Susan was recently a guest on the podcast Man Up to Greatness. It’s a show hosted by Reginald J. Dillard dedicated to empowering a community of entrepreneurs, innovators, and creators with the tools to succeed. Take a listen as Susan and Reginald chat about:
- Susan’s project management journey
- How to take the emotion out of a chaotic work environment
- Where to find the best resources on the Beyond the Chaos website
- And the advice that Susan wishes she was told
Please find the full audio transcript below.
Reginald: Welcome back to Man Up To Greatness. I’m your host, Reginald J. Dillard. Today, we’ll be discussing project management. If you inspire to be a project manager one day, this is the show for you. I cannot speak much on it right now. I have no experience in it.
Once upon a time I did kind of inspire, or I had a thought or a plan or something at one time, to invest in project management, the education aspect and tried to learn [inaudible 00:01:13] is profitable. I just didn’t go through it, because I didn’t understand anything about it. It’s one of those things that you get those ideas, where you’re trying to find your path to success. That was one of them, at that time in my life, but I didn’t pursue it. Yeah, we will be discussing that today.
Also, guys, remember to go to the page for Man Up To Greatness and don’t forget to give a like, a thumbs up, leave a comment, leave a suggestion, give an idea. That will be very, very grateful and helpful to me and all the other listeners for the podcast. All right? We’re going to get to the show, and I will see you guys there. Bye.
Welcome back to Man Up To Greatness. I’m your host Reginald J. Dillard. This is Episode 111, Project Management 911. Today’s guest, we’re going to be talking about project management and getting your business in order. If you guys have a business, if you’re a CEO, if you’re a business owner or anything of that nature, you make your business is correctly done and managed well for the employees, and make sure you have the right resources available to you. Sometimes that can cause a problem, if you’re not sure what you’re doing, if you don’t have the right resources. You need to find the answers to your issues or problems.
Basically now, with the COVID thing and people out of work and laid off, you have a lot of new business owners that have become since last year or so. Our next guest, we’re going to talk about that and how she helped plenty of business owners and CEOs and entrepreneurs and multi-facilitated that she has helped rebuild and take control over their projects. Let’s welcome to the show Susan Fennema. Susan, how are you doing?
Susan: Hi there! I’m great. It’s great to be here tonight.
Reginald: Oh, thank you. You’re very welcome. At one point in my life, I wanted to be in project management. I was just like, “Hmm, do I need a degree or anything like that?” I wasn’t sure. It sounds like an interesting gig to get into. It pays well, I do know that.
Susan: It can.
Reginald: It can. But yeah, I know it’s something that’s needed. Everybody has a project manager. To me, it’s almost like project management is some type of office coordinator for a football team. That’s what I think of when I think of project management. A quarterback making plays. “You go here, you go there. This is the strategy we’re going to build.” Let’s go into a little bit of the history of you and your upbringings and what got you into where you are now.
Susan: It’s really interesting, I have a mother who sewed. She was a seamstress. She pretty much made all of our baby clothes. When I was little, I would go into her sewing room with her. She just wanted me to be still so she could work. She would dump out this giant jar of buttons. I am looking at it right now.
Susan: She would dump them out on the floor, and then I would play with them. Now, by play, I mean I grouped them all by color and then in order of size and then how many blue ones and then how many green ones and how many red ones and made a little graph out of it. This is probably not considered normal playing.
Reginald: You were being creative.
Susan: I had to create some sort of structure out of the chaos, even at three or four years old. I was always, growing up, the rule follower. I had great parents who taught me really well. We went to church regularly. I had a great education and was the rule follower. I hardly ever got in trouble, never did really anything wrong, made good greats, was always pushing and pushing to excel.
Susan: I went to Texas A&M where I majored in journalism. I thought I wanted to be a copywriter at an ad agency. Well, it turns out that you actually have to have way more talent than I had in order to do that.
Susan: I can write, but to be a creative copywriter, totally different thing. I took the path of a production artist. A graphic designer would probably be that kind of thing, but something where everything needs to line up, there has to be structure in the design. That was what I ended up pursuing from there.
