If there’s one thing project managers have learned during long years of running projects, it’s this — productivity suffers without proper workload management. But when it comes to practice, there are still many challenges associated with it.
Stress, dissatisfaction, and inefficiency are the three most common work-related problems reported by employees as a result of improperly spaced out workloads. This list, despite being incomplete, is already enough to start talking about improving workload management. So what is workload management exactly, why is it so important, and how do you play it to enhance your team productivity? Find answers to these questions and more in our guide below.
- What is workload management, exactly?
- Why is workload management important?
- 20+ tips for effective workload management
What is workload management, exactly?
Workload management is defined as the process of distributing work among your team members, while tracking their utilization and performance, measuring individual KPIs, and leaving employees with tasks they have skills to do. Workload management is also what we call the ability to distribute work equally, giving each employee their fair share and no more. Unless there is a special case that requires more work, you should not overload anyone. Even if your intentions are good, at some point it may become detrimental and affect team performance.
As companies try to elevate their efficiency, sometimes they forget that workload management is not just about hours and tasks. For one, it's important to point out the difference between workload management and time management. Workload management is a strategic approach to planning, estimating, and tracking the work that enables you to balance workload demands for individuals and groups across the organization and meet the schedule commitments made to customers.
At the same time, projects don't just need enough resources, they need enough of the right resources. Sounds a tad utopian, doesn’t it? Even if it does, there is a way to do intelligent workload management, and here is why you really need to get down to business with this one.
Why is workload management important?
Effective team workload management is crucial for overall project performance and business success. Also, consider how influential it is when it comes to job satisfaction rates, productivity and overworking, turnover rates, stress levels, and burnout risks in your employees. In fact, a recent study by Gallup found that as many as two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout at work. With that in mind, developing a solid workload management plan is something everyone could benefit from.
It will ensure the teams remain on task and the work that needs doing gets done as soon as possible. There are many elements to consider when making sure your workload management plan is fully formed.
Tips for effective workload management
Managing workload is no walk in the park. There’s nothing more challenging than balancing projects, tasks, deadlines, and skills. It becomes overwhelming in no time at all. If you want to master this art, you need some guidance on how to do it effectively. Using a range of methods below to accomplish goals is the best way to go about workload management.
1. Take time for planning
Always make sure you look before you leap. Taking the time to plan tasks and projects is paramount both in personal and professional settings. No matter what you’re planning, it gives you the ability to step back and focus on what’s important. Setting an estimate for each task, defining the start and end date, naming your tasks, giving them proper descriptions, putting them under a specific milestone. There are multiple ways you could do the ritual and foster the culture of planning, and all of them are worth it, as only then you can build project timelines, track progress, and register time.
Read more: Why Project Planning Is Important
2. Get to know your resource availability
To make the most of people’s time and talents, it is important to have full visibility of resource allocations to projects and tasks. This becomes more difficult if you have several ongoing projects at the same time. If yours is a portfolio of resources larger than 10 people, assigned to multiple projects, then it's high time to get a simple but efficient resource management tool.
Forecast.app's Resource Schedule that provides visibility into everyone's workload
Once you have a clear picture of resource availability, you can now plan and allocate the project tasks in advance. You need to be aware of whether someone is going to be away during the project and whether there are any other constraints. If you find out that a key resource will be unavailable when you actually need him/her, then it is better to delegate the task to another colleague.
3. Estimate tasks and set achievable deadlines
Doing task estimation will help you and your team plan the project intelligently and set deadlines everyone can meet. After all, everyone has their own pace when working and it’s crucial to learn how long specific tasks will take them to complete. With realistic deadlines at hand, no project will be hanging by the thread as you’ll have more visibility and control over your team’s workflow, making sure not to overload or underload any member of the team.
4. Allocate tasks fairly and evenly
‘Many hands make light work’ doesn’t always work in resource management. On the contrary, if the project is fueled by poor planning and people are not sure what they need to do and why, many hands can get you into a mess with some team members left on standby. If you have a team working on dozens of projects, then the ability to adjust tasks on a daily or weekly basis can make a big difference in productivity.
Team workload management requires that project management professionals delegate work well and give out tasks in accordance with team members’ capacity, strengths, capabilities, position, and function at the company. The resource leveling technique can be of great use in this, helping you optimize resources by finding the golden middle between overbooking and spreading them too thin.
