7 Ways to WIP your Agency Into Shape
by FunctionFox President, Corina Ludwig

Do you manage the creative work in a small creative agency? Getting the work done on time and on budget, juggling projects and meeting tough deadlines with your creative team and trusted vendors is no small feat. As you know, it's a daily Work in Progress (WIP). Here are 7 ways to ensure your 'Work in Progress' and agency will succeed.

  1. Hire a skilled traffic manager
    One of the most important - and often least respected - members of a successful agency, is the traffic manager (or other workload facilitator). If that's your role in your agency - own it! Keeping track of every job in the shop, managing budgets, workbacks and stress levels, and ensuring that all deadlines and expectations are met is not an easy job, but it is an essential one. A skilled workload facilitator can make the difference between utter chaos and calm, efficient productivity. If you don't have one person who's in the know on all jobs - get one!

  2. Have regular traffic meetings
    Whether it's a Monday morning WIP meeting, a daily traffic meeting or an informal time when the team touches base, regular meetings that let everyone know who's doing what are one of the most effective ways to understand workloads, keep projects on track and manage high volumes of work efficiently. Keep traffic meetings short and to the point, cover all current work and look forward to coming weeks where possible. Best agencies give accountability for traffic meetings to their account executives - making 'suits' responsible for updating job status and online to-do lists.

  3. Be in the know
    Always know where a job is at BEFORE anyone asks. Give your clients and internal staff status updates about each job along the way and BEFORE it's due. Be in the loop ALWAYS. Jump into meetings that someone "forgot" to invite you into or that you have a 'need to know' about.

  4. Be more than organized
    I'm not just talking about colored file folders and a neat desk. Know what is due at all times and use an online system to keep everything on track. Reference historical data so you can provide accurate estimates based on real time and costs. Check your lists so you don't let anything fall through the cracks. Know your priorities and frequently update your to-do lists and prioritize them (must do, should do, can wait till tomorrow) then stick to your priorities. Make it your goal to see how many things you can get done in a day, and if you feel like you're falling behind, work smarter, not longer.

  5. Under promise and over deliver
    Tell the client you'll have it on the 8th. Then assign the due date of the 6th to creative. Then if creative is going to be late, you can bump the date and you look like the hero to the creative department, and if you deliver on the 7th, the client will be happy too, because you delivered ahead of schedule. Note - this may not always work or be appropriate - use your best judgment and use this strategy in situations where it works best (with external rather than internal clients, when there is enough wiggle room in the schedule, etc).

  6. Learn to say NO
    Creatives thrive on great projects with reasonable deadlines. While most can handle many deadlines and multi-task between clients, stress overload is a creativity killer. Be realistic about deadlines and honest about where a job is at. A traffic manager knows better than anyone, how long it will really take to complete the work, regardless of any deadline negotiated between a client and suit, so it is important that they are involved when estimates and schedules are being developed. Know your team's strengths and habits. Know how to use your resources and how to move work around to achieve the best results while keeping everyone working productively.

  7. Give thanks
    Don't forget your printers and vendors. After each great job thank these important members of the team, and pass on positive comments from your client, letting them know how happy you were that they delivered on time. It is surprising how rare this small courtesy is - and what a big a difference it makes. Once you've built this kind of solid relationship, it's easier to make the call when a job goes sour. Because they know you recognize their effort on your behalf, they may be more open to a discussion about reprints or discounts. When a designer or creative person gets something done ahead of time, or does a great job, send an email or note to them thanking them and "cc" their boss. If people know you appreciate their work, they will work towards that standard more often. Even if this is technically not your job, everyone likes to hear praise - especially from someone who knows the work as well as you do.

    As a manager in a small agency, you're the central hub and primary resource person; the one that it all falls to at the end of the day. It's up to you to build success. Recognize that each day is an opportunity to 'WIP' your agency into shape.

This article has been written by FunctionFox President, Corina Ludwig. For more articles and resources, see

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