Every job I had, I did something with process. From my first job in 1988, when I was on a Mac Book Plus and had a client bring in a floppy, a real floppy disk, a five-inch floppy disk, and said, “Hey, this is CAD, and I want to put it in my Pagemaker layout. How do I make that happen?” I was, even then, writing the process of, “Well, you have to move it through to three different programs on the PC.” Then you had to connect the PC to a Mac with a cable back then. I just had this whole process down to a science, so that we could repeat it every week when he brought it in, to go in his little newsletter.
The next job I had was helping with mail-order catalogs. The same kind of thing, we’re going from creating the product, because most of it was paper products, all the way through the photography of that and then the layout of the catalog and then how they are distributed and printed, the whole process surrounding that. We were able to start repeating that every quarter.
As all of these things just happened, the ability to write played in really, really well. Writing process is very cut and dry. It’s not flowery. It’s just like journalism, just the facts ma’am kind of thing. Throughout this entire time, I was always working for small business owners. And usually directly reporting to the small business owner to help them deal with the chaos and the drama, simplifying and clarifying it, making a process to get rid of the chaos.
Eventually, I just got to the point, after working with so many of them throughout my career, the last one I was a project manager for a software development company. Oh, and I guess I should mention my 10 years of operations experience, at an ad agency finally. I got there, in Chicago. That actually shaped a lot of my career, being able to help a whole bunch of teams not work in silos, really work across and systemize how things worked together better.
Then that last job, I’m like, “Why am I only doing this for one person at a time?” Let’s take it to the masses. So that’s how Beyond the Chaos came to be.
Reginald: Oh wow. Well, since that time, I’m pretty sure you’ve noticed a trend. The tech then, 80s, with the Mac, with the Apple and all that, now you’re probably like, people that are younger doing project management now, complaining about … There might be some complaints and some issues, and you’re like, “You don’t know the half of it.”
Susan: Yeah, you don’t know. There was no such thing as Basecamp or Teamwork or Asana or any of those project management tools then. You had to go old school. Sometimes you had to do it in Excel, which is atrocious.
Susan: I would never recommend that. If you’re using Excel, stop.
Susan: Things did not move as quickly as they move now. Things can move quicker now, and so the expectation is to push things through quicker now. That process and system, if you don’t have it in place, if you’re not consistently doing the same thing to the point it becomes innate, you cannot keep up. You just can’t.
Yeah. My question with that, project management, if you’re a project manager, or say someone’s listening now wants to get in that field, and they’re like, “Hey, I want to be a project manager for this big …” Let’s be ridiculous Google.
Reginald: They’re going to need something to bring to the table, right?
Susan: Right. My path through project management has very much been for small companies. It’s just using my innate skills. Of course, I’ve picked up stuff over 35 years. I’ve totally picked up tricks and that kind of thing. If you’re starting out and you want to do something like this, I understand that there’s actually a major in college for project management now. There was not one when I went to school. You could look at that.
Also there are certifications, like getting a PMP. You get to put letters after your name if you get this. There are certifications you have to go through. A lot of proof of project management to get that certification, a lot of hours that you have to demonstrate, that you put towards it. For me and my company and our small businesses, we don’t push that certification at all. Sometimes what comes out of that certification are people that can communicate well in a large corporation, making graphs and charts and showing where things are, and they are less involved in making sure the project goes.
If you really want to do that type of thing, you can look at … I mean, there’s tons of jobs out there, but you’re going to have to get into an entry level job, almost like an apprentice. You’re going to have to do it to learn it. You want to be coached by somebody or managed by somebody who’s very good at it, so that they can point you in the right direction and give you all those tips and help you figure out the basics.
It’s more than just structure. It is also communication and empathy and being somebody’s best friend when they’re crying, because they’re working until nine o’clock at night and aren’t going to make their deadline. It’s a lot that goes into it. Sometimes you’re the bad guy, sometimes you’re the good guy. It really just depends on where you have to fall in, to get things done. That’s what you’re doing. You’re facilitating a process to make things happen.
