Evolution of Client Services: Account Management vs. Project Management

Agency Leadership

A little over a year ago, we created a new discipline at Barrel called Client Services, comprised of account managers and account directors. They would be responsible for managing and growing our client accounts while also overseeing the design process. The existing Production team (responsible for managing all aspects of a project at the time) became Project Management and focused on owning the development aspect of our projects.

We initially made the change to allow both teams to go deeper in their respective areas, envisioning better project delivery, profitability, and client growth and retention. While we saw momentum with Client Services managing client priorities and finding opportunities to increase our value-add, our process became disjointed and siloed. It felt a bit like single project teams were operating as two teams:

  • Team A: Client Services and Design
  • Team B: Project Management and Development

Despite our efforts to bring these teams together through joint check-ins and shared milestones, it was clear that our plan wasn't working out as intended. We observed it in projects, and then the team started providing the same feedback.

In late February, we were in an unfortunate position financially and faced layoffs for the first time in Barrel history. In conjunction with the changes to the team, we decided to consolidate Project Management into Client Services. We thought that by bringing these functions under one roof, we'd be able to re-unite aspects of our process while improving in the areas we initially identified: better project delivery, profitability, and client growth and retention.

Since then, I've been working with our Director of Client Services, Kate, to re-envision Client Services with Project Management as a function. I've enjoyed exploring this future vision through various workshops to one-on-ones with employees and industry colleagues.

Last Monday, we completed an important milestone. Kate and I shared the outcome of our roles and responsibilities workshops with the team: a diagram outlining the role of Account Management and Project Management within Client Services.

Here's a high-level look:

Account Management is the "Client Rep" who owns the client relationship. Their key responsibility is:

  • Understanding client objectives
  • Making sure we are delivering value with our work within the allocated time and budget
  • Identifying opportunities to add value with new services

Project Management is the "Team Captain" who owns internal team collaboration. Their key responsibility is:

  • Turning client objectives into actionable steps
  • Coordinating the internal team to stay on track and avoids gaps in communication
  • Making sure the internal team has what they need to get their work done within the allocated time and budget

These concepts will act as a foundation for the structure of Client Services roles and account teams. As a next step, we will be writing job descriptions for the current Client Services roles. In the meantime, we hope that these concepts can help each team member understand where they fit and navigate any ambiguous situations. Over the next several months, our aim is that every role on Client Services is just as clear to the team as a designer or developer.

When we set out on this journey in March, it was important for Kate and I that the Client Services team felt involved in the future we were creating. Last Monday, it felt great to hear multiple team members share this sentiment, remarking on how these concepts feel like a surprise but an accurate synthesis of past conversations.

Between the changes on Client Services, improvements to how we work, and new systems for managing accounts, I'm eager to see where we are later this year.

This post originally appeared in Edition No. 090 of my newsletter. Subscribe here.

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