Workstreams Explained: Boost Your Agency’s Project Management

Lucija Bakić

December 19, 2023

A screenshot of a workstreams software, depicting a resource plan with employee schedules across various projects and time periods.

Workstreams have emerged as a key solution for effectively handling the complexities of project management.

As an agency professional, you’re probably juggling multiple projects at the time. Knowing how to simplify and organize your workflows to contribute to the shared goal is a crucial skill in this dynamic industry.

Whether you’re in consulting, development, or marketing, workstreams can be a key strategy for the success of your project. This article explores what workstreams are, how they impact project management, and best practices for implementing them effectively.

What Are Workstreams?

The concept of workstreams can be somewhat confusing at times. Maybe you’ve seen various definitions and examples floating online, but not all are compatible, even within the same resource. In this article, workstreams are understood as:

any one of the areas of activity into which a company’s business may be divided.

In the context of managing agency projects, it would relate to a specific set of activities or tasks within a larger initiative. Depending on your team structure and project flow, a workstream can be a set of tasks within a single team, such as a prototype created by designers. It can also be a cross-functional activity, such as implementing an element of a website, which requires both design work and development. 

Although it can be a flexible term, in essence, workstreams refer to the practice of breaking up a larger initiative such as a project into its constituents. The idea is to simplify and resolve tasks step by step to speed up and improve delivery.

The Role of Workstreams in Project Management

Workstreams are an essential part of any agency project management process. They provide a structured framework for breaking down complex initiatives into smaller, more manageable tasks. Each separate workstream operates semi-independently — this means that while each has its own set of goals, tasks, and timelines, they all contribute towards a shared, overarching goal.

Gantt chart for a blog post project detailing various design phase tasks such as 'Visual direction', 'Explore concepts', and 'Create moodboards' with overlapping timelines, reflecting the planning and estimation stages of content workstreams.


AN EXAMPLE OF EFFICIENT WORKSTREAM MANAGEMENT WITH PRODUCTIVE’S GANTT CHART

Workstreams help project managers:

  • Effectively organize tasks on projects, manage progress, and spot bottlenecks on time.
  • Define clear objectives and project goals and ensure all team members work towards them.
  • Increase flexibility and scalability by modifying the smaller project constituents for simplified change management.
  • Facilitate better collaboration across project teams by increasing accountability and improving overall project visibility.

Using workstreams in project management is more than just a strategy — it’s about creating a collaborative environment in an agency. This approach requires every team member to work together effectively, knowing exactly what their tasks and responsibilities are.

The project manager’s job is to make this collaboration as smooth as possible and to keep everyone on track towards the final goal. This method highlights the need for good teamwork and clear communication to complete a project successfully.

Related: Revenue Operations Guide: Implementing RevOps in Your Agency

Practical Examples of Workstreams

In everyday life, you can find examples of workstreams all around you. These are like small projects you do every day, such as getting ready for work in the morning, preparing dinner, or doing the dishes in the evening.

In an agency environment, some examples of workstreams would be:

Consultancy

In a consultancy, you might have a workstream dedicated to figuring out market trends for a client. This involves separate tasks such as gathering data, spotting trends, and putting together reports. Finally, the final results might be reviewed by the manager, and then presented to the client, completing the workstream. 

Related: Best Software for Consultants: The Ultimate Guide to Tools & Features

Marketing

A marketing agency workstream could be centered on a social media campaign, involving steps such as content creation, platform strategy, and analytics tracking. This involves close collaboration between designers, copywriters, digital marketers, and a project manager to monitor the progress.

Related: Choosing the Best Marketing Agency Software for Managing Your Agency
 

Design

At a design agency, a workstream would be something like a branding redesign for a client. This encompasses activities from initial concept sketches to final design deliverables and client feedback and review. Throughout this process, a project manager would ensure that the deliverables align with the client’s vision and timeframe.

Related: 11 Top Project Management Software for Designers

Best Practices for Effective Workstreams

Integrating workstreams into project management starts with carefully identifying the teams involved and establishing clear roles and responsibilities for each employee. This basic step ensures everyone knows their specific duties within the workstream.

Next, each workstream must be clearly defined, outlining its unique tasks, objectives, and expected outcomes, creating a focused and purpose-driven workflow.

To maintain steady progress and address challenges promptly, regular monitoring and control of each workstream are essential. Visualizing and documenting the workstream process is also critical, as it provides a clear roadmap and helps track developments over time.

This often involves using specialized agency tools to facilitate communication and information sharing across teams. 

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Best Tools for Organizing and Visualizing Workstreams

According to a survey by PwC, 77% of companies use project management software. The same report maintains that this number results from a positive correlation between project management software and project performance, as agencies that utilize modern technology are more likely to deliver high-performing projects.

Here are some examples of specialized tools for workstream management:

  • Automation Tools: Automation tools can streamline repetitive tasks within workstreams, such as scheduling, data entry, or report generation. 
  • Communication Tools: Communication tools facilitate real-time discussions, file sharing, and collaborative decision-making, keeping everyone aligned and informed throughout the project’s lifecycle.
  • Time Tracking Tools: Time tracking tools help in monitoring billable vs non-billable hours, or the amount of time spent on various tasks within a workstream.

However, an advanced type of technology that can optimize your performance is all-in-one management software. These solutions support the end-to-end project management workflow and gather key capabilities on a single platform. The benefits of such solutions are increased efficiency, more accurate data, and decreased spending on separate solutions.

A popular example of such a tool is Productive, used by agency professionals worldwide:

We used to have a project management tool, a time tracking tool, a support tool, a way we handled opportunities and sales-driven processes. Those were all separate tools that we had, and it wasn’t good. It also meant that all that data was being lost every time we switched between tools, or we had to find a way to normalize the data between them. And now, the fact that it’s all in one, it’s really a game changer.

Bryan Casler,
Vice President of Digital Strategy at DotDev

Productive – The Top Software for Workstream Management

Productive is a PSA software for agencies of all shapes and sizes. The tool gathers key features for operational efficiency, from lead management to project progress tracking and post-completion insights.

Interface of a project and task management system with tasks categorized as 'Not Started' and 'Done', highlighting the 'Board view' layout option for organizing workstreams related to agency operations and resources.


GET FULL VISIBILITY INTO YOUR PROJECT PROGRESS WITH PRODUCTIVE

Key Features Include:

  • Project Management: Productive’s customizable views like Gantt, Kanban, and Calendar, coupled with automatic notifications, enhance visibility and coordination in managing workstreams. You can easily manage tasks with statuses, to-dos, and dependencies, facilitating collaboration and team collaboration.
  • Resource Planning: Productive’s resource planning tools include workload heat maps, utilization forecasts, and time off management. All of these capabilities help project managers pinpoint the best employees for specific workstreams and ensure that no one is overburdened or left waiting for an assignment.
  • Time Tracking: Productive helps you further manage your agency’s resources with its time tracking feature. It helps simplify repetitive tasks such as time tracking with an integrated timer and automatic entry creation through resource planning. It also helps you get better time estimates and workstream management with simple time approvals.
  • Budgeting: For financial management, Productive provides budgeting, billing, and purchase order functionalities. These tools aid in tracking spending and forecasting revenue, which is crucial for ensuring scope and financial predictability within project workstreams and the broader agency context.

Additional features of Productive include Sales, Docs, and Automations. Productive also includes a variety of integrations that help blend the tool into your currently established workflows, such as Xero, QuickBooks, Google Calendar, Slack, HubSpot, Zapier, and more.

With growth comes a bigger need for one source of truth, and that’s what Productive gives us, and that’s really important.

Maike Vilé,
Partner AT Makerstreet

Why Implement Workstreams: Four Benefits for Agencies

We’ve covered some generic benefits of implementing a workstream structure for your project management, including better collaboration, more effective organization, and goal-oriented execution. 

You might be wondering: What are some practical applications for agencies? 

Here are four key agency operations that can be improved by adopting workstreams:

  • Employee experience and retention
  • Back office operations
  • Resource planning
  • Recruitment and hiring

1. Building an Engaging Employee Experience

Research by Gallup has found that engagement has approximately 4 times the influence on employee stress than other factors, such as work location:

In other words, what people experience in their every day work — their feelings of involvement and enthusiasm — matters more in reducing stress than where they are sitting.

Source: State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report

Workstreams enhance employee engagement by fostering a sense of ownership, collaboration, and purpose. Creating specific project segments helps employees feel like they’re contributing more directly to project completion. In comparison to working on larger project chunks, it also provides a series of milestones that can help keep your teams motivated.

Additionally, the cross-functional nature of workstreams contributes to knowledge-building and employee bonding. Both of these factors increase job satisfaction and create a stronger sense of belonging within the agency.

Productive has given the team a lot more autonomy. Before, in Asana, it was much more a developer working on a ticket and handing it back to a project manager, and not so much focused on accountability. I’m very keen on agile processes and I think Productive helps us be more accountable by reassigning tasks to different team members. Now our developers have more autonomy in their involvement in projects.

Melodie Ash,
Producer at Joi Polloi

2. Streamlining Back Office Operations

Workstreams contribute significantly to streamlining back office operations by breaking down complex processes into distinct, manageable segments. This approach involves categorizing various tasks such as finance, HR, and administration into separate workstreams, each with specific goals and timelines. 

We can use time tracking as an example. By dividing tasks into workstreams, the responsibility for timesheets shifts from a centralized project manager to individual employees. This means that each team member is tracking their own time and managing their entries, including descriptions for tasks that were worked on and completed.

Digital time tracking display for marketing workstreams, showing tasks for 'Social media posts' and 'Customer success - interview questions' with elapsed time counters.


PRODUCTIVE SIMPLIFIES BILLABLE HOURS TRACKING WITH INTEGRATED TIME MANAGEMENT

Agency tools with time tracking capabilities can support this process with features such as integrated timers. This can speed up the tracking side of the process on the employee side, but also on the manager side by generating timesheets automatically. 

Some other examples of functions that can be simplified with workstreams are project budgeting and billing. Find out more by reading our Guide to Project Budget Management.

3. Resource Planning and Workstream Management

Effective workstream management is impossible without the right resource planning strategy. This involves ensuring that you have the right balance of skill sets across teams and tasks in order to maintain efficiency and meet project deadlines. 

A software interface depicting a workstream scheduler for June and July 2023, showing assignments with allocated time blocks, alongside personal time and vacation bookings for individuals.


STREAMLINE YOUR CAPACITY ALLOCATION WITH PRODUCTIVE’S RESOURCE PLAN

As a practical example, consider the resource planning features offered by Productive that simplify the allocation of teams to workstreams.

  • Heatmaps provide a visual representation of team utilization, helping ensure balanced workloads. 
  • The filtering feature supports better resource planning for multiple projects, with sorting by project or people.
  • Placeholders are useful for forecasting resourcing needs and preparing for future staffing scenarios.
  • Tentative bookings offer flexibility, enabling planning without finalizing team allocations until project confirmation.

These functionalities collectively enhance resource management, aligning it with the dynamic needs of workstreams.

See more: Capacity Planning: A Comprehensive Guide for Agencies and Professional Service Firms

4. Supporting Recruitment and Planning

Workstreams can significantly support the recruitment process in an agency, offering a structured and efficient approach to hiring. By dividing the recruitment process into specific workstreams, such as candidate sourcing, screening, interviewing, and onboarding, each stage can be managed more effectively.

Another, perhaps not so obvious, connection between workstreams and recruiting can be found in resource planning. By carefully segmenting employees across longer periods of time, such as the upcoming quarter, you can view your resource capacity for upcoming periods. This helps inform the hiring strategy.

For example, a website development company might find that services such as design are underutilized, while services such as QA are overutilized. This can lead to sales teams prospecting more clients for design services, and/or hiring more QA engineers.

Chart from a time tracking and project management system displaying workstreams by department and person, with columns for billable hours, total hours worked, and the percentage of billable versus worked hours, indicating productivity and efficiency metrics.


MANAGE AND FORECAST YOUR BILLABLE UTILIZATION WITH PRODUCTIVE

With Productive, you can forecast resource utilization across various metrics, such as seniority. This helps you get even more detail for the exact employee profile you need in order to support your agency operations. This strategic hiring not only fills necessary roles but also supports existing team members, reducing burnout and improving overall team morale, which are key factors in retaining talent.

Learn more about resource planning with Productive:

Takeaway: Adopting Workstreams in Your Agency

Workstreams offer a transformative approach to managing agency operations. They can facilitate resource planning, streamline recruitment processes, and significantly improve employee engagement and back office operations.

By adopting workstreams, agencies can optimize their workflows, ensuring that projects are completed efficiently, and team members remain motivated and focused. A key step to achieve this is to implement a modern software solution that provides comprehensive features on a single platform.

Consider booking a demo with Productive, the all-in-one agency management tool, and learn more about how you can improve your team collaboration.

FAQ

What is a workstream?

In the context of project management, a workstream can be seen as a sub-project. It’s a series of related tasks grouped together, making the main project more manageable. Each workstream has its own timeline, milestones, risks, and issues to track, as well as associated teams to complete them. They contribute to a shared goal of efficient project delivery.

What are examples of workstreams?

In a consultancy, an example of a workstream might be analyzing market trends for a client. This would include separate tasks such as data collection, trend identification, and report creation. Another example would be a marketing campaign, which encompasses activities such as content creation and KPI analysis.

Is workstreams one word or two?

According to websites such as the Collins Dictionary and Wikipedia, the term “workstreams” is more frequently used as one word. However, as the term is relatively new, you might also see it used as “work streams”. Whichever variant you choose, make sure you’re using it consistently.

What is another word for workstream?

Another term for workstream can be workflow, as they both encompass tracking and managing a series of activities from start to finish. Alternatively, you can also compare workstreams to milestones, as they encompass smaller constituents of projects that are organized into a whole.

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Lucija Bakić

Content Specialist

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