Workload management is a multi-step process that efficiently plans, schedules, and distributes work across your team. It optimizes how work is assigned and helps to keep teams and their projects on track.
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 have the capacity to take on the work that's been assigned to them.
What is workload management, and why is it important?
Workload management is a multi-step process that efficiently plans, schedules, and distributes work across your team. It optimizes how work is assigned and helps to keep teams on track. When implemented successfully, workload management can improve your team's performance and productivity by ensuring that project work is assigned on a realistic schedule.
There are many factors that contribute to delivering a project successfully. Workload management provides teams with a framework and proven process to address these factors, including:
🙋 Utilizing resources effectively
📅 Optimizing project schedules
⏱️ Managing time and workload expectations
💰 Keeping projects on track and on budget
Creating and following a workload management process that focuses on these areas allows you to prioritize tasks more efficiently, improve the balance of workloads across your team, and create more accurate work schedules. The impact? Your team will have the capacity and confidence to deliver higher quality work.
When done well, workload management can help to balance your team's workload more evenly and effectively. 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. Balancing workloads and resource planning are 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 forward plan and optimize tasks on your team's schedule that sets them up for success. Workload management gives your team a realistic plan with prioritized tasks and attainable deadlines that 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. Capacity planning is critical to workload management. It enables you to identify if your team has the ability to take on a new project, or whether their schedules are already full.
When calculating capacity, a benchmark resource utilization rate to aim for is 80%. This target allows a 20% buffer for those other tasks that come up along the way, and are not always possible to plan ahead for. It also gives your team time to attend to ad hoc tasks like emails and following up with clients.
With many modern teams working from different time zones and more teams working remotely, it's critical to have an accurate view of everyone's workload and capacity. The days of just popping over to someone's desk to see how busy they are becoming, if not already, a thing of the past! With a distributed team, T&B Planning needed a way to manage their team's workload remotely. 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.
When it comes to capacity planning and workload management, here's the part that can sometimes go unspoken —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."
Pro-tip: Save time by calculating your team's capacity and utilization rates automatically
Calculating your team's capacity and resource utilization rates can be a time consuming process. With resource management software, the maths is done for you! The reporting feature in Float crunches all the numbers you need to know like overtime, team utilization, capacity hours, and billable hours. See for yourself how easy it is with a free 30 day trial below.Try for free
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 workload management is up to scratch is knowing that you're assigning tasks to the right people. For each task that you assign, you want to be sure that the team member you assign 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 resource calendar or resource scheduling tool that includes the start/finish dates for the tasks that everyone is working on. It's important that there's shared access to this schedule, so that there is one single source of truth for who's working on what, and when. A resource schedule can also help you spot team members with availability and the right skill sets to get tasks done, while minimizing conflicts.
Beacon is an agency that uses Trello to create task lists for their team's project work. Outreach Manager Karen Davies says they use Trello to manage in-house tasks 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," says 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.
Integration tip: Sync your task lists in Trello with workload management in Float
Drag and drop cards from Trello directly onto your team's schedule in Float. Your cards will be assigned as tasks, giving you a live view of your team's scheduled workload and capacity.Find out more
3: Tick off the hard tasks first, and use a workflow management tool
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 to create work schedules that embrace what best suits each team member.
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.
The Experience UX team using virtual whiteboard Miro to plan and manage their workload remotely
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, Managing Director
Manage your team's workload on autopilot
Keep your team's availability up to date with automated workflows in Float. Integrate directly with Google and Outlook Calendar. Set custom work hours and days. Schedule time off in advance and add a status to let your team know where you're working from.Try for free
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," says Brannigan.
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. 👌