It’s 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, but the paperwork is piling up on your desk and incoming emails are creating a to-do list that will be longer than your arm by Monday. To make matters more complicated, you aren’t sure how to properly distribute this workload among your team. Who is too busy? Who isn’t?
If you’re in the above situation, I feel for you. I have been there many times, and would probably still be doing mental cartwheels if my agency hadn’t adopted workload management software. I’d even go so far as to say that for project managers, workload management tools are the greatest asset since strong coffee. Maybe even better.
An overwhelming workload has been identified as one of the top reasons why employee performance goes down, and when your entire team is struggling to cope, you can imagine the outcome. As the project manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that everyone stays on top of their workload. When they do, the team succeeds.
I’ve been doing project management for a long time, so I’m aware that pressures can build up in the workplace. For example:
Since it’s impossible to prevent these pressures, let workload management software help you and your team deal with them in a more efficient manner.
Workload management systems are tools that enable you to strategically distribute a project workload across your team according to each person’s skill, ability, and availability. The goal is to give everyone tasks that they know how to accomplish and can reasonably be expected to complete within the allotted time frame.
In the not too distant past, project managers relied on dynamic spreadsheets to help them manage team workloads. They did the trick when everyone worked in the same office and updating the sheet was a (comparatively) simple matter of sending an email request for updates from everyone, but then remote teams came along and browser-based workload management tools made more sense. Now you have a lot of them to choose from, every one of them designed to help you stay on track when deadlines change, more work is piled on, or the project takes an unexpected detour.
Digital resource management tools have come a long way since we relied on Excel for nearly all of our project planning and tracking needs. The software brands below are used by in-house and remote teams across the globe, enabling better communication, collaboration, and workload allocation than ever before.
Teamweek is a beautiful, web-based project management tool with powerful workload planning capabilities. You can create color-coded Gantt charts to serve as project timelines and maintain an accurate overview of every team member’s responsibilities, even if they are engaged on multiple projects. You will be able to tell when their plate is getting too full and who has the availability to help them with the workload.
Other features include:
Teamweek users include Buzzfeed, Spotify, and National Geographic, which indicates that it’s powerful enough to meet the workload management needs of mega-companies as well as small to mid-sized businesses. We use it at my agency, and refer to the TBT (time before Teamweek) as the ‘Dark Ages.’
The free version can be used with up to five team members, but if you expand, the price is a very reasonable $35 a month for up to 10 team members.
Although Teamweek is my workload management tool of choice, I’ve used Trello as well and love its presentation. I’m one of those people who used to litter their computer monitor with sticky note reminders, and Trello looks like one big virtual sticky note collection.
When I worked at another agency, we used it to manage our software and app development projects. We had separate Trello boards for WIPs, completed milestones, and backlogged items that required extra focus. Like Teamweek, you can click onto an item like a card and start typing, and then click and drag the completed card in the required position. It’s super easy to define a top level project and then layer in a hierarchy of task cards necessary to achieve it.
Other features include:
The free version is rich with powerful features, but if you want to go a step further, Trello Business is only $9.99 a month and lets you customize your backgrounds, use premium stickers, attach files up to 250MB in size, and apply an observer’s security setting that limits a user’s interactions on a board. There is also an Enterprise plan designed for larger companies that have to manage projects across multiple teams: pricing 2019 starts at $20.83 per user for 100 users.
I only worked with two clients who insisted on using Asana as a project platform, and found it simple to set up and use. Like all project management tools, you use it to create projects, divide them into tasks and subtasks, and spread the workload across your team. Everyone can see both their tasks and the bigger picture, which makes it easier to detect imminent bottlenecks and backlogs.
If you prefer to use a timeline and need to see task dependencies, you can upgrade to the Premium or Business plan, which are $9.99 and $19.99 per user per month and, depending on the plan you go with, also have access to custom templates, milestones, portfolios, and workload settings (Business plan only). If you have a team of 30 or more, you also get a customer success manager, who can help you create your projects and get the most out of them.
I have colleagues who swear by Wrike and won’t use anything else. They’re in good company: Wrike is a project and workload management tool used by tech giants like PayPal and HTC. It has a spreadsheet view, so if you’re abandoning Excel for a more robust workflow management tool, this might be the one for you.
The free version of Wrike, which is available for teams of up to five people, includes the following features:
The Professional version starts at $9.80 per user per month and provides you with access to Gantt chart timelines that support better workflow management, advanced integrations, shareable dashboards, and 5GB storage. Bigger companies might be better served with the Business plan, which costs $24.80 per user per month and includes some stronger workload management tools, like real-time reports, time tracking, and custom fields and workflows. If you work at a creative agency, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a Marketers package with access to Adobe Creative Cloud and a tailored workspace
When you have the right team workload management system for your environment, the work gets done while the team remains balanced and positive. Matching tasks to skill sets and creating achievable goals will keep your team members happy and motivated, and the ability to oversee individual availability ensure that work is evenly divided and no one is left with more than they can handle. You will wonder what you did without it (and try not to remember!)