Workamajig University: Observations and Insights from an intense Project Management Seminar

I recently attended a four day training event to learn how to use Workamajig, hosted by Creative Performance Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in agency operations.

Prior to this opportunity I was not familiar with Workamajig, a web-based integrated project management tool for the creative industry. “Integrated” in this context means the single application includes functionality for CRM, scheduling, collaboration, job costing, accounts receivable, and accounts payable.

When reviewing Workamajig’s marketing material I read that “15% of the Fortune 500 companies use Workamajig marketing management software for their in-house departments”. This statistic blew my mind, although the overwhelming majority of my creative professional experience over the last fifteen years has been building web and software projects not advertising, I thought I had at least a summary understanding of most of the tools that other creative agencies were using for their project management.

My experience with project management software has largely been a loosely coupled combination of different tools, some off-the-shelf services, and several internally developed applications. Although Workamajig can eliminate several components of the spiderweb-system that some agencies have adopted, you won’t completely abandon spreadsheets, and if you’re doing software quality assurance, you’ll still likely want a dedicated issue tracking tool.

The big benefit that Workamajig offers is the integration of accounting functionality with full project life cycle management. That means you can use the CRM for business development, built-in estimate tools for proposals, templates to create task patterns, project calendars for milestones and coordination, accounting tools to track expenses and contractors, time tracker to log effort, todo lists to assign tasks, and the list goes on and on…

With a suite of functionality this inclusive, the decision to migrate should not rushed, and the deployment should be carefully planned. With some software tools like Harvest for time tracking, Basecamp, or an issue tracker like Jira, the organization might feel they can rollout the tool without much planning, training, consultation, or support. With Workamajig, this route, is a recipe for disaster. Workamajig is a mini ERM (Enterprise Relationship Manager) so don’t be confused by the relatively low subscription license cost or the ease of initiating an instance of the application. Workamajig requires a comprehensive evaluation of your current work processes, a strong internal project management discipline, training for your staff, and a commitment to use the tool consistently in order to reap the massive benefits an integrated tool can provide to your business, like accurate resource management and assignment.

Training Event

The seminar was facilated by Creative Performance Inc. I encourage you to review their site, read their blog articles, and consider their services. This crew knows their stuff and have the consulting anecdotes to be extremely persuasive. The pace and intensity of the curriculum was challenging, however once you dive into the complexities we’re trying to overcome, you’ll appreciate how much education their trying to cram into four days of training. For reference, I took more than fifteen pages of written notes in addition to writing in the margins of their supplied 130 page training binder. The instructors were organized, peppy, and had an incredible knowledge of Workamajig functionality and agency workflows.

Here’s a very summarized overview of the training agenda:

Day 1

  • Project Workflow
  • Roles
  • Understanding Agency Rates
  • Client Architecture

Day 2

  • Project Architecture
  • Project Setup and Campaigns

Day 3

  • Timelines and Schedules
  • Pricing, Scope, and Estimates

Day 4

  • Accounting
  • Certification Exam

The other participants were accountants and project managers from agencies all across the country. Some were new to an organization that used Workamajig already, others were in the middle of a deployment. Talking and networking with these other attendees was one of the most valuable parts of this training experience. When you have a room full of creative professionals, that are all committed to solve similar problems for their companies, the discussions are focused, insightful, and revealing.

What I learned

In addition to learning how to use and administer the Workamajig application, my biggest takeaways weren’t specific to just utilizing the tool, but related to running the business of an agency better.

  • There’s a danger of inoculation when introducing new tools or practices into an agency setting. If the implementation is rushed or poorly instituted, the early mistakes will inoculate your team against thinking the tool is displaying accurate information. Second guessing the tool will slow enrollment and undermine the efficiency you’re trying to achieve. Invest in a quality deployment plan and make sure you’re migrating project data correctly.
  • Identifying processes is the first step toward identifying broken processes.
  • Workamajig was engineered to be flexible to adapt to the needs of very unique agency workflows, however there’s an inherent danger with a tool that allows tasks to be completed in multiple ways. It’s important to institute and standardize processes so that each department has a consistent way to achieve and communicate how the software should be used.
  • If possible, the roles of agency and project advocate should be clearly divided into at least two separate positions. Blended roles lead to misunderstood scoping and communication issues which can result in unfulfilled client expectations or discounting project costs.
  • Intellectual property as value add, principal investments, and write-offs are all ways you can justify losing profit on a project. However tracking and utilizing these expenses correctly can increase the value of your services and give you the information you require to restructure your pricing model.

What’s not to like about Workamajig?

  • The current web interface is built in Flash, however there’s an HTML5 version in the works. I won’t go into all the details about why a Flash interface might be an issue, but if you have developers on your team, they may roll their eyes.
  • Workamajig can be unintuitive. The way Workamajig is built and organized might contradict best practices to actually use the tool effectively. As I’ve mentioned above, it’s important to standardize procedures and communicate the reasons for internal best practices.

Workamajig is a powerful tool that can help you reduce your realization gap and deliver a better project, however it takes an investment to prepare your organization and earn the benefits the system can provide. The training event and instruction was world-class, an experience to compare all other seminars. If your agency is currently using Workamajig or you are considering transitioning to the platform, Workamajig University provided by CPI should be a mandatory component of your operations strategy.