Reginald: As far as the role of a project manager, which one you think, from your experience, you like the most? It seems like the project manager plays a lot of roles.
Susan: It does.
Reginald: What’s your favorite role?
Susan: My favorite role is probably mom.
Susan: The project manager also plays the role of mom, making sure everybody has what they need to do their jobs, making sure everybody feels okay and is comfortable, and the communication is going on. So yeah, mom is sometimes the one that I probably play the most when I do it. Probably, though, the people that worked with me would say I was the meanest mom ever. A very well disciplined mom.
Reginald: Yeah. Mean!
Susan: So mean.
Reginald: Yeah, I never knew that about project management. I just thought it was building charts, and you’re pretty much directing, “Okay, we’re going to start this here, and we’re going to do it like this.” I didn’t know it had so many different roles.
Susan: Yeah, because you’re doing everything to make a project go, and that involves working with people. In many cases, it’s diverse people. It’s a vice president who cares nothing except making the bottom line, and it’s a software developer or a creative person that is very, very persnickety about their work and needs it to be perfect. Those kinds of relationships are hard to navigate. Knowing personality types and how to work with them is really, really important, as part of all of it.
Reginald: Yeah, that goes to the next topic. If you have let’s say a CEO or chairman of the board, whatever, one that’s considering the bottom line, and you have the managers, the supervisors, and they’re all having different opinions on how this project should go, how do you control all those different ones? At the same time, everybody got to be heard. You want people, their voice to be heard as well, and not let someone’s authority say, “I’m the boss. You don’t have say-so. What I say is going to go.” I guess that’s where you come in. “No, he has an opinion. His idea, her idea, we’re going to combine it all.” When it gets crazy, that’s when you come in, right?
Reginald: How do you control that chaos, when you’ve got so many people like …
Susan: Right? The main thing that you have to come in as is completely objective. You have to pull the emotion out and start talking about what is the best thing to serve our client, or to serve what we’re creating, and how do we get there? Sucking that emotion out of the room and bringing everybody back to the goal, which is to put together something amazing that somebody is going to pay you for. How do we get it there on time?
Sometimes, yeah, there are strong personalities that are battling against each other. There’s also usually a hierarchy or tier system, where a creative director, for example, could step in and say, “No, I’m sorry, art director. We’re going to go with this because that’s more in line with what the client originally said they needed.” You can bring in others that might be their boss.
The project manager is never the boss. None of the people ever report to them. They are manipulating the schedule and sometimes the budget. Sometimes you’re moving a little money here to move it over here, so that you can adjust things to make it work out. There’s a lot of things like that, that they’re dealing with. They’re technically not in charge, so they have to be … Not even likable. They have to be very respected. People will listen because you’re the voice of reason, usually. Usually.
Reginald: Usually. Interesting. Interesting role, there. Wow. It’s like you’re the go-to, as far as answers, issues.
Reginald: “I have a deadline. What do I do?” “We’re granted a certain amount of money, and we’re going to go over budget,” a million, whatever it is. “What do we do?” “How can we get more time? I need more time to do this. Can you talk to such and such?” Type of thing.
Susan: Especially if you’re in a company that runs projects of multiple clients, which most people, that’s what they’re doing. You’re going to end up with … That person doesn’t just have your deadline on this one project. They have a whole bunch of other work to do, too. What is my priority? What should I be working on first? Which, sometimes it’s, “Which is the biggest client? What’s the biggest danger here we’re looking at, if something gets missed?”
I will tell you, especially working in my ad agency days, those teams … Man, they worked great under pressure. They did not miss deadlines. Deadlines were a thing that was real. You didn’t miss it. Almost when they got up to it, they did better work.
Reginald: Yeah, the pressure was on.
Susan: The pressure makes the diamond, right?
Reginald: Yeah, yeah.
Susan: It was fun to watch that happen when the pressure was on. Even if there were tears and screaming. That happened a lot, too.
Reginald: Yeah. I totally understand. Something about deadlines really show you who you are.
Susan: Deadlines are [crosstalk 00:21:04].
