People and Points.
In my previous leadership roles within agencies. There has always been a struggle to find the best way to measure output and track team member tasks.
Over this time, I'd tested out a few different ways. But what I'm sharing here - was the best one I found that worked. It bridged the gap between client business needs, agency business needs, and individual performance needs.
Making changes to processes and ways of working requires you to bring your team along. I wanted to share how I'd approached my team update. Which is the majority of this page text. Hopefully it will give you options in your own agency.
To my team ...
Hi All, I wanted to share a new way of working which I feel will be beneficial to you all. And will help unlock more creatively and development for you and the business.
So I'm here to share why we need it, what it involves, and how we can make it successful in our business.
Its aim is to give us all a better understanding of our collective work. And to make planning and estimating our project work, easier.
Currently, how our team works across business projects is diverse. This initiative is to help us move to a system which works across all our needs. And those of our clients.
I'm terming it 'Productive Points'.
Some of you might have heard about ‘points poker’ as part of agile project management. Points help plan who is going to work on which tasks each week. Using points shows what tasks can get done week on week.
Putting point values to our project tasks:
In many agile projects, points relate to the complexity of work tasks planned by team members. This is a useful article - https://www.atlassian.com/agile/project-management/estimation.
Understanding how complex tasks are (in advance of doing them) can be hard to forecast. Which makes it hard to plan capacity for our team. And hard to talk clients through a project timeline.
To move forward as an efficient creative team then, we need to improve how we use points, instead of time - for our tasks.
Like other agile projects, we will base our complexity scores using the fibonacci scale (up to the top value of 8).
The numbers in this scale are 1, 2, 3, 5, 8.
Points used for work should reflect an increase in complexity between tasks.
Where 8 is around 8 times as complex as work with a value of 1 point. And 5 being over twice as complex as 2, for example.
We stop at 8 as the top score, as higher than this number can become harder to manage per team member. Tasks considered more complex than an 8 - need to again break down further into smaller tasks.
We will then use 'points per week', as a way to manage and measure our team performance.
Why are we using points, instead of time?
Time can be subjective when used to measure complexity.
Different team members work at different speeds, and have different skill levels. Some are more proficient in certain project tools. Agreeing how long a task should take can be divisive for the team members.
Which will work against our team culture.
As a team, our work currently follows a billable hours model. Billable hours being the time that we track and budget - that clients pay for.
Moving forward, we will not be charging against time spent per project manner. We will focus instead on price for output and complexity of delivered work.
How long is a piece of string?
The key to planning capacity is knowing how long required tasks will take to complete. And knowing that there's enough points to work on each task required.
When stakeholders and clients ask for a project estimate, we don't want to give them an 'as long as it takes' answer.
Putting a points framework in place for work done builds up a knowledge base (or archive) for how long tasks take. Over time, we can see what the average points spent are for common recurring tasks.
This helps us understand what we can manage within the current team structure. And allows us to plan for growth. Either through new projects, or new team members.
This aspect of points is something many businesses do not have access to. It's a valuable knowledge point, when it comes to looking for efficiencies in the work we do.
We can see which projects to NOT work on:
Accurate estimates, and costs involved in a project - help to show whether the work should happen, or not.
Without this view, we are unable to gauge which work is likely to lose money - and impact other projects we have lined up.
Having this view helps prioritise work requests through the business. This is useful to bring our team together on the right project tasks, at the right time.
We can also challenge back to clients about how they are measuring the impact of the work we do. If there's no measure in place, we can either offer extra services, or avoid the project.
Working out our points-per-person score:
Out of a full working day, we know no-one is able to spend every single hour on productive client work.
Currently, our billable hours trend between 65-80% of a working day for team members. This is a similar figure seen in other agency teams from my experience.
If we calculate and take out the time that's not productive, we can see what time is available to work on.
Here's the model I worked out for our team.
Full time role breakdown:
37.5 hours per week translates into an expectation of 25 points per person, per week.
This is how we broke down this number. I factored in aspects of our team's 'people movement' and business timetable.
Here's the weekly hours of = 37.5 (without the lunch times included).
Then we take away ...
General internal meetings (based on 4 X 30 min meetings per week) = -2.0
Tea and Coffee breaks (3 cups per day @ 10 mins) = -2.5
Email inbox focus (at 30 mins per day) = -2.5
Chit Chats and general ideas (3 x per day at 20 mins) = -5.0
Friday afternoons (winding down before end of day) = 0.5
Self development time (based on 6 hours per month) = 1.5
Total productive hours left per week = 23.5
Some process and meeting timing may fluctuate week-on-week, so we will target 25 points per week. As it equates to around 25 hours, or 5 productive hours per day.
This points number value also links to our previous billable time value. Something our business and our client's already measure, budget and plan for.
It's easy to adjust the points on a pro rata basis for part time or flexi-time team members.
Spending your weekly points:
Now we have the amount of points we can use - each team member needs to plan their week to deliver 25 points of output in their tasks (or pro-rata). Doing this will ensure that work is being delivered as planned.
Tasks that reach a completed stage for your project management.
... For coders this could code written and deployed.
