It doesn’t matter if you work in a co-located business or are part of a remote team, project management is crucial to coordinating efforts. We’ve used our fair share at Tier 11, and evaluated dozens more to find things that work for our distributed team.
Listen in as we share the foundation of what makes a good project management solution for a virtual team.
Deacon Bradley 0:05
Hello, and welcome to the Virtual Business podcast. I'm your host, Deacon Bradley, and joined today by Ralph burns and Angela concert and guys as happy as I am to see you. I'm also a little bummed that we're on a zoom chat. You know why? why I got the notification this morning when I woke up that it was time for my flight to depart to San Diego. We were supposed to all be meeting up today ahead of our quarterly leadership meeting, right before traffic and conversion conference, so I'm really bummed to not be there but grateful we have this tool to actually be able to chat. Yes,
Ralph Burns 0:44
yes. That is sad. But we'll get together in the fall, apparently. positively.
Deacon Bradley 0:52
Oh, yeah. What can go wrong? We have been building the foundation of your virtual business here. We talked about zoom for video chats, we talked about slack for text chats, and some of the best way to use that. And now that we're all connected, we're still going to need to actually organize our work. And one of my big pet peeves is, is this slack is not a project management tool. Okay, so I'm just gonna put that out there, we'll get to more of that in the show. There's about a what a million project management tools out there, we probably use about 250,000, ourselves, or somewhere close to it. There's a ton of great ones. And today, we want to talk you through not a specific tool that you need to use or the specific tool you shouldn't use, but more just kind of the evolution of our process. And what we've learned as a virtual team that has, gosh, tripled a several times over and you'll get the significance of tripled there in a bit that Ralph will fill you in on but kind of just taking you through our systems and what we found looking back that were important and what elements of that made things succeed and what elements, you know, weren't quite as important. Ralph, you were not always using a project management tool. I know because I've seen screenshots of your inbox before this, but talk a little bit about those days and what it was like.
Ralph Burns 2:18
Well, my inbox sadly, isn't still that great shape. It needs a triage or two. Oftentimes it's on life support. But that's a whole other subject unto itself. But yeah, I mean, we used we used email way back when to start this whole thing. Depending on when you really want to sort of start the clock It was either seven or 10 plus years ago, but seven years ago was really when we pivoted all in on Facebook and Instagram advertising as a full service ad agency and dumped her our SEO customers. So I think that's probably a good starting point. But at first it was just me, and I was managing everything. So I didn't really need much in the way of a project management software didn't have Slack, all I had was email and access to customers just directly through Gmail. So, but then when we added more people that didn't really say that it wasn't just me, it was probably me in a virtual assistant, and maybe like one other person there. But as soon as we added more people, I think when we went from three to 10 people, and that there's a significance in those numbers there, as we'll sort of talk about the eventual evolution to where we're at right now, is that we realized that all of a sudden email was getting crazy. So I mean, we were it was out of control. We had 10 people, nine or 10 people, I think, then at Tier 11. And it was just really hard to manage things. So good friend of mine, who's also an agency owner, but he actually manages a team that's a physical location team. So and they're now oddly enough, a virtual agency once again, which is sort of the way that he had started on his own, but point is that they, they still use this project management tool which we adopted, which was the name of podio. And I think podio did a really good job for us to get stuff off email that was, the big thing is get communication, internal communication off email, and podio. We didn't have slack then either. So that's another tool we've obviously talked about here on the show. So we are really it was a big shift, because I think of the number of personnel. And as we continue to evolve, we sort of outgrew it. And when you came on board Deacon, that was one of the big things that you did is not only install Slack, which is a tool that we use is vital for all of us. But also switch over to another project management software from podio, which was a vast improvement based upon how our business ran. So the big thing was using a project management software for me, and it was a really important step for us as we grew in complexity. He had more and more customers as well as we had more and more people. So, but podio works really good. I always thought it was, you know, really good project management software, it's probably improved even more. So now. You know, our buddy Mike still uses it. But it's not the right choice for us at this point in time, but it was a big step for us just to go to a project management software.
Deacon Bradley 5:25
So Angela, I know you were here in the podio days. You've been here as we went, moved to Trello. Now we're on Asana and you and I have been a big part of figuring out how the team would work on these are, what components were important, what components weren't how we're actually going to put all this stuff together. I want to kind of share some of when we were talking before this tool agnostic taking the tool out of it, like what are some of the key components that we think, in retrospect make these tools successful, whether it be a podio or a Trello Asana or Reich, or whatever it is that you're after. So, Angela, what do you think's like top of your list that you need and one of these tools if you're going to work effectively.
Angela Ponsford 6:11
So knowing who's responsible for doing a task is one of the key things, and making sure that it's just one person that's responsible for it. And we were going to talk a little bit about differences with some of the tools that kind of got things muddled in the past, also having due dates and been able to attract those due dates. We've also found, you know, when there's no due dates on there, things just disappear into the ether. Or Yeah, if you don't have a really good system around looking at those due dates, then you know, even if though due dates are on there, and they're in the past and they've been missed, they also that also leads to blindness. So responsibility and due dates, they're the big things for me.
Deacon Bradley 6:50
Totally and kind of looking at the the two tools that we have used the most Trello and Asana have, I think really different approaches to this In in Trello, you can actually, they call them cards, not tasks, but you can have multiple people assigned to that which is kind of a blessing and a curse. But I think from our experience, it wasn't always clear who was really supposed to be doing something. It might be a card with like, Ralph, Deacon Angela, and it says, like, make sure the podcast goes live. Like, okay. Yep. Who's doing that one? Yeah. Talk about how Asana does it. Yeah, totally.
Angela Ponsford 7:32
So with Asana, one of these things I really love about Asana. And, you know, full disclosure. I'm not a big Asana fan. True. Yeah, I don't like it heaps. I've had bad experiences in the past where it's more about me really not diving as deep as I as I needed to be to understand it. But putting that aside, the really, really cool thing about Asana is that a task can sit in multiple teams, but it is can only be only one person can have responsibility for completing that task. And when I say it considered multiple teams for us and this is where we were finding trailer was breaking because we have our creative team and our media buying team, for example. And obviously we're working on a lot of projects together. Now, so task connects it in the creative teams area and it can also sit in the media buying teams area, but there's only ever one person responsible for it and only ever one due date. That's massive.
Deacon Bradley 8:31
Yeah, that's probably right. There is probably the biggest reason that we ended up switching from Trello. To Asana. We needed that singular point of like this person is responsible. But we also needed the flexibility of media buyers. In our case live in one world creative people live in another world and they want to look at their they need to look at their worlds in their own way. But it also needs to be representative of the real world fact that there is one specific tasks that needs to be completed by one person. And if we can't represent that in a tool, then it gets really confusing really fast. And that's kind of where we were, I guess about four months ago.
Angela Ponsford 9:12
Yeah, totally. Because I think what we ended up with is we would have multiple tasks created for like one thing that needed to be done. So you know, we use the record recording a podcast, so it was the task was to upload your podcast recording, or edit and upload it, then there may have been like multiple tasks created, because when we were in trailer, it didn't facilitate that to be done easily. You know? Yeah, it was just really, it got really confusing when we were working cross teams, multifunctional teams.
Ralph Burns 9:43
And I think that speaks to the complexity of your organization. I mean, it depends on where you're at in this continuum. And I refer to this before when we're talking about podio is that the rule of three and 10 is a rule from Hiroshi make a time Honey, CEO of racket, and I was always wondering who actually invented it. But the rule of three and 10 basically says, Every time you triple the size of your team stuffs gonna start breaking. And for us one person, two, three people, all of a sudden I had communication with other people, which was on email. But then when we went from three to 10 people, that's about when we started implementing podio. Because taking it off email, it was a nightmare. We had different, you know, we had different roles, different responsibilities, stuff was starting to get missed. I kind of realized our stuff is breaking again, and project management software is certainly not my area of expertise. Then when Deacon came on, we were growing upwards of 30 people. That's when we shifted over to Trello. And now past 30 people, I think it's a logical evolution to switch over to Asana because our business has sort of changed evolved, the structure has changed, so does doesn't necessarily mean that you need to change your project management software as you grow like we did, but for us, it almost perfectly matches that rule. And you know, there were holes in Trello. And there were holes that were bigger holes, I think in podio, which Trello made better. And then now podio to Asana even better and even more efficient, and maybe, you know, by the time we get to 100 or so people, we might have to change again, or maybe we don't. But you know, the point is, is that your business does evolve over time. And if you're listening to this growing a business, or you already have a business, and you know, you say all right, well, I've got a team of about 30 people, I guess I should use Asana, well, no, not necessarily goes back to my original point. It's like, you should be using something and chances are even most bricks and mortar businesses do have project management software like Mike roads agency, you know, a physical location has podio so something along those lines or you know, most people have slack now, which is really helpful. Most people now and know now how to use zoom, which was the subject of another podcast. So the point is, is that Yeah, just have something in place. But it's it's constantly evolving and constantly a moving target.
Deacon Bradley 12:13
So clarity is super important. Who's responsible for something? When is it due? When can you expect that work to be done? workflow? Who's who's responsible for doing it? Where does it go next? If the tool facilitates that, that's really important. The next thing on my list here, especially critical for a virtual team, is communication. So does the tool enable communication because remember, you're not sitting around in a cubicle farm. You can't just poke your head up and say, Hey, Angelo, what's how such and such going? You need to be able to talk in the tool about the task and that tool should help organize and facilitate actually organized communication there.
Angela Ponsford 12:55
Yep, totally. And I think that's a Santa does that really well. Maybe To well,
Deacon Bradley 13:01
is to lay
Angela Ponsford 13:02
bones of Asana we can talk about in a bit. I think also as well, like the ability with the tools that we've used certainly with Asana and Trello. And I think polio too, is been able to do it on your device, your mobile device, so not being tied into having to search and look for everything on the desktop, if you're mobile, like you know, all of us are, you know, we're working remotely and different time zones. So you know, different times of the day we're out and about being able to check things on your phone and see what tasks are going is super important.
Deacon Bradley 13:37
Yesterday, definitely important and well, none of us here are are advocating for workaholic type lifestyle, we are all over the globe. And so there are times when we are away from our computer and you need to just check on something or see the status of something or and what a project management tool does for a virtual team is it allows you to Look up anytime you need and see the status of something. Is this completed? Is it on track is being worked on is something blocking the team. And whether it's Trello, whether it's Asana, whether it's podio, or something else, your tool should clearly communicate that. So when you're looking in there, you know, this is the status of the world right now. And I think that's probably the number one question that I'm trying to answer when I'm inside of a tool like that. Now, these things can get pretty overwhelming, especially with us, we have a huge amount of customers. Each of those customers has numerous projects that need to be managed. And so this kind of gets out of hand pretty quickly. So, Angela, how do we actually organize all this stuff so that people know what's going on when they come into a team that might have Gosh, like 100 projects going on at once? Just between 30 ish people?
Angela Ponsford 14:56
Yeah, so having templates set up is one of the key things. So you know, whenever a new project start or a new customer starts making sure that that is set up in exactly the same way as we've got it for every other customer and project, so templates, their naming conventions, it's, you know, just the same, like when we're running our Facebook ads, we have naming conventions within ads manager is the same for when we're naming tasks, and when we're naming projects and various things, so that we can easily identify, you know, which customers this we're working on, you know, a good example might be, you know, send weekly report, if every single customers had the same task code, send weekly report, for me, be, you know, overseeing all of the accounts in the agency that makes it incredibly difficult for me to see Oh, which customers This is talking about. So it's when you know, we really kind of drummed into people like when they're setting things up, don't just think about you being the lone person running this project. Consider all the other people that have access And all the other people that need to know the information and make it as easy as possible for someone to understand what's going on. So yeah, naming convention. Another thing that we're quite tight on is like these due dates, not removing due dates from task. I know talk to us a little bit more about due dates and, but just don't be afraid to change the due date. If something hasn't happened. It's okay to change it to some time in the future. Because the minute we found the minute that any of those dates get removed, then it just goes into project management, ether.
Deacon Bradley 16:33
You'll never see that task again.
Angela Ponsford 16:35
It just doesn't happen doesn't get done. I think also another thing that people if you've never used a project management tool before, something I see people struggling with is the it's almost like they're afraid to assign it to someone else. It's like there's this mental block that okay, this was this was my task and I've done my portion and now I need somebody else to do that. You know, Rather than going and creating a whole new task, just allocating it to somebody else to continue the task, I think there's people who have mental blocks around that because they're like, I don't want to give someone else a task. So you know, just having some kind of rules around how that works in your organization, is going to be super helpful when you are using one of these project management tools. It's all about, you know, putting those rules in place rules and templates in place and making sure everybody knows them. And then that just makes it super simple to organize things.
Deacon Bradley 17:31
Absolutely. And what another key way that we are a key aspect that we love about these tools is we have a lot of slps. As our team grows, Angela's talked a lot about conventions, how we do things like you have to name things a certain way, you have to use things a certain way. Those are all conventions that we use to organize and structure our work so that everybody knows what to expect. You know, you walk in the room, there's gonna be a couch, there's gonna be a fridge over there. It's gonna have some stuff in it so you'll be able to eat It's like, this is how you expect the world to be set up when you come into one of our projects. And one of the ways that we like to, to implement our slps is actually in the project management tool itself. So it gets a little meta, but if you can make your tool almost self documenting, or like your slps, like self documenting, so imagine, hey, it's time to set up a new account. And, and I've never done that before. But if there's a project template in there, that tells you how to do all of this stuff. So it's not an SLP in a file on the dusty shelf somewhere. It's actually a project template and it's like, Hey, I'm starting a new account. Now I send it to billing. Now I you know, make sure they get billed. Now I set up these initial projects. Now I set up these next things here, I get these people involved. So the more you can make your projects, reflect your slps and pull your LPs in as templates we found to be really effective ways To get the team involved, and a really scalable way, especially in a virtual environment where Angela is not looking over your shoulder or telling you what the next step is, like, the tool is telling you the next step,
Angela Ponsford 19:11
super, super useful. And yeah, having those conventions Is it like I think, as, as humans, who most of us, I think, you know, most people who are listening to this will have worked in a, you know, unknown virtual environment at some point. And very recently, for a lot of people listening, it's like those, those conventions are known, you don't even think about it, it's like something If so, if someone's door is closed, you know, not to go in, you know, if someone's office doors closed. So it's simple things like that, that you take for granted. When you work with people in an office. It's making sure that those are known beforehand, when you move into a virtual environment. And it's just like, all of everything that we've been talking about. We've talked about this, you know, have various conventions in place and make sure everybody knows them, because that that just reduces people getting annoyed with people. people worried or not knowing what to do, it reduces a lot of that stuff.
Deacon Bradley 20:06
And I'll say this to not be overwhelmed with the amount of systems and conventions that we've developed over the years here. We've been doing this for a long time. We didn't start out here and all of our tool usage didn't start out super refined. We always came in with a plan of attack, hey, here are the key components that we need to make it work. Let's start here. But then the conventions have grown a lot of it just from out of the team usage, people saying things like, I'm having trouble locating projects, like, this is a pain for me. We're sitting around, like, what if we named them differently? Okay, that would help us find them better. So a lot of these conventions don't feel like you have to start with the perfect playbook. Start with a little bit of organization that makes sense. And then just be willing to figure out an explore Where are people getting lost, what's not working, if they're not using the tool, talk to them about why Or, or what's not? what's not working for them in the tool that has been really effective for us discovering things like, Hey, I think it's time to move from podio to something new. How do I evaluate that new tool? Well, I went and looked at what was broken for people in podio, when they were trying to use it. Same thing from Trello. To Asana. It was alright, something isn't working here. And it will and it wasn't something that could be fixed by convention. It was like, Alright, it's it's time for a new tool in this case.
Angela Ponsford 21:32
Yeah, I think that's the real key thing is having that open and honest feedback loop for what what is working, what are people struggling with? How can we make this better and then constantly being willing to update and iterate how you do things?
Ralph Burns 21:47
Yeah. And I think being open to that as well telling people it's like, Hey, we're just we're figuring this out as we go along into a certain degree and as we change and evolve, and if you're in an office environment, you can kind of see that you get like the water cooler talk. You know what I mean? But there is no water cooler talk at Tier 11. Because we don't have a water cooler. But like what is the the team? I think that goes back to good management and good leadership, which is something that we'll be talking about a lot on the show as well, is being open to suggestions, especially for the people that are the ones who you respect and value their judgment. And we just happen to have some people, obviously, I mean, our entire team is a stud team. But I mean, the point is like some people are really into like the project management kind of stuff. So that spurred on a change to Asana to a certain degree, but also getting their feedback as to what works, what doesn't work, what's broken right now and how can we fix it? And I think you as a virtual company, you've got to you've got to really have your ear to the you know, the gripes and the potential issues not only through observation, but through just sort of you don't pick up the non verbals again, like you're not there all the time. So you've got to be even like you're mentioned acuity for that as a leader and a manager has to be even more dialed in. If balls are getting dropped, that's the most obvious thing. Like, here's a problem with Trello. While we're gonna go over to Asana, and I'm sure we're gonna have problems and continue to have issues that we're gonna have to deal with, with Asana. But the point is, is that, you know, when you're maintaining a virtual team like this, that is really, really important and have, like we said, in previous episodes, especially with zoom is like, have a lot of communication with your people. You just have to, cuz you're not bumping into them in the hallways, you know, or in the men's room, or whatever it happens to be or, you know, the lunch room, you know, so it's a different environment. I think it's it's no different in refining your project management software, because of those concepts.
Deacon Bradley 23:44
ralphie just mentioned something really key there that I would like to pull out because this is it's like the number one thing that I noticed that is like a red flag signal that something needs to change, and that's balls getting dropped. That's what enabled us like hey, We need to move on from podio balls getting dropped in Trello when our team was, I guess, roughly 30 ish people. That's what the signal was was. I kept hearing complaints as a manager like this balls drop, this balls dropped, and I'm talking to my team. I'm like, Man, these are they're not like, ignoring things. They're not overwhelmed. It's like the balls were dropped because of the system that was in place. And that's how we knew it was time to kind of take a look at that and reevaluate the system and go find a tool that does work better. But absolutely, like, as you were saying, Angela, start off with something simple that you can get going quickly. And then look for that red flag balls getting dropped is a is a great red flag. It's like a oftentimes it's a tool system thing. It's not a lazy people thing for the most part.
Ralph Burns 24:47
Balls getting dropped consistently throughout your entire team to Yes, if you see one or two, maybe you have problem employees, you know, are problem contractors but if it's consistent like it was A consistent issue that we were having that we needed to change for, you know, the top tier people and the new people and everybody in between because of the system. So you'll notice balls being dropped, you know, look at how widespread that is, and then dial into your people discuss it and figure out a solution. Like, I tell you guys all the time, I tell everybody, it's like, if you got a problem, propose me a solution. Just don't bitch about it. Because we don't have time to pitch about it. Like that's not a strategy. Crying is not a strategy. You know? So what's your solution? And, you know, in this case, we've got obviously a lot of smart people that are really helped with that solution. Obviously, it was spearheaded by you, Deacon. And you know, the feedback and the buy in was done from the senior level. If you're going to make a switch, really get that buy in, like lead by being led in a lot of ways like you tell me what do you like what do you not like, if you don't like it? What are some alternatives all that and that's has nothing to do with project management software, guys, it's just it's it has to do with having open communication with your people and trusting their judgment.
Deacon Bradley 26:12
That's a great tip. We have never I've led a lot of these changes. I've never just done it in a vacuum. It's it's always been getting buy in from key people. There's a lot of other people on the team who have similar bent towards systems and tools as me I got them involved. There are people in the the departments that it would affect their specific workflow. I brought in people from those and we all kind of built this together and in the end, it didn't really even feel like rolling out something new as just, Hey, you know, that new thing that we were testing out, keep doing that. Now everybody do it.
Angela Ponsford 26:49
And as well, you know, I said before when we move to Asana, like Asana before and I really didn't like it, but I was willing to you have to be willing to put your all kind of thoughts on things assayed sometimes, and just really be open to seeing the bigger picture, I could see the potential for this to to work better for the team as a whole. And that was enough for me to go, Okay, I'm buying into this, I am willing to work through the things that I don't like about this this too, because I know for the greater good of the team, it's the better thing than what we had previously, which was Trello. So, you know, don't don't go in with personal judgment on things. You know, if you're in a remote team, you're all in this together, and it has to work for everyone.
Ralph Burns 27:33
Yeah, absolutely. And we talked about it in it. While we're talking about slack to is like when Deacon came on board, I was like, I hate slack. And it was because the tool was not being used correctly. So yeah, it was very much of an open minded Alright, I'm open to it. You know, your role is to obviously enhance operations any way you possibly can. If you think that that's the best way to do it, because I trusted deacons judgment And I think being open to it even if you know that you don't like I like the fact that you're not a sauna fan. And, you know, and you're using it is attributed to you being open minded about that. And I think you do have to handle this. This is just a small thing really project. It's a big thing, obviously. But it's a, it's part of like a bigger concept here is that you do really have to be open to change and allow your people put them in a position so that they can lead that change. And if you're going to make a change as much as you can internally bring along as many people as you can get their input and their buy in. And then the switch from a big thing like project management software is like an easy migration.
Angela Ponsford 28:45
Yeah, that Yeah, that's a really, really good point because I think when I don't even remember there being much drama at all, when we moved from Trello to Asana, because, you know, Deacon had put in the work with some key members of the team who You know, same thing, they really drove it forward as well. And then it was like pretty simple to, to get everything over into there and start using it.
Ralph Burns 29:09
Yeah, and I remember when we switched from email to podio, I didn't do it that way. Here I am advocating, you know, get people's buy in, put your best people on your best, you know, biggest projects. And this was a big project. And we had a media buyer at that time, who's still with us to this day, and didn't really include her in on that decision. I just sort of made the decision. And she was the last one to really migrate over to podio. And then when she did, she really liked it and she's like, Hey, this is actually pretty good, but that, you know, the, the big part of going from email to project management's software is getting people to use it. Gotta get them to use it. And the best way you can do that is involve them in the change as much as possible. I sort of learned my lesson with that and that's the reason why, you know, whenever you guys try advocate anything that's a big thing that I always look back on and say, Get people, especially the ones, you can have people that really love this kind of stuff, too, which is crazy to me because this is not my thing. I mean, I'm not in Asana all that much. That's why, you know, here I am talking about it. But you know, you guys know way more than I do. And, but it's working because it allows us to manage our customers or our internal teams far better.
Deacon Bradley 30:31
Thanks for joining us today on the virtual business podcast. For links and resources from this show, head on over to the virtual business podcast calm we've been working through the foundational must have tools that you must have in place if you're going to run a virtual team well and not hate it. And we've talked through slack zoom project management stuff today and we've got a lot more tools and best practices coming up. Any questions about managing your virtual team, hit us up We'll see you next time. See ya.
Resources From This Episode
Podio: Great for structured workflows (our first tool at the agency)
Trello: Simple, agile, powerful. Big projects or small, we love the power and speed of Trello.
Asana: Incredible cross-team functionality & communication tools (our current choice at Tier 11).
#03: Slack Lessons From A Worldwide Virtual Team