Reginald: Right. This is going to show you who you are as a person if you can make this deadline. You’re either going to really go and just put your all into it and make the deadline, or you’re just going to flake out, like, “Forget it.” That kind of weeds out the bad apples from the good apples, I think.
Susan: You don’t make it very far, especially in the advertising world. Software developers get a little more grace, I’ve found because they are dealing with things that one little sentence or comma can totally break everything. Then trying to find it … I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but with software developers, the theme is you have to ship it, it’s never perfect. Look at all the software you use. Every single one has bugs.
Susan: You’ll find it even in Microsoft Word. Something that’s been around for 30 years, there will still be a bug in it. These people that are writing code right now for an app that goes live next week, there’s going to be a bug. You’ve got to let it go. Coaching them on how to let it go is sometimes a challenge, as well.
Reginald: Interesting, with the whole app software. Apple is always updating. Every week they’re updating something. It’s like, “What?” Every week your phone, whatever, I have an iMac, whatever. It’s like you try to use it, I log it, “Oh, need to update.” Wait a minute, didn’t we do this last week?
Reginald: I guess that’s a good thing, right?
Susan: Fixed bugs is always the first thing in their release.
Reginald: Yeah, fixed bugs. Okay, all right. That makes sense. I never thought of it that way. There are always bugs. Certain apps you download, games, whatever, and people have issues. It’ll say at the bottom, “Update. This fixed bugs. This new update, fixing bugs.” Whatever. They always say something about bugs. That makes sense now. I never thought of it that way. There’s always bugs.
Susan: It’s never perfect. If you waited for a software developer to have a perfect product, we wouldn’t have anything that we have right now. We would not have any of this technology. We’ve all learned to live with it, too. When something comes up, we’re like, “oh yeah, that’s doesn’t work, let’s figure out a different way to do it.: Nobody gets mad at a person, you know? It’s a whole different perspective.
Good enough is something that comes up. It has to be good enough, which some people can look at as a negative. “Oh, well, good enough isn’t great. I want great.”
Reginald: You can’t get great.
Susan: Okay, well, or do you want to actually sell your product?
Reginald: Right. You want great, we’re going to be here a little bit longer.
Reginald: It’s going to be awhile. You’re never going to make people happy. Software. There’s always going to be an issue with software. You’re constantly going to be on that hamster wheel.
Susan: Somebody is always going to do something that you were like, “I would have never thought you would have done that.”
Reginald: Yeah, exactly. That makes sense now. I never thought about that, with software. Never thought. It’s like, “Dang it, all these freaking updates and issues with these apps and things on your phone.” I had a smart watch, and when it first came out, I always had issues with it charging. “What the hell?” Because you think they’re so known, Google, Apple, Samsung-
Susan: Right. They’re perfect, right?
Reginald: They’re perfect. “You guys always have issues with your software. You’re a multi-billion dollar company and your software always got bugs in them or something wrong with them.” Eventually, at some point, basically, they come up with new software and it fixes it, but it takes a while to get there.
Susan: Right. First, they have to know it exists. And then, they have to figure out how to fix it. Then, they have to prioritize it.
Reginald: All the other things, right. Right. Wow.
Susan: That’s what your project manager is back there doing. “Okay, let’s see. How many people reported this, and how much difference does it make to the user? Let’s go with this one being priority number one. Oh, could we fix these three really fast? Okay, then we could do those first, but then we have to go back to priority number one.” It’s shifting and helping direct people to be their best selves and to be the most effective they can be.
You mentioned football coach, but I always liken it to a general contractor, if you’re building a house. Can you imagine building a house without a general contractor? I mean, you’d have the flooring people show up on whatever day, maybe before the slab is put down. Which, you’ve got to have the plumbing in.
All that stuff has to happen. It has to happen in the right order. All the people have to be there at the right day, with the right equipment, to do the right job, and manage the weather. The fact that the homeowner is now frustrated because it’s not exactly what they thought they were getting, and we’re having to deal with that kind of drama, too. Your project manager is in the midst of all of that. In this case, we call them the general contractor.
