Our Point of View

Stopping the Overwhelm Through Capacity Management

overwhelmed marketer

Why capacity management? Most marketers feel overwhelmed at some point in their work life by the amount of work demanded by stakeholders and the needs of the business. 

One way to get control of marketing work and avoid feeling overwhelmed is to manage capacity, especially team capacity, effectively.

How do we measure and manage capacity? And how do we use it, along with prioritization, to manage stakeholder expectations? Let’s start with some basic definitions.


Capacity is the maximum amount of work that can be done in a given timeframe. 

Workload is the actual amount of work assigned and being undertaken. 

And Bandwidth? It’s the additional capacity to take on new work. In other words, it’s capacity minus workload.

Usually, bandwidth is a positive number. But for many marketers, bandwidth is negative: they’re undertaking and in some cases, completing more work than they have the capacity for by working overtime or skipping weekends, vacations, and holidays.

Why is this important? Keeping your workload at something less than or equal to your capacity stops the overwhelm, provides transparency to stakeholders, and helps in making prioritization decisions. It also helps improve team morale and work quality.

Continually overestimating capacity leads to rushed work, reduced quality, burnout, and broken promises. The cost is high – both professionally and personally.

Calculating Capacity

Capacity can be measured in different units. These can be relative, like story points, or absolute, like hours. Each has its advantages.

Absolute units, such as hours, are easier for most people to understand. And in some businesses, especially those that bill by the hour, they are required.

Relative units, such as story points, offer flexibility and focus on value delivery over time tracking. This approach fosters a results-oriented mindset.

To calculate capacity, start by determining the total available units for the upcoming cycle.

Typically, a team member has 8 hours per day of capacity. If the team uses relative units, like story points or cards, the number per day will vary greatly between teams. You could start with 2 story points or 1 card per person per day. But as these can vary, use historical data for accuracy.

Next, subtract units for vacations, holidays, training, and other non-project activities.

Teams often overestimate their capacity by not reserving capacity for ongoing or business-as-usual tasks. Ongoing, business-as-usual tasks typically account for 20-30% of total capacity. 

When teams are getting started, it is not unusual to find that these business-as-usual tasks account for 50% or more of the team’s capacity. Teams should ask whether all of these business-as-usual tasks are generating value for the business or the customers. If not, eliminate some of these BAU tasks.

Adjust for variables like individual team members’ work speed, experience levels, and team synergy. This nuanced approach, informed by historical data, can significantly improve capacity predictions.

What remains is the team’s capacity for project work.

Ongoing Management of Capacity

Establishing a team’s capacity is not a one-time thing. Capacity changes over time: team members leave, and new team members are added; teams improve their ability to get work done and increase their capacity; someone goes on maternity or paternity leave; someone else leaves for vacation. All of these impact capacity.

Capacity represents your team’s potential – the theoretical limit of what can be achieved. It’s a horizon of possibility but not always a reflection of reality. 

A history of a team’s actual production, measured in story points, is the reality check. Past results are the tangible outcomes of your team’s efforts, showcasing what has actually been achieved in a given time frame. By juxtaposing these actual results against the theoretical capacity, you can refine your predictions for future capacity, turning what was once a guess into an educated forecast.

Capacity planning is not a one-time event but a continuous cycle of adaptation. Teams typically operate in weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly cycles, with capacity planning being a portion of each cycle’s planning meeting. This is the time to review and adjust the capacities for the upcoming cycle, informed by historical data, holidays, vacations, and the team’s current circumstances. It’s a delicate balance of ambition and realism, ensuring that commitments are challenging yet achievable.

Managing Stakeholder Expectations

When team leaders are armed with data, they are much better equipped to manage stakeholder expectations. Rather than establishing an expectation that everything dropped onto marketing’s desk will be handled, having a data-backed calculation of capacity allows the team to have discussions with stakeholders about what makes the cut in a planning cycle and what doesn’t. 

Marketing can’t work over capacity for weeks, months, or years. That leads to burnout and employee turnover. Teams should aim for less than 100% utilization to maintain team health and productivity. 

Stakeholders need to understand this and agree to the basic premise that there is a limit to marketing’s capacity.


Marketers sometimes resist both sizing and capacity management. But these are fundamental to stopping the overwhelm. It’s like resisting budgeting and expense tracking in our personal or business finances. We end up spending more ‘capacity dollars’ than we have.

By mastering capacity measurement and management, we can transform our work environment from chaotic to controlled, non-productive to productive, and unpredictable to predictably successful.