... For designers this could completed design tasks and stages.
... For copywriters this could be text that has is approved.
... For sales team this could be number of completed calls and sales stage tasks.
... For my analysts, there will be repetitive reporting tasks to block in your week.
It can be tempting to take on more than 25!
But be careful to stick to the amounts.
The use of points is so that you should be able to plan your week better. Yet still have time for general meetings, chit-chat, coffees and self development.
We are a team that has a culture to maintain too. Not a 'sweat-shop' of churning out work non-stop for 7.5 hours solid per day.
Well run projects and tasks should not need teams to 'crunch' and stay late. Instead, everyone knows the output of each other, and the team as a whole. If there's a need, we'll adjust the following week - but you'll be updated before this happens.
i.e. Team of 4 people = 100 points per week. 400 points per month.
That's a lot of productive output time!
Building and archive of tasks:
Once we get this in place, we'll begin to generate an archive of tasks for our different projects, and team work.
An archive of tasks comes in handy when clients push for work with a short deadline. We'll use the time averages for historical tasks to show them what's possible, and what is not possible. If projects require more tasks for a deadline, we can plan for extra team support as we need to.
This is why tracking is so important to being able to see what time tasks take. And this is why it can be empowering for teams to work with.
Changes in our team reporting:
To embed points instead of time then, we need update our reporting process.
Let's look at three key reporting factors for our studio capacity and forecasting:
Estimated points on upcoming weekly project work.
Completed points per week by individuals (projects and/or teams).
Impact of work completed (client and studio)
To help, each role will need to make a few changes, but once in place these should be minimal to maintain.
Adding scores to your work:
A good exercise to help you work in points is to play 'Points Poker' within your teams.
Get into your key group for the project work you have in your backlog. Try looking into what complexity each task contains.
What complexity points can the group agree on per task - to help get a balanced view of scoring for each task?
Add these points in your current task tickets to the work for this upcoming week’s work you are working on.
If you team struggles with this, get the senior team member to help decide the initial points. And track the progress - to adjust to a realistic average over time.
Tracking your output and progress in points:
Track the work done on the tasks using a tool (such as Toggle).
We have a team account set up in this already. Tools like this show time per task, per person - which is easier for our tracking purpose.
At the beginning of each week, team members will log their previous week's completed points. This will not take long, once we get used to this. Around 15 mins per person was what we trialed is required. :-)
Doing this means that at each project review point, you can check the time you estimated, but the actual time tracked.
Our goals will be to review how accurate the estimates were from the past week, at next week’s review meeting. If there’s a clear gap in estimation and completion - was this because scores were too high, or too low on tasks?
As a team, you might want to reassess the points on any upcoming tasks.
FYI. This estimation process will take some time to get right.
Over time you will become more accurate in forecasting complexity.
My experience is that it takes around 4 weeks to apply this with accuracy.
The sooner we start, the better. And the sooner we can build up the value in an archive of tasks.
Remember! Time tracking is not some Orwellian 'big brother' tool to keep you chained to your desks. It's there to empower team members to be aware of what they are working on, and how they plan their productive time.
It's there to develop the productivity of the team to work smarter, not to fill their time 'doing stuff'. That's why we look for productive time. Not just time as desk.
How you can help make 'points' successful in your team:
Be a team player. I know you all are already!
Points are here as a guide around your time and work.
I’ve estimated time for meetings and distractions that happen day-to-day. As well as some research time and other development opportunities. So you'll be able to make progress in your roles as part of the development plans we've set up.
Standup’s and general meetings( those without a set agenda and under 20 mins) are not counted in points. It’s about productive output hours, not general team discussions. You still have time factored in for these.
If you complete your tasks quicker than planned - don’t down tools and do nothing. Review why this happened. And take advantage of efficiencies you discover.
Did you overestimate the complexity scores?
Did you have less expected issues in coordinating people involved than you thought?
Did you get in 'the zone' - if so, how can you replicate this productivity?
Taking the learning from each team member will help make processes more efficient. This is why it's good to track and measure over time. :-)
Consider how the estimates can better fit the timing of projects going forward.
Batch smaller tasks (that would be a fraction of one hour or point per task) as a way to group little updates together. Rather than worrying about treating everything as a one point task. Put admin as your task.
Don’t overload your time with large tasks - it can be demoralising if you, or others miss out on completing tasks. This demoralising gets worse if this happens week, after week, after week. Let's use points to protect our creative culture.
If you see someone struggling. Help them consider taking smaller tasks on for a short while to help redress the balance.
Try to balance the weight of tasks, so you complete a range of small and larger work each week. This will build confidence that you are outputting work that's productive and impactful.
Don't start an 8 point task on a Friday. 8 points will take a couple of days, and the weekend can break your flow.
Let's keep open feedback and support:
When the whole team is working in this manner, it helps build trust. Everyone is able to see each other contributing to the whole team's output. Even across our diverse team roles.
When you get points into place. Every quarter, you can review as a team to look at ways to improve efficiency in our processes. This helps reduce the time involved across all tasks. Increasing your productivity and helping build more profit within your team.
Let me know your thoughts, challenges and feedback.