New to resource management? Check the complete guide here:
5. Split tasks into subtasks & make to-do lists
Breaking each project into chunks helps to crystalize the project plan and everyone’s expectations with it. The more detailed you get on timing, budgeting, and tasks, the easier it will be to predict what can go wrong with the project and how you can make it work better for the team. When you split your tasks into subtasks it will be easier to manage your workflow in case you need to reschedule something or have some part of task execution start earlier.
Let’s face it, there is also some pleasure in checking the boxes next to the tasks you or your team have successfully completed. Coming up with to-do lists is one of the most popular workload management tips and for good reasons. Here’s an interesting fact: a to-do list can reduce anxiety and chaos-related stress by bringing some order into your workflow and tricking your brain into thinking the task has already been completed. With that worry set aside, it’s easier to prioritize and focus on the most important aspects of the project.
6. Plan your capacity
Overwhelmed employees are counterproductive. Timely workload distribution management will help you spot every time more hands are needed on the project. It is essential that everyone in the team gets to keep that work-life balance instead of spending every day buried in tasks and ticket requests.
Not so long ago, Harvard Business Review conducted a study to see whether workers are good at maintaining boundaries. Turns out they aren’t: supervisors sometimes send them emails outside office hours and they feel compelled to answer those, even if they are not urgent. Still wondering where that burnout shoe pinches?
7. Draw task dependencies
Many project managers find that managing a project is similar to setting a puzzle because the project manager has to see all of the pieces (tasks) and set them in their best possible order in order to get the best results.
That is to say, neither individuals, nor puzzles can stand in isolation. All the tasks we do are co-dependent and linked to other tasks. It will happen that sometimes some employees will get stuck because they're dependent on other tasks being finished. By setting dependencies, it's easier to spot blockers that may be chipping away time from your project schedule.
8. Measure utilization rates
Workload management plans don't always become a reality. That's why it's equally important to monitor your utilization in real time. Resource utilization, a productivity measurement metric, can also shed some light on the effectiveness of your workload management processs. With utilization rates, you can spot if the team is spending time productively and if their work is actually in demand.
Billable utilization, for example, measures how much of your team’s time is spent on client work as a percentage. It’s a simple but powerful indicator of how operationally efficient the business is. The ideal utilization rate is set at around 80%, as the other 20% is consumed by meetings and other non-billable responsibilities. To cut a long story short, utilization rates help with resource management, specifically forecasting demand and uncovering various trends.
Forecast's Utilization report has everything you need to track your employee's productivity. From billable and non-billable utilization rates, to employee performance, to available hours.
9. Introduce resource buffers
People tend to be overly optimistic when estimating future work, so it’s essential to count buffers in. You don’t want your team to miss deadlines and set them up for failures just because of our innate predisposition to magnify what we can accomplish. Sometimes, overestimating is a good thing in a way that it’s more realistic. Try a buffer of 10% on top of your task or project estimates to see what happens.
10. Set priorities
Clear priorities will help you and your team see what you need to focus on first. They will also make it easier to adapt in case of force majeure situations: you’ll still have a lighthouse showing you the way to project success. It’s a matter of mastering the craft of prioritizing time, tasks, finances, and resources — the more agile your project management style can get the better.
11. Make sure the goals you set are SMART
In business speak, SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. ‘Specific’ as in answering a specific need or targeting a narrow area to be improved, ‘measurable’ meaning you can quantify it, ‘attainable’ presupposes that what you plan is realistic, ‘relevant’ means the goal aligns with other business objectives, while ‘time-bound’ expects your goal to have a deadline. SMART goals will make it easier to secure effective employee workload management by helping your team rationalize the tasks you set and see how their part in the project will contribute to its success.
12. Avoid multitasking
We all know we should be doing more, but trying to accomplish a lot at once can be overwhelming and stressful. It takes discipline and focus to finish one task at a time so that your work doesn’t grind to a halt.
In fact, multitasking is a myth. The human brain is not wired to do several things at the same time, at least don’t expect them to be done well. In project management, multitasking can push you into prioritizing urgency over relevance and importance. Task and workload management requires that you have a sharp focus, while multitasking does an excellent job at killing it. Truth be told, it is often hard to avoid multitasking, but whenever you can, stay away from it.
