders, Permission Builder

Manage Your Agency’s Workflows

Switch from multiple tools and spreadsheets to Productive, the all-in-one solution for successful agency workflows.

Book a demo

Key Components of Successful Workflow Management

Here’s a short outline of some of the key parts of efficient workflow management:

  • Define your project objectives: Project objectives and outcomes are usually outlined during the initiation phase in collaboration with the client. However, agencies should also consider what they aim to get from the project. This can help manage scope creep and avoid overservicing clients. Set target KPIs, such as profit margins, to monitor your project performance.
  • Put your plans into writing: Make sure to outline the core phases of the project. For example, building a capacity planning template can help you forecast your future needs and financial performance. It can also help you identify risks and find solutions before they negatively impact your progress.
  • Define roles and responsibilities: A great example of a strategy for improved team collaboration is the RACI matrix, which defines who is responsible and accountable for specific tasks, who can be consulted, and who needs to be informed.
  • Develop a feedback process: Continuing from the importance of defining your team roles, make sure to establish a communication process with the client. This can improve your client’s transparency. The frequency can differ depending on the project’s complexity or client preference.
  • Collect and review data: After you complete a workflow, review what went well and what could have gone better. Scheduling retrospectives within your project team can be a great way to improve communication and future collaboration. You can also hold one with your client after reaching specific milestones.

The Benefits of Successful Work Management

In short, the implementation of successful agency workflows not only streamlines operations and enhances project management but also significantly elevates the quality of work and client satisfaction. By fostering efficient collaboration and maintaining high standards of excellence, agencies can achieve sustainable growth and build lasting relationships with their clients.

  • Increased Efficiency and Productivity: Well-defined workflows help you streamline workflow inefficiencies by cutting time spent on administrative tasks and repetitive processes.
  • Improved Project Management: With clear timelines and milestones, project managers can better allocate resources, monitor progress, and adjust strategies as needed.
  • Enhanced Quality of Work: By establishing standardized procedures for task execution, agencies can maintain a consistent level of quality across all projects, reducing errors and increasing client satisfaction.
  • Better Communication and Collaboration: Successful workflows facilitate communication among team members and between the agency and clients, ensuring everyone is aligned on project goals, responsibilities, and progress.
  • Increased Client Satisfaction: Efficient workflows lead to timely project completion, high-quality deliverables, and the ability to respond swiftly to client feedback.

Examples Across Agencies & Teams

Advertising Agency Workflow

The advertising agency workflow is a systematic process of creating and launching an advertising campaign. The advertising agency project management process usually begins with client briefings and market research, moving through creative development and media planning to campaign execution and finally, performance analysis.

Coordination between various departments, such as creative, media, and account management, ensures that campaigns are well-created and strategically placed across the most beneficial channels for maximum impact and ROI.

Find out more about the best advertising software.

Creative Agency Workflow

The creative agency workflow is focused on the ideation and design phases, which include brainstorming, sketching, and prototyping. This iterative and cross-functional process includes various types of creatives, such as graphic designers, copywriters, and art directors.

An essential part is collaboration with the client, as creative teams must ensure they can meet the client’s vision. It’s important to establish clear client feedback and approval loops to minimize the chance of miscommunication or disruption in the process.

Learn more about streamlining this process with the best project management software for artists.

Digital Marketing Agency Workflow

The digital marketing agency workflow leverages digital channels to achieve marketing objectives. This workflow integrates various digital strategies, from SEO and content marketing to social media and email campaigns, all geared towards building an online presence and connecting with the audience on multiple platforms.

Analytics and data analysis are key parts of project management for marketing teams, allowing for the monitoring of campaign performance in real time and timely adjustment of strategies (you can also check out our list of the top marketing agency management software).

3 Final Tips & Tricks for Agencies

To conclude our guide, we’ll give you our final tips and tricks for managing workflows:

1. Prioritize Business Processes

Statistics show that the average project manager runs from two to five projects simultaneously (RGPM). This is why prioritization is a key process in resource planning for multiple projects.

One tip for successful prioritization is to consider which tasks can be standardized (and streamlined) and which can’t. You can separate them into two groups: judgment-based work, for which you need creativity, critical thinking, and instinct, and procedural work, which is more process-based.

The other is to monitor your agency’s most important metrics across different workflows. For example, you can examine utilization across departments to try to spot areas of low utilization or billable hours tracked. This can point to workflow inefficiencies such as miscommunication or lack of standardization.

A screenshot of a timesheet summary within agency workflow software, detailing billable and worked hours by department and individual, such as Development, Project Management, Leadership, and Design, with percentages indicating billable to worked hour ratios.

Productive lets you visualize and forecast your agency’s billable utilization

2. Map Out Your Workflows

Try to find the best method for organizing specific workflows. This can vary from agency to agency, as different industries can manage very different agency processes.

For example, the content creation process can be divided into several steps, including brainstorming sessions, creating a content calendar, outlining the content with reference to competitors, target audiences, and desired outcomes, reviewing and editing, and so on.

A general method to visualize a creative process is to:

  • Diagram your workflow and pinpoint any bottlenecks
  • Map out the process in stages for complex workflows
  • Start with the desired outcome, and then figure out how to get there

Workflow and communication tools can also help you figure out how to best manage development and creative projects by providing various layouts to switch from. What’s right for one person may not be right for another, and your team members may have different needs when organizing and processing information.

A screenshot of agency workflow software showing a content management interface titled 'Social Media Posts' with different viewing options like 'List view' and 'Board view' highlighted. Tasks are categorized by 'Not Started' and 'Done', featuring articles on agency resource planning, project profitability, and client communication, along with tags indicating priority and related topics.

Organize your projects according to your agency’s working style with Productive

3. Use an Agency Management Tool

Finally, don’t underestimate the benefits of a centralized platform for managing your creative workflow process.

The right software solution can help you reduce your tech stack, standardize workflows across various projects, and simplify how employees approach their work on a day-to-day basis.

If you want to learn more about the benefits of an all-in-one agency management tool, book a demo with Productive.

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Lucija Bakić

Content Specialist

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