What are the most common issues agencies run into?
Next, we dove into the specifics of the most frequent problems agencies bring to Kevin. He categorized them into a few pillars:
Lack of visibility
By far the number one complaint is not having visibility into work and progress. This lack of visibility spans all levels:
- Individuals can't easily see their own tasks without jumping between systems.
- Teams lack overview of all clients, projects, and deliverables.
- Leadership is missing the metrics needed to steer the business, like utilization and profitability.
As Kevin said, this issue arises even when agencies are using project management software. The tools are there but aren't configured properly to surface the right insights.
Another common frustration is delivery failures caused by poor communication and handoffs between teams. Without visibility into all clients in one place, things slip through the cracks.
Too much time spent in meetings
Excessive meetings and conversations are required just to sync up on where things stand. People waste time trying to figure out status rather than doing actual work.
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What are some less common pain points?
We then moved on to discuss some of the less universal but still significant challenges agencies may contend with:
Complex team structures
Larger agencies with multiple offices and extensive departments deal with complex cross-team communication and handoffs. Making sure the client experience remains seamless across handoffs is tricky.
While common integrations like Slack and QuickBooks are fairly straightforward, some agencies require more complex integrations and customizations. Usually, solutions exist but it takes expertise to implement them properly.
Distributed teams in different time zones struggle to collaborate effectively. Remote agencies have unique needs around scheduling, out-of-office management, and more.
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Where do most issues originate?
Given ZenPilot's three-pillar framework of tools, processes, and habits (part of our 1-3-5 Formula), I asked Kevin which area is typically the root of agencies' project management woes.
He emphasized that habits and behavior are often the weakest link. Even with the right tools and well-documented processes, lack of user adoption will sink an agency's productivity.
Appointing a dedicated champion to train team members and enforce adherence is critical. Without establishing the right habits across the team, project management success will be short-lived.
Real agency stories that reinforce the need for PM solutions
Throughout our discussion, Kevin shared insightful anecdotes from real agency owners that hammered home the importance of buttoned-up project management:
Medical emergency shows risk of founder dependence
One agency owner recently had an unexpected medical emergency that forced him to step away from the business for two weeks.
Without processes and visibility in place, the team floundered in his absence.
The crisis validated how urgent and necessary it was to distribute knowledge and standardize workflows across the organization. Relying on tribal knowledge creates a single point of failure.
PM dysfunction blocking revenue growth
At another agency, the operations team pleaded with the owner to invest in better systems because inadequate project management was actively preventing growth. With their current messy processes, they couldn't take on more clients without delivery failures.
In such cases, the ROI calculation of investing in project management becomes super simple: if you can spend $5k USD to be able to take on $10k worth of clients, making that transformation should be your top priority.
What quick wins can agencies implement?
For agencies not yet ready to undertake a full project management overhaul, Kevin suggested a few high-impact quick wins:
- Catalog all existing processes in one place, even if it's just a document for now. Identify any gaps.
- Note down any workflows you regularly follow that aren't documented yet.
- Start documenting the steps for frequent processes.
As Kevin wisely stated, "Rome wasn't built in a day." Just creating basic process documentation is a great start toward building sustainable habits over time.
Why bring in experts like ZenPilot?
I asked Kevin why agencies choose to bring in ZenPilot or other consultants instead of tackling project management solo. He highlighted two major reasons:
- Lack of time and accountability. Initiatives stall without the pressure of fixed consulting deadlines.
- Avoiding reinvention. Consultants have already done the meticulous work of figuring out what actually works.
The expertise ZenPilot has gleaned from nearly 3,000 agency engagements is hard to replicate. Agencies get to skip past the guesswork and experimentation stage.
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Key takeaways for agency operators
Here are a few of Kevin's top pieces of advice for agency owners and operators looking to level up their project management:
- View improvements as investments, not costs. Calculate the tangible ROI you'll gain from increased efficiency - it's often many multiples of the investment.
- Prioritize employee happiness. Smooth operations and clear visibility make team members' work lives easier. Retention and morale dramatically improve.
- Don't wait until the pain is unbearable. Be proactive now before faulty systems start costing you clients and team members.
- Get an outside perspective. Talk to experts who deal with agencies' PM struggles daily. Just airing out your problems can have therapeutic value!
- Take action! Don't let analysis paralysis prevent you from making positive changes. Start with quick wins today.
I'd like to thank Kevin for taking the time to share his hard-won lessons from working with so many agencies. If you take just one insight away from this post, hopefully it provides a spark to start optimizing your agency's project management. Don't hesitate to reach out if you need an expert navigating this journey!