Reginald: Now it’s coming clearer now. Yeah, that’s a lot. That’s a lot to do. Now we’re going to do it this way, we’re going to do it that way. You’re kind of like, “Okay, good idea, but we’re going to do this one first, and then we’re going to come back and go to that. I like that. We need to focus on this. This is the priority because the client, blah, blah, blah, but we’re going to come back. We’re going to circle back around. I see how much you like that. I know you don’t like this one, but this is the priority first. Then we can come back to your thing.”
Susan: Right. Right. You have to even think about that. Paint is one of the last things.
Susan: But we should have been picking out paint and what goes with the granite and what goes with the tile, we should have been picking out all of that much earlier, to get it ordered, so that it’s available. There’s a lot of moving parts that nobody thinks about. All those little bitty details are what some small business owners try to do themselves. It sucks them into that and prevents them from running their business. They’re doing that all day.
Reginald: All day, yeah.
Susan: And most are not very good at it. They are not project managers, that own a business. They are great at something else, and that’s why they own it. And they just see that chaos. There’s just chaos going on. “Nobody can do anything right. Nobody can finish things on time.” They don’t understand that’s a function of project management.
Reginald: Man. That’s like a blend of delegating, multitasking, all in one. You’ve got to delegate the people. And control the situation. You’ve got to be, like you said, a parent. You’ve got to be a therapist, all the things combined, to keep people from freaking out.
Susan: The therapist one is real. That’s real. You’ve got to do that a lot.
Reginald: Yeah, I can see that. People just, “Oh my god, it’s going to fail!” No, it’s not going to fail.
Susan: We’re going to be all right.
Reginald: “We’re going to be okay. We’re going to be okay.” All right. We’re going to jump to your site real quick.
Reginald: We’re going to pull this bad boy up. All right. Can you see?
Susan: I got it right there.
Reginald: All right. Those who are listening, we are on beyondthechaos.biz. Where should we go, Susan?
Susan: Well, first we can look, here’s our big tagline. “Is your business running you? Or are you running it?” That’s what we’re looking for here, is we’re making sure that you, as the business owner, are in charge, instead of letting the business be in charge of you. That’s what all of this theme is. If you scroll down, you’ll get to the Take Control part. We talk through how we help and who we work with. Then we share the types of companies. We work with software development houses, creative agencies, accounting boutiques, and home service providers. Then we have testimonials, our partners. We get through all of that, and then we have a blog, if you want to go back up to the top. Or I guess it does get there at the bottom, too.
Reginald: Let’s see. Yep, there it is.
Susan: Yeah, you can get to it there. If you scroll back up at the top, I can take you across the menu there and show you. In the services, that’s how we work with you. You can play around in there. In the resources, though, you’ll see Start Here. If you go to Start Here, you’ll get all of the different types of ways we can help you and bunches of reading, podcasts and videos, and all that, to help you in these different areas. That’s available to you.
Susan: Yeah. The other cool thing that we have on our site under Resources is the software as a service recommendation. These are the software we recommend to small business owners, to help them run their businesses. From project management to time tracking. Support, if you’re taking support tickets, we love Freshdesk. Slack and G Suite, everybody loves those these days. Calendly, I couldn’t work without it. All of these are software tools that would serve any small business well.
Reginald: Wow. You guys got a lot going on. That’s a lot of resources, essentially.
Susan: We believe technology is going to make you run a more effective business. It’s important to have the right technology to do the work that you need to do.
Reginald: Yeah, totally agree. That’s good because things like this help people that need project management not to do so much of a search, have to go around and find and Google, if you have everything right here at the same time.
Susan: Right. We know these work.
Susan: There are some details on us, our team, our partners. We call our team the Chaos Killers.
Reginald: Chaos Killers.
Susan: You’ll see that we have a bunch of women, which is very, very cool. I did not set out to run a business that was only women, but I did.
Reginald: It just happened.
Susan: Now I don’t even know if a man would actually apply. I’ve actually never even interviewed a man. But we’re not against it.
Susan: We just haven’t ever a male who is interested. We have case studies of the people we worked with there, too, and how we were able to help them, different types of businesses, different types of services.
