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Agency Workflow Optimization: How To Go Beyond ClickUp To Transform Processes And Culture

Jakub "Kuba" Grajcar is the Content Marketing Manager at ZenPilot. His obsessions include interviewing smart people; productivity methods; project management; and playing bass in a progressive metal band.

The other day I was chatting with Maggie, one of our Client Coaches at ZenPilot, and she dropped an analogy that made me pause.

We were talking about why agencies turn to us in the first place, and she compared it to this:

“It’s like when you’re trying to do some home improvement and install a new light in your kitchen. But for some reason, the light switch doesn’t work. So you call an electrician, thinking it’s a quick fix.

But when they arrive and examine the light, they reveal – ‘Yeah, that’s a problem, but it’s not your light switch. It’s the fact you have old, faulty wiring that needs redoing throughout your entire house. If we don’t address this, you’ll start losing all your lights, and it’s a potential hazard.’

So it’s not about just fixing that one light fixture. It’s about uncovering foundation issues and redoing your electrical setup completely. Then not only does that one light work better, but you can install energy-efficient lighting in your whole house that will save you money. But first, we have to put in the work of ripping out walls to get to the root problems.”

I sat back in my chair. Maggie had just summed up in vivid color something I had observed time and time again with agencies turning to us.

They come to us thinking it’s a surface-level project management problem. But when we diagnose deeper, it turns out to be faulty workflows and processes under the hood that require a full overhaul.

Not just a new light fixture. Rewiring the entire house.

As we continued chatting, I realized Maggie’s analogy captured so much about the unique approach ZenPilot takes with agencies. It’s never just about setting up ClickUp or any tool. It’s about transforming workflows, processes, and even agency culture on a foundation level.

I wanted to unravel this topic further with Maggie and share some insights we could pull from it. So I decided to have her on our new Zenpilot Live show.

If you’re an agency looking to get more out of your PM tool than just a basic setup, or move your team into 21st century workflows, this conversation provides an inside look at how we make that possible.


Keep reading for Maggie’s wisdom.

Who Will Benefit From Maggie's Tips?

I started by asking Maggie – who can get the most value from listening to this talk? Her response:

“It’s twofold – both agency decision makers and end users. Decision makers will hear the type of conversations we have during implementation, so they know what to expect.

But it’s just as important for end users who weren’t part of the initial decision. Oftentimes, the decision maker goes through the blueprint process first. Then they pass implementation to a team who wasn’t involved in that early strategic work.

So end users will benefit from understanding what the implementation entails, both workload and the change management required. They’ll also get insight into problems to evaluate before baking anything new into their PM tool.”

The key takeaway? If you’re both making decisions about PM overhauls or involved in carrying them out, tuning into this will provide valuable perspective.

Next, we got into...

What Are the Surface-Level Symptoms That Lead Agencies to Us?

I asked Maggie about some of the “symptoms” that prompt agencies to start looking at solutions like ours. She highlighted a few common ones:

“We’ve heard from people who spend 40% of their week just trying to locate assets or information to do their jobs. That’s horrific!

Another symptom is upset clients when teams drop balls or miss deadlines due to lack of process.

There’s also general lack of visibility. Agencies know work is getting done, but have no idea how much time it takes. They can’t tell if they’re charging clients appropriately.”

I summed this up as essentially a “visibility problem” – agencies aren’t seeing what’s happening, how long things take, and what balls are being dropped.

Our viewer Sasha added this symptom as well:

“Team members not using the system that's being set up, and still complaining about the system.”

Which transitions nicely into the next topic...

What’s the Biggest Hurdle in Changing Team Habits?

Since we’re on the topic of getting team members to actually use new systems, I asked Maggie to delve into what the biggest obstacle and solution is there. She explained:

“Without guidance, agencies often just end up baking in the problems and symptoms into their new PM tool instead of actually solving them.

When you DIY, you get so focused on technical setup that you don’t take time to identify core issues. So you perpetuate the same problems in a new form.

As a client coach, it’s my job to hold up a mirror during implementation and say ‘You’re actually replicating the issues you wanted to solve here.’ Without that external feedback, many DIYers create another vicious cycle of inefficiency.”

Her advice if you’re going the DIY route?

“You need to spend at least 4 hours per week customizing your PM tool properly. Otherwise it will take you over a year to set it up, by which point things will have changed.”

Read: The 6 Most Important Steps To Effective Agency Change Management

But even more important is addressing team habits and accountability. More on that soon.

First though, a key technical point...


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What’s the Key to a Good Process Template?

Since we’re already talking tools and technical setup, I wanted to go a level deeper into that.

I asked Maggie to reveal what the secret sauce is for configuring process templates effectively in ClickUp (or any tool). Here’s the insider insight she gave:

“The most critical part is the custom fields you require for each subtask.

For example, when you build your ‘Email Campaign’ template, each subtask should have fields like: Task Type, Work Category, Team, Account Manager, Client, Due Date, Time Estimate.

With this info baked into every subtask, team members get all the context they need to complete each step every day, without having to look elsewhere.”

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The key is having custom fields on subtasks that provide all the necessary context in one place. This is crucial for visibility.

And that leads to an important mindset note...

How High Should You Set the Standard for a Streamlined PM Setup?

The custom subtask fields Maggie mentioned enable you to create a PM setup where team members aren’t left guessing.

I highlighted that as the key standard agencies should aim for. In my own words:

“With the right setup, you can get to a point where when you ask yourself ‘Did I forget anything?’ the answer is always ‘No.’ All tasks and context are documented.

It takes work to get there. But that's the vision you should strive for – having the peace of mind that it's all in the system.”

Of course, this level of streamlining doesn't happen overnight. It requires evolving workflows, processes, and team habits.

Read: The Best ClickUp Hierarchy For Agencies

Which leads me to the next question for Maggie...

How Does Changing Team Habits Unfold During Implementation?

Earlier Maggie touched on why changing team habits is such a hurdle. I wanted to go deeper into what the process of overcoming that actually looks like.

Here’s what she outlined:

“You have to position this PM overhaul as a benefit to end users by showing how it will reduce their stress and make their jobs easier.

For example, you could explain it this way:

'We know at the end of each day, you feel stressed when things go wrong. The changes we'll make are going to prevent that stress by improving workflows.' Being able to show them that light at the end of the stressful tunnel will encourage buy-in.

But you can’t just talk at team members. You have to listen and provide solutions. Ask them how they want their ideal weekly workflow to look. Use that to configure the PM tool to solve their pains.”

Notice the emphasis on listening, empathizing, and positioning it as a benefit to users. The key is realizing this is essentially an internal marketing project.

To make change work, you have to appeal to team members and show “what’s in it for them.”

Now I’ll switch gears to some tactical insights from Maggie’s experience...

How Much Can You Standardize Implementations?

One of the things that originally intrigued me about ZenPilot was that the role was called “Client Coach.” That was new to me.

I assumed that meant some sort of standardized coaching process.

So I asked Maggie how much they’re actually able to standardize across different agencies:

“We’ve tried to standardize as much as possible, with set agendas for each week. But in reality, there is so much customization for each client, it’s impossible to have a cookie cutter approach.

Almost every week, something new comes up with a client that demands a unique solution. It all depends on how that agency works specifically and the problems they face.”

The takeaway - while structure and best practices are important, you also need to remain flexible. Each agency has a unique culture and ways of working. Target your solutions specifically to them.

Now, let’s get into a real-world example...

What’s an Example of a Complex Custom Solution You Created?

Since every agency is so different, I asked Maggie to share a story about a time they had to get creative in solving a complex or unusual problem.

She told me about one of their clients based in NYC that did huge photo and video campaigns for luxury brands. Here’s how she described the custom solution:

“We created a studio and talent manager inside their ClickUp. Every piece of a photo shoot was tracked - models, photographers, editors, videographers, caterers, locations. All the human elements.

There was a massive integration of financial and scheduling information to match models, studio availability, budgets. It was incredibly complex, but also highly usable.

The key was having their main point person completely bought in. She invested her own time to learn it deeply. Now it’s one of our crowning template achievements.”

The story highlights a few key points:

  • With the right partnership, you can create highly custom solutions in ClickUp suited to your exact business needs.
  • But complexity requires simplicity on the user end. That comes down to clean design.
  • Another essential ingredient is having a champion on the agency side who’s dedicated to learning and adopting the new solution.

The more complex the problem, the more critical buy-in becomes.

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I decided to probe deeper into something that caught my attention here.

How Do You Go Beyond Tasks to Manage Talent and People in ClickUp?

I asked Maggie to answer a common ClickUp misconception that goes something like this:

“But wait, you're talking about managing models and studios - I thought ClickUp was just for tasks?”

Maggie had the perfect response:

“With the ZenPilot framework applied to ClickUp, you can solve almost any problem agencies face - whether a tax firm, library, or a NYC photo studio.

Yes, the base unit in ClickUp is a task. But there’s so much more you can do with the right setup. I've yet to come across any business you can't run in ClickUp. It's incredibly flexible despite being a task management platform on the surface.”

So don’t think you’re limited to basic task management. As Maggie said, she has yet to see a business that can’t be run on ClickUp once configured correctly.

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Key Takeaways for Streamlining Your Agency

Before wrapping up this post, I want to highlight a few key takeaways from my conversation with Maggie:

First - Think beyond surface-level when assessing your agency's PM problems. There may be underlying process and workflow issues that require "rewiring" your operations.

Second - Changing team habits and mindsets is crucial. Workflows don't run themselves. Position any PM overhaul as a direct benefit to employees by making their work lives easier.

Third - Customization will be key. There's no one-size-fits-all solution. Keep adapting to your agency's needs, evolving as you go.

Fourth - Make sure you have dedicated champions who take ownership of learning and adopting new solutions. Especially for complex workflows.

Fifth - Set the standard of "everything being in the system" as your North Star. It takes work to get there, but that should be your goal.

And finally - ClickUp is incredibly flexible if set up properly. Let your workflows and needs dictate the solution - not the other way around.

Hopefully this gives you fresh perspective.

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