Managing for Success

Six Kick-Ass Ways to Do More Than Just Traffic
By David C. Baker

It's odd how something as potentially boring as "traffic" can mean so much to a firm like yours. But if you spend 15-20% of all the energy at your firm doing the right things, you'll probably be billing for 60% of all your time, and then you'll be making good money. But the one doesn't happen without the other.

Let me suggest one small change, though: that we call it resourcing instead of traffic. Traffic means something very specific, but it's a small part of doing a really good job of managing projects effectively. Here are the five buckets of activity that make up resourcing, including traffic:

  1. Project Status. In one place, you can get a current snapshot of all the deadlines, budgets, milestones, and workflow in progress. Think of it like a control tower at an airport. This is where you are monitoring calendar against deadlines and hourly time against budgets. Often people will use the traffic word for this bucket.
  2. Capacity Projection. Matching the capacity you have available (inside employees) with the work in the pipeline, you can see when you might need to reach out to contractors, reschedule something, adjust a promise, put a bug in ear of the sales folks, etc.
  3. Pricing. Comparing actual to estimated time for similar projects, you take what you know from the past and add what you know about this unique project and arrive at an estimate within, say, 4% of the actual time spent.
  4. Purchasing. Managing the process of buying products (like printing) and services (like a copywriter) in order to get the work done.
  5. Quality Control. No, the folks in resourcing don't need to personally check everything themselves, but they should ensure that the client doesn't unwittingly become your quality control department. This ranges from typos to trying to break a new website you've just finished.

All of that isn't a job description, though, but a function description. In other words, everyone doing resourcing would be working somewhere in one or more of those buckets, but the larger your firm, the more people doing resourcing...and the smarter it is to use their strengths in different buckets. When you add all that activity up together, it should represent 15-20% of all the energy at your firm. That probably seems high, to you, but that's because you may not think of it as billable. It is, though, and clients will notice deficiencies in resourcing long before they recognize them in the quality of the work itself! Think of this resourcing (including traffic) as roughly 60% billable.

So how do the smartest firms in the world understand resourcing? I'm going to call these the Six Critical Concepts to Kick-Ass Resourcing:

  1. The single Purpose of Timekeeping. They understand that timekeeping is primarily about one thing only, and that's to improve the next estimate. It is not about beating people over the head about this job, but pricing the next job appropriately.
  2. How Software is Essential. The big communication problem around information is best solved with a software hub that gathers the information and then a traffic (or project status) person who meets with each person on the team for five minutes or so, but does it three times every day. "Hey, John. I know you're still working on the Radnit project but you still need the final specs. I'll have those for you by 1:00 this afternoon. How is it going? Do you still think you can finish it by 4:00? Any problems that are cropping up that I need to account for so that they don't ripple downstream? Here's what Lisa wants you to work on tomorrow morning, by the way. Oh, and we have this new project from Liverwant that will involve a new UI treatment for the CTA page. Can you look at this transcript of our call with the client and then give me some idea of how long it might take to craft this solution? Keep in mind that they always seem to like several rounds of changes. Thanks."
  3. Helping Account People Make Better Promises. The folks who are interacting with your clients need some specific training, and it's good to reward them when all promises they make are delayed, centralized, and remote. So here's how their conversation with a client might unfold. "Got it. I need to check with our resourcing department before I make a promise that we can't keep, but I'll do that as soon as I get back and I'll get you some very specific answers about this, including whether it might impact the cost or timing. I'll give you a call by 3:00 this afternoon."
  4. Account Managers Can't Be Trusted With Money. The people setting the pricing shouldn't be the same ones who are responsible for the client relationships. No, setting prices requires a different objectivity, rationale, and data mindset, and that process should not be unduly influenced by a desire to get the client to say yes. Our goal isn't to stay busy or to bill a bunch of work. Our goal is to make money. And setting a price 15% too low means you're giving away 100% of the expected profit.
  5. Making Money Without Timesheets. Timekeeping is the most important thing, and it's also the least important thing. What I mean is that until you get it right, everyone needs to do it religiously, every day, before they leave. But once you've fixed any utilization or pricing issues, you only need timekeeping for secondary purposes: progress billing, spot-checking a new service offering, seeing how a new employee is doing, etc. You'll hear a lot of condescension around the process of having to keep your time, and I agree with all of that, but only after you aren't leaving money on the table. Less than 10% of the firms out there are actually covering their time, and so 90% of us need to pay attention to it.
  6. How Digital is Different. Traffic and resourcing is very different in the digital/interactive world, for these reasons: Digital requires 1.5x more project management; project management for digital is front-end loaded in that it is not evenly spaced out as the project unfolds; and on digital projects, the client wants more direct contact with project managers than they would for other projects.

How does that sound? Let's get excited about this stuff. Nobody notices an air traffic controller until they go on a break without leaving a replacement, so if you do your job right no one will notice. Just another little tidbit to get you excited about a very important - but often neglected - function of a well-run agency.

This article has been written by David C. Baker of ReCourses, Inc. ReCourses, Inc. is the leading management consulting firm that works exclusively with small service providers in the marketing industry. For more information, please visit