According to Ad Age, 2019 has proved to be the “weakest year for agency growth since the Great Recession.” And then things took a turn for the worse. 2020 has surprised digital agencies with many challenges and uncertainties. With that in mind, it perhaps comes as no surprise that companies set their hearts on increasing their profitability and delighting clients with successful projects.

One of the steps towards boosting your digital agency’s performance is to evaluate the way you plan and manage creative projects. Is your team struggling with accurately estimating their efforts? Are they notoriously going over budget or delivering projects late? Are your employees expressing their dissatisfaction? All of these signals can point to issues with your agency’s project management processes and tools. 

Granted, improving your team’s project management prowess may require you to hire great Project Managers and redesign different processes. However, you may also see some quick gains from implementing tools that support planning and managing creative projects. Every agency, especially those with a dispersed workforce, should have a strong project management stack—a set of apps that help them collaborate on and successfully launch projects.

In this blog post, we’ll outline different categories of tools you may want to include in your team’s project management stack. Once you know which areas could use some help, it’ll be easier to find particular software to meet your needs. But if you need a ready-made list of great apps for digital agencies, we’ve got you covered as well. 

What are the tools your agency needs to plan and deliver projects?

First things first: we tried to come up with project management areas that are familiar to most digital agencies. Of course, depending on the roles within your team and the type of projects you usually work on, you might find out that just a few of these categories of apps are useful for your agency. That’s fine! Pick the ones that could make your team’s work more efficient and effective, and enjoy the benefits of a project management stack tailored to your exact needs.

Project planning

Whatever is the nature of the projects your team delivers, you need some tools to make the necessary prep before you even kick the project off.

  • Project scheduling
    A project planning tool will help you organize project requirements, define the project’s scope, and plan the work schedule. Many PM apps allow you to visualize the plan for your project, for instance, in the form of a Gantt chart.
    Apps you might want to check out: go to a blog post where we evaluated 10 free project planning tools
  • Resource planning
    Do you need a resource planner when you already have a project planning tool? Yes, you do! Planning the scope and schedule of your project is one thing, but you also have to plan your team members’ work—effective resource allocation is crucial in project management.
    Apps you might want to check out: Teamdeck—our own resource management solution for creative teams.
workload management resource calendar

With a resource calendar like the one available in Teamdeck, you can plan a balanced workload for your employees

Everyday project management

What are the tools you might need after the project kick-off? Essentially, you should look for apps that help you run the project team’s day-to-day operations and move the project forward.

  • Task management
    It’s a tool where your team can manage their tasks (e.g., using a Kanban board). It’s a vital project management app, as you can easily track the progress of the project and spot potential bottlenecks.
    Apps you might want to check out: JIRA, Asana – they’re both much more than just task managers, but they have features that allow teams to update the status of their tasks.
project management stack

With Asana, you can visualize your project’s schedule and get a big picture of what your team needs to do.

  • Time tracking
    This app will be especially useful if your agency bills clients based on the hours spent on the project. Time trackers will help you calculate how much billable and non-billable time your employees log.
    Apps you might want to check out: Teamdeck, Toggl
  • Leave management
    Keeping track of your team’s absences and availability is much easier when you have a dedicated leave management app. You’ll have more control over your team’s vacation allowance and save a lot of time with digital time off requests.
    Apps you might want to check out: Teamdeck, CakeHR
  • Internal communication
    Whether your team works remotely or in an office, they need a tool that allows them to communicate effectively. Companies often use both chat-based and video communication apps.
    Apps you might want to check out: Slack, Google Meet
  • Client communication
    You and your project managers need a way to get in touch with the client. Some project management tools offer features that allow you to carry out and store client conversations within the app.
    Apps you might want to check out: Basecamp, Slack
basecamp - project management stack

Basecamp allows you to decide which messages your clients can see and which are only visible to the project team. 

  • File management
    From contract and statement of work to creative assets, your team needs a system for organizing and sharing project files.
    Apps you might want to check out: Dropbox, Google Drive

Delivering projects

This category is dedicated to the tools your team members use to work efficiently throughout the project lifecycle. The following tools might not be at the top of your mind when you think “project management stack”, but they help your project team manage their tasks and successfully deliver the project.successfully.

  • Brainstorming
    During the ideation phase of the project, and on later stages as well, your team will appreciate a tool they can use to seamlessly share their ideas with remote team members, clients, or other collaborators.
    Apps you might want to check out: Miro, Conceptboard
PM Stack

Miro acts as your team’s virtual whiteboard so that they can collaborate remotely with ease.

  • Creative collaboration
    There are plenty of apps that allow your team to work on creative assets in a more productive way: they simplify the feedback process, developer handoffs, and rapid prototyping.
    Apps you might want to check out: InVision, Figma

  • Code management
    These types of apps will be useful for digital agencies with their own IT teams. Imagine that your engineers work on their own chunks of code, yet they all must come together to create a flawless app for the client. Code management tools allow programmers to review each other’s code and plan smooth deployments.
    Apps you might want to check out: Bitbucket, GitHub

How to create an effective project management stack?

Chances are that, as you read through the previous sections, you made mental notes like “I need this type of tool and that one as well.” It’s great, but you have to realize that an effective agency toolbox needs to include apps that work great together. It’s crucial to consider how you can connect the tools your team members use. For instance, you can integrate your task manager with your team’s communication app and receive notifications about newly completed tasks straight to, say, a chosen Slack channel. Another idea would be to automatically pull your project names from the main PM app and use them for the resource planner or the time tracking tool. 

There are a couple of options for connecting apps:

  • Built-in integrations. Most apps come with some out-of-the-box integrations that allow you to connect different tools. 
  • APIs. API enables you to pull data from a given app and even build custom mini-apps and integrations. Note: you will likely need to get some engineering assistance.
  • Automation tools. Apps like Zapier or ITTT make it possible to build automated workflows, and you don’t even need to know how to code to start automating. 

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