13. Introduce daily standups
Getting the whole team together for at least 10 minutes every day is the simplest way to create transparency. After all, maintaining effective communication and holding daily standups is great for keeping everyone on the same page at all times during your project. Your team members will get a chance to learn each others’ progress, see what they need to do next, and brainstorm in case there is some challenge hindering project success. With daily standups, you’ll easily see if there are any dependencies blocking team members from doing their best work.
14. Manage change
Effective workload management is all about dynamics, you should always be ready for force majeure situations and ad hoc meetings. However, knowing what to expect and being able to quickly adapt will make it easier for you to predict and manage change. As your project unfolds, you will most probably be compelled to make certain adjustments to meet the initial timing and budget. This is why having a plan B, D, and C on how to deal with unexpected situations will help to always keep your teams on track.
15. Register time
Registering time sharpens focus and helps managers track progress on tasks and projects, which means you get to learn where your team's time is going, which is especially relevant during the pandemic. When employees register time, you can measure the percentage of billable work (time spent productively on client projects) and spot early on if someone’s working too much or if something is consuming too much of their time like meetings, training, etc. On top of that, time registrations can help you measure utilization rates.
16. Share administrative tasks
A good workload management system might offer you help with administrative work, the part of your workload you can and should automate to reduce human error and save time. When administrative tasks are out of the way, you can focus on key operations and effective team performance management. What’s more, project managers rarely name administrative work as their favorite part of the job so why waste time doing it when the system can do it better for you?
17. Automate what can be automated
Don’t forget to put the breathing mask on yourself first. Manage your own workload efficiently, you don’t want to go down and take everyone with you. A recent study by Wellingtone found that every month, 43% of project management experts spend one or more days manually creating project reports. Not without reason admin work is considered a silent killer of productivity.
Doing repetitive tasks manually and spending much time collecting data doesn’t just wastes your time, but can also introduce human error and hurt employee productivity. Our recent poll on LinkedIn has shown that 47% of project managers would like to automate project accounting.
There are a lot of tools that can save your time here. As an option, you can use Forecast to create reports in a few clicks and then share them with other people, they don’t even need to have a Forecast account for that.
18. Block off time to check email
Checking your email can take longer than it should. And it will definitely take too long if you get distracted all the time. In order to avoid even the slightest risk of that happening, set a specific time slot for doing it and remove all distractions before you start. Don’t spend too much time on it either, you definitely have bigger fish to fry. The almighty automation can come to the rescue here once again: manually preparing things like email reminders regarding some meetings or deadlines is a thing of the past — get it automated!
19. Review your habits
There are various workload management skills and habits you might need to have as a PM, but thinking about your team first is surely on the top of the list. This habit will always be your ace in the hole if you want to be good at hearing people out before making decisions and accommodating every member of your team. This is what makes two different types of supervisors: a manager and a manager who truly cares.
20. Avoid perfectionism
Perfectionism can be a good thing if you know how to keep it under control. But if all it does is stopping you from getting things ready then ‘better done than perfect’ makes more sense. Workload stress management will throw enough challenges in your face on its own. Adding perfectionism on top of that can reduce your productivity and, by extension, have a negative impact on team productivity and project success as a whole.
21. Eat that frog
You know how they say you should do the hardest tasks before midday and then it will be easier to go through your daily to-do list? If you eat that frog early in the morning or, by the same logic, distribute the most difficult tasks first thing when the project starts, there won’t be many traps to look out for later on. It’s just a matter of smart workload & time management when it comes to task allocation.
22. Discourage long hours
Quality and output are more important than overtime. Although some people believe doing extra time is beneficial, working longer hours does not necessarily result in higher productivity rates. In fact, long hours can reduce your team results. Wondering how? For one thing, the moment a person reaches the peak of 50 work hours per week, their productivity starts plummeting (according to a study by Stanford University). And after 55 hours, doing any work is just pointless: productivity is at its lowest in most people.
23. Table some tasks for later
When developing your workload management strategy, don’t forget to comb through your tasks and see if all of them really make a difference in the project. By reducing the unnecessary fuss or scheduling some secondary tasks for later you can save your team a lot of time and get your project ahead of the timetable.
For your workload management to be sublime, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, trying to get everything done on your own. Instead, use all the tricks at your disposal, automation being one of them, to make your team productivity exceptional. There are lots of tools like Forecast, offering intelligent project automation for you to spend less time on administrative work and manage your teams more effectively. Catch that chance now and sign up for a free trial today!