The bread and butter of any creative agency is delivering great work to clients on time and on budget.
Everyone on your team must be on the same page and working together effectively or you won’t meet your goals, and your projects will suffer as a result.
That's why effective project reporting is such a vital tool for agencies. Project reporting helps you stay on top of a project's progress by tracking its deliverables and monitoring its budget. If there's a problem (and what project ever goes 100% to plan?), your team can course correct and get things back on track before it's too late.
Project progress reports (e.g. analyzing earned value or time spent on project work) also save your team time by eliminating drawn-out status meetings. They're especially useful for teams working remotely, as they provide a clear and accessible way for everyone to know exactly what's going on at all times, without needing to be in the same place.
In this article, we're going to take a look at:
- What project reports are
- Why project reporting is important
- How to build and share project reports within your team
Let's get reporting.
What are project reports?
By definition, a project report is a summary overview of the current status of the project, like a record of the process of a project at any time in its lifecycle.
What does that mean for agencies?
Depending on the size, complexity, delivery date, and budget of a project, an internal report may be required daily, weekly, or monthly over a project’s life cycle. However, no matter the frequency of the reports, their purpose stays the same: to keep teams up to date on the progress of the project and any challenges that might impact its delivery.
You see, the magic of project reports isn't to record setbacks after they happen, but to predict them and prevent them from occurring in the first place. By consistently reporting on the health of projects in your agency's pipeline, you will be able to accurately predict changes and delays ahead of time.
For example, if your agency is in charge of an advertisement campaign and a milestone is due in a couple of weeks, it's important to know whether your team is completing their tasks on time and to schedule. Real-time project reporting helps you keep track of your team’s progress, see if they’re ahead or behind on key elements of the campaign, and predict whether or not there are any potential blockages between them and the finish line.
Project reports help you see the full picture on your team’s capacity and your project’s progress, and allow you to adjust your schedule as needed to ensure your team can deliver work to your client on time and on budget.
Unpacking a project report
Most agency owners are used to dealing with the unexpected. An accurate description of life at a busy agency can be likened to words from Finagle’s law: Anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment.
That’s why project plans should be agile and built to handle change, as it will make it easier to keep your team focused and on track to deliver when unexpected changes (inevitably) occur.
It’s difficult to understand the overall health of a project if you don't have a systematic reporting and monitoring process in place. Project reporting is more than just gathering up numbers and creating graphs.The most common roadblocks teams face when building reports are:
❌ Spending too much time preparing reports
❌ Second-guessing their data inputs, which opens up misinterpretation by their team
❌ Outlining the problems a project faces with no idea on how to tackle them
Project reports aren't much help if they take a ton of time to put together, the data is hard to understand, and they don't provide clear solutions to a problem. With the right tools, project reports can be used to predict how equipped your team is to take on a new project based on resource availability, and to monitor how your team is tracking against the project budget based on your resource spend in time or dollar value.
An example of a project report in Float comparing your team's logged task hours to future scheduled time on your project
These reports can then act as a guideline to create more accurate project plans. Using Float, you can build a report around your team’s capacity over the next 12 weeks. This will help you see which resources are available to work on projects in your pipeline.
An example of a capacity report in Float of scheduled and available hours
This quick snapshot shows us that, overall, the agency has some spare time to play with over the next 3 months (nearly 3,000 hours, to be exact). A project manager can use these figures to decide whether or not they can add more projects to their pipeline without overloading their team.
Float also allows you to break down reports into individual project summaries. The project summary report tracks an individual project’s hours and budget while it’s being worked on, so you can stay on top of the project, and even complete a full budget review once it is finished.
Why is project reporting important?
Project reporting is an essential part of keeping your team informed on their progress once a project is in flight, and to evaluate your project’s success once it’s complete.
Project reports can shed light on where resources have been used, what problems have halted progress, when you can expect a project to be finished, and whether or not it's on budget. For agencies specifically, project reports can help provide:
📋 Team transparency: Project reports include detailed updates on just about every part of a project, from upcoming milestones and deadlines, to actual time spent on tasks and budget overspend. This highlights any potential issues to your team and gives a fuller picture of the overall health of your projects. Sharing this kind of information with your team provides transparency and creates a shared sense of accountability.
⏱️ Better resource planning and management: How is your team's time actually spent, and how long do project tasks usually take? If you can't track it, you can't answer that question! Building a report on how your team's time is spent helps you track project progress more accurately. This information shows you if any of your resources have time to spare, and can be reallocated based on your business needs. For example, if a project’s progress is lagging due to the design team being under-resourced, and you have a designer who has finished their tasks ahead of schedule on another project, you can bring this newly available team member over to help pick up the slack and improve the pace of the project.
🏥 Project health: A status report offers a high-level view of your project’s overall health. If a project is going off course, or you're bleeding its budget, it's better to know early so you can try and make things right. In a worst-case scenario, if you can see that scope creep or other factors have affected your project’s delivery, it’s best to be on the front foot and communicate this early to your clients so you can agree on what the next steps should be.
💲Budget tracking: Project managers need to know their budget spend in real time to assess how their projects are tracking. If scope creep is starting to impact your team’s task delivery and project timeline, it will ultimately impact your project's budget. Project reports are the most effective way to give you full control over monitoring your budget spend and resource utilization.
Now that you know how useful project reports can be for your agency let's break down how to put one together 📈.
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3 tips for building and sharing project reports
1. Draw essential data from a project to create accurate projections
You can use the power of data to plan with accuracy and ensure your project is on the right track from day one. With resource planning software, you can map out your project tasks against your available resources, set due dates for deliverables, and keep track of other relevant project information all in one place—before a project even kicks off! Managing expectations on deliverables in a shared project plan at the very beginning ensures everyone will be on the same page later on.
Let’s say that your agency is shooting a television commercial for a client. In the past, similar commercials have taken roughly 220 hours to create (factoring in casting, scriptwriting, and production). Using this model, you set a budget of $15,000, which is what you predict it will cost to get the project done. Once you assign tasks to your team, a quick look at a report in Float shows that unless you cut some hours from one of your departments, you'll be slightly over budget.
Example of a project budget report in Float
Instead of finding this out after the project has been completed, the project summary report shows you this information as it's happening. You’re then left with a number of different options to choose from: find a way to cut down on some hours in a department, shorten the commercial time, or go back to the client with a revised quote for the project.
2. Stay on top of your team's capacity and shift resources as needed
The best way to tackle problems and obstacles that arise on a project is to do so honestly and head-on. To get a realistic look at the overall health of a project, you must be willing to answer some key questions:
- Are there any roadblocks to completing deliverables by the scheduled deadlines?
- Are you operating at full capacity and efficiency? Is anyone on your team being over or under-worked?
- Do you need to adjust or reallocate your resources to deliver the projects in your pipeline?
These are all important issues that your team needs answers to—however, without a project report, it's hard to know where things stand. Let’s take a look at what shifting a project timeline and resources might look like at your agency.
Imagine your team has been busy putting together a website for a client's new product launch. Your client has contacted you to say that their timeline has shifted, and asked you to bring the launch of the site forward by two weeks. Using Float, your first step is to check your project pipeline over the next few weeks to see if you have the resource availability to deliver the website earlier.
Good news, the report shows that your team has the extra capacity to help make this happen for the client. You can then use Float's Shift Timeline feature to quickly move every task and milestone associated with the project to an earlier date.
Right click on your projects in Float to open the shortcut menu and shift project timelines with ease
In just a few clicks, your team's schedules have been rearranged, and, more importantly, your client will be happy with the early delivery of their project.
It’s hardly unusual for a client to request changes like these to a project, so the challenge for an agency is whether they’re able to make those requests a reality. Having access to project reports and real-time data is the most reliable way to determine whether your team has the capacity to adjust a project’s schedule and scope to fit the client’s needs.
3. Recap every project (and show off the results)
The fun part of project reporting is reviewing your results and showing off what your team has achieved. Has a project your agency worked on for months come in under budget? Were you able to shift your team around to help speed up a project delivery date and delight your client?
Once a project is completed, it’s important that everyone on your team gets a recap on what they hit out of the park, and what needs to improve for next time. Whether it's keeping a closer eye on your budget spend, managing team availability better, or ensuring everyone is on top of logging their actual hours taken to complete tasks, the project postmortem contains valuable insights that you won’t want to miss.
A recap should focus on key areas, like:
- What were the deliverables and did your team achieve them on time?
- How did your resource and time estimates stack up against reality?
- Did your team deliver the project on budget? Why/why not?
Reporting is crucial to recapping the overall success of a project. If any of your pre-project estimations don't measure up to what actually happened, you need to figure out why.
UK-based digital agency Impression employs a senior team of 12 designers, developers, and marketers, who are often juggling multiple client projects at a time. As with most agencies, every day is different, and so are the team’s priorities and workflows.
UK-based digital agency Impression
Managing director and founder, Charlie Hartley, says that resource management software solves the biggest challenge of running an agency—scheduling and managing your team’s time efficiently, which is why they use Float for their planning and time tracking.
“Over the years we’ve tried various methods to manage our agency work flow from SASS software to spreadsheets but it has always been a problem. Also, using a separate platform to track billable and non-billable time was problematic and didn’t deliver the accurate time and project data that we needed to track profitability and efficiency. We just needed a platform that would do everything from flexible scheduling, a simple process for employees to track time and powerful reporting, and for us, Float ticks all the boxes. The added benefits of the mobile app and Slack integration are also widely used across the agency.”
Project reports can help your team work smarter
No day is ever the same in the world of a creative agency; changing workflows, deadlines, and milestones are just part of the game.
With so many moving parts, it can be hard for project managers to know where their team is spending their time, and to predict if a project is going to keep to its budget. To make sure each project is delivered as planned, project managers need to literally see into the future—which is actually something they can do using project reports to predict and correct problems before they happen.
With today's project reporting tools, it's never been easier to see if a project is not hitting deadlines or is trending wildly over budget. With a quick check of a report, project managers can course-correct and get things back on the rails without losing their marbles.
Predicting potential roadblocks and solving problems early on helps your team work smarter and happier, and ensures that projects get delivered to your client’s on time and on budget—what’s not to like about that?
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