Workload Management: What Is It and How To Plan for It?
Picture for a moment the steps it takes to complete a project from start to finish: 1. A project enters your pipeline. 2. You verify you have the capacity to get it done. 3. You divvy up the responsibilities to your team. 4. Your team completes their assigned tasks.
It almost sounds simple.
Anybody who's ever managed a project before knows that's not often the case! To ensure a project is successful, you must plan your team's workload accordingly before any actual work begins. Properly managing your team's workload can mean the difference between a project that's delivered on time and on budget and one that encounters scope creep and schedule chaos.
The latter is more common than you might think. According to the Global Agency Productivity Report, 43% of team members admitted their work is "rarely or only sometimes" scheduled effectively. 😲
Enter workload management—a multi-layered approach to delivering successful projects. It's a way for you to organize your team's schedule, prioritize important tasks, and (most importantly) make sure they can take on all the work you ask them to.
What is workload management, and why is it important?
Workload management is a framework that gives you a way to efficiently manage and distribute work fairly and evenly across your team. It can improve performance, boost your team's confidence, and keep everyone on a realistic schedule.
Workload management tackles a lot of areas that disrupt successful projects. It gives you a framework for:
🙋 Utilizing resources effectively
📅 Optimizing project schedules
⏱️ Managing time/workload expectations
💰 Keeping projects on track and on budget
Creating and following a process that focuses on these elements allows you to prioritize tasks better and balance your team's schedules. The result? Your team will have the capacity and confidence to deliver higher quality work.
Workload management can balance your team's workload evenly if you do it well. 74% of team members say they're overbooked on projects at least once a month, and over a quarter say this happens five or more times a month, so balancing workload is key! If a team's workload is overflowing and they're over their capacity, it's hard for them to do their best work. Constantly feeling under the pump and tied to unrealistic deadlines can also add to stress levels. According to Asana, 82% of employees feel less engaged at work when they're stressed.
With workload management, you can create space on your team's schedules to allow them to deliver their best work. Giving your team a realistic plan with prioritized tasks and attainable deadlines can help you achieve your goal of delivering projects on time and on budget.
4 steps to creating an effective workload management process
1: Plan out a project's tasks and check your team's capacity
Before starting any project, you must figure out who will be working on what.
Look at the projects in your pipeline and drill down into who will be working on each project's tasks. An easy way to do this is to create a work-breakdown structure (WBS); a chart that shows who will be working on what.
Now, before you create a WBS to navigate projects, you must first calculate your team's capacity. Do they have the ability to take on the new project, or are their schedules already full? 🤔
An acceptable utilization rate to stick to is 80%, which will ensure your team still has time for other tasks like emails and following up with clients. With many modern teams working from different time zones, it's critical to have an accurate view of everyone's workload and capacity since you can't just pop your head in their office to see how busy they are!
T&B Planning needed a way to manage its team's workload remotely as they're geographically spread out. Project Manager Thomas Strand says using Float for workload planning has made the task possible. "I can now see who is over-utilized, under-utilized, or has a balanced workload, even when coworkers are outside of my immediate geography," he says.
Here's the part that can sometimes go unspoken when it comes to capacity planning—if your schedule is full, it's ok to say no to new tasks!
Deliveroo's Content Designer Harry Homan-Green says saying "no" when his schedule is full has not only improved the quality of his work, but it has also cut down on his stress levels. "I realized that it was ok to turn down work or to prioritize work where I could offer the most value, rather than provide a little value to several projects," he says.
"I set aside time each Friday to plan the tasks that I'm going to focus on for the following week and feel confident deprioritizing when I have to. I make sure that I leave some time for ad-hoc requests... just in case anything urgent comes up that pushes everything else aside." - Harry Homan-Green
💡 Pro-tip: Capacity rates can take time to calculate. However, if you have capacity planning software, you can calculate resource utilization rates automatically. For example, Float's reporting feature crunches numbers like overtime, team utilization, capacity hours, and billable hours. Check out how capacity planning software can help you plan better here.
2: Allocate tasks to team members
If you have the capacity to take the project on, it's time to get cracking on putting together a WBS.
A WBS not only helps you visualize project tasks, but it can also map out each step of the process and attach them to deadlines. To create a WBS, break down each project by asking:
- What tasks need to be done to get the project completed?
- Who will be in charge of each task?
- How long will each task take?
- Based on the time each task will take, what will be the cost?
- What timescale is needed for each task to meet key milestones and the overall project deadline?
Another part of making sure your workflow management is up to scratch is assigning tasks to the right people. For each task that you assign, make sure that the team member you give it to has both the skill set needed to complete it, and also the capacity to get it done on time.
To do this, use a calendar or scheduling tool to set start/finish dates for tasks that everyone who is working on them has access to. This can help you spot team members with open availability and the right skill sets to get tasks done while minimizing conflicts.
Beacon uses Trello to create task lists for projects to manage their team's workload. Outreach Manager Karen Davies says the agency uses Trello to manage in-house tasks, with a dedicated outreach area containing cards for each task that are organized into lists for easier navigation.
Here's what the team's workload management process looks like:
When a task is completed, it sets off the next task, creating a visual WBS. For example, when content is ready, the task is ticked off and the Trello card is moved into the "Campaign Submitted" board. When that stage is completed, the card is moved to the "Content Posted" board—which is the end of the project's funnel.
"It's an easy way to organize current and future workloads, ensuring optimal ROI on marketing efforts." - Karen Davies
If you follow Beacon's lead by compiling task lists in Trello, you can then use Float to schedule tasks from Trello cards straight onto your team's calendars.
3: Tick off the hard tasks first, and create unique workloads
Remember when you were younger, and your parents told you that unless you ate you vegetables, you wouldn't be getting dessert?
Apply the same thinking to your workload management process!
The most difficult or highest priority tasks should be tackled by your team first, not last. There's some science to this approach. Getting the complex tasks out of the way early on in a project can ease the mental exhaustion and stress of a project, especially when a deadline is looming.
Forbes says that if your team is lacking focus, missing deadlines, or struggling to multitask, then their workloads are probably too heavy! As Jon Dwoskin highlights, one of the clearest signs that you have too many projects going on and need to scale back is when a particular project becomes difficult and menial to complete. "The lack of drive to complete this task could mean that it is out of alignment with your company's core focus, and it is time to get back to what you specialize in and what created the growth in the first place," he notes.
Another crucial part of creating workloads for your team is recognizing that everyone works differently.
Some of your creatives might want to work in time blocks. Others may like to knock out complex tasks in the morning and leave their afternoons for meetings and emails. Try embracing what works best for them and create unique workloads that suit your team members.
Consultancy firm Experience UX has found that using a workflow management tool that combines their team's communication, collaboration, and schedules together has allowed them to create a remote workplace that works more efficiently, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Managing Director Ali Carmichael says a combination of video conferencing, virtual whiteboarding, and scheduling tools has empowered the team to build an environment that works for them.
"Float has enabled us to build in a contingency for the natural changes in working days that have come with the pandemic—we can look at how we can move sections of projects and the impact on the overall schedule. It has enabled the team to build their projects around their 'new normal'." - Ali Carmichael
4: Monitor schedules and projects constantly
Finally, be realistic about your team's schedules and capabilities and be willing to change things up if you need to.
Monitoring your team's workloads and utilization rates in real time can help flag problems and avoid burnout. For example, if you track your team's utilization rates and notice anyone going over 80%, you should take action and reassign some of their tasks so their schedule isn't so heavy.
If you notice this happening regularly, it may be a sign that you are taking on too many projects, and your team simply doesn't have the capacity. Genevieve Brannigan, who runs the Australian consulting agency Communications Collective, says she has turned down projects in the past if they didn't have the capacity or didn't think it was a good fit for the team.
"We are very transparent if we think a client's brief does not work with what we do well, if we do not have the capacity to take it on, or if the two company cultures do not align." - Genevieve Brannigan
Lindsay Dynan's Digital Engineer Colby Gallagher says the company started to use Float as a way to organize its team of roughly 90 (very busy) engineers and designers. Entering workload data for everyone on the team needs to take less than 5 minutes, which is now doable. "Once all the data is in Float, managers can easily see who needs more work and who is overloaded," he says.
Using a workload management tool to plan your team's time
Keeping tabs on your team's workload and availability can be a time-consuming task if done manually. With a workload management tool, however, it can be done automatically.
If you invest in the right toolkit, you can automatically track your team's utilization and capacity and see what tasks they're working on. A resource management software like Float lets you spread project workloads evenly across your team's calendars and reassign tasks if a person's workload is getting too heavy.
You can schedule resources, manage your team's capacity, plan future projects, and keep track of tasks in real time. 👌