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The problem with agency project management software

Article originally published in March 2023 by Stuart Brameld. Most recent update in August 2023.

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If you run an agency of some sort – marketing agency, web agency, creative agency, digital agency, growth agency – you have likely considered using an agency project management tool.

By far the most popular tools are:

But … and it’s a big but …. it’s possible you shouldn’t be using any of them.

The problem with agency project management tools

The problem with standard agency project management tools is they, almost entirely, focus on outputs over outputs.

If you charge clients almost solely for deliverables (outputs) they are exactly what you need, but if the goal is to help your clients grow (outcomes), many of these tools are likely to be more of a hindrance than a help.

The requirements of a marketing agency focused on outcomes (such as creative and dev agencies) compared with an agency focused on growth (such growth marketing and experimentation agencies) are vastly different.

FeatureDeliverable focused agencyGrowth focused agency
Assign to-do tasks
Build interactive gantt charts
Track time & project hours
Customise project templates
Building approval processes
Create roadmaps and plans
Communicate with clients

Agency project management tools for deliverables

Standard agency project management tools aren’t all bad, and there are some good use-cases. If you follow a more waterfall methodology to project delivery where project outcomes are predictable, more standardised project management tools can be a great fit for your business.

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Standard waterfall project management tools work best when:

  1. There is a clear plan, with certainty around the problem and the solution
  2. Projects are predictable and recur frequently
  3. There is a task-based, linear approach to project delivery

Traditional waterfall planning tools cater for things like scope creep with features such as interactive gannt charts, roadblock planning and tracking scope changes, however adopting a more agile approach typically negates scope creep entirely.

Agency project management tools for growth

The feature set for growth-focused agencies vary quite considerably, particularly for those that adopt a more agile approach, such as Bright Innovation in the UK.

Our recommended feature set for growth marketing agencies is as follows:

  1. Goal tracking
  2. Customer dashboards
  3. Idea repository
  4. Idea scoring
  5. Agile experimentation
  6. Custom reporting
  7. Sharing and collaboration
  8. Pre-built growth templates
  9. Enforced best practises

We discussed this further in our marketing project management software review and our article on the rise of the growth marketing platform.

Final thoughts

As we have said before, the biggest problem with the traditional agency project management software is that it is easy to quickly fall into the output versus outcome trap.

“Work” quickly becomes focused on creating and assigning tasks, responding to notifications, joining team calls, communicating status updates and discussing the next sprint cycle. Before you know it, high impact work gets replaced with work about work, and goals start shifting towards outputs as opposed to outcomes – because they’re easier to measure.

Got questions? Ping me on LinkedIn or on Twitter.

Agency project management software

We have a provided a list of project management tools below based on your requirement.

General project management tools

General purpose project management tools, not marketing or agency specific.

Marketing project management tools

General purposes marketing project management tools, good for agencies focused on client deliverables.

Growth project management tools

Outcome focused project management tools for agencies and teams focused specifically on delivering results.