Reginald: Peace of mind.
Susan: That’s a big one. A lot of our business owners struggle because they worry all night long and are awakened all night long, that they’ve forgotten something, or something is falling through the cracks, or they’re going to let somebody down. That’s one of the benefits of having operational or project management consulting, to help you put these techniques and these processes in place so that you prevent that feeling, that you just know it’s all handled. You know where to go, to find out what’s going on.
Reginald: Okay. Man, that’s nice. That’s nice, Susan.
Susan: Thank you.
Reginald: You pretty much have you’re the go-to as what people need. I guess what I like about it, everything is there, all the software. I like how you have the software already there for people. “Oh, do I need this? What else do I need?” Instead of those what and do I type of questions that people like to ask. You hate having to get your services, and then they’re like, “Oh, I need this, too? Who do I talk to to get this?” “I have it here for you. Everything’s there, right there for you. You don’t have to do all that searching.” If they’re business owners and they have a pretty nice-sized company, or a small company, they want less things to do as possible, you know?
Susan: We run into it all the time, where people will say, “Well, I got Teamwork, I got Asana, and it doesn’t work.” No, it really does work. There are hundreds of thousands of businesses out there using these tools. You have to develop the process and the technique around how you use the tool.
Going back to our construction idea. If you have the hammer and the nail, it doesn’t magically build the house. You have to follow a plan. You have to put the nails in the right place and all of those kinds of things. Building that process around how you’re using your tool is really important. It’s not just “go get the tool and solve your problem.” There’s more to it than that.
Reginald: Yeah. It’s not going to build itself. We wish. This is not The Jetsons. We haven’t got there yet.
Reginald: Well, Susan, it’s about that time. We’re going to go into the man cave, and we’re going to get one last final saying from you before we go and get, I guess, a little bit deeper. How’s that?
Susan: Okay, sounds good.
Reginald: Awesome. Let’s go. All right guys, we are in the man cave with Susan Fennema. Susan, let’s leave one final project management saying or quote, especially for those that are thinking about it. “Guys, here’s the truth, and I’m going to tell you something I wish I was told.” Let’s do that.
Susan: What I wish I was told is that structure sets you free. I spent a lot of my life feeling like I’m all bottled up because I’m so structured. It turns out it gives you the freedom to operate outside of chaos. Working outside of that chaos lets your mind be more creative. It helps you grow your business. It helps you build systems and processes that you can work with more team members to success and growth on. Without that structure, you’re really confined. You’re limited because you’re not able to simplify. You’re not able to get out of the day-to-day and get into the thinking big part.
Reginald: All right. That was the man cave thought of the day. Thank you. Susan, thank you for coming to the show. I really appreciate it. I really like that, what you gave. The info was very informative about project management. It was, like I said, something that I, a couple years ago, it might have been two years ago, I thought about. And I didn’t have any clue about project management. I just knew it was something that seemed interesting that I feel I could do. I was in law enforcement, and I like structure. But, I’m pretty multi-tasked and detailed and coordinated, and analytical thinking. I said, “It seems like something I could probably do.”
But I wasn’t sure what was required. It doesn’t seem too bad, actually, the way that you broke it down. You have to be able to delegate and multitask and kind of think, be pretty quick on your feet in thinking.
Susan: For sure.
Reginald: Quick decisions. You can’t just be one of those where you’re like, “Uh …” If you look confused in the face, they’re going, “Wait a minute.” Everybody’s going to be confused. You’ve got to have a quick answer and be able to keep things calm. I like that. I’m glad you broke it down for me, especially, and our listeners. Thank you so much for your time and your knowledge.
Susan: Well, Reginald, thanks so much for having me. This was really fun. I liked doing this so much, to be able to share those details of how you can really get up and go, if you’re going to do your own project and [crosstalk 00:40:08].
Reginald: Get up and go. That’s right. All righty. Well, you go enjoy the rest of the evening then. Thank you again.
Susan: Thank you.
Reginald: Thank you. All right guys, that was Episode 111, Project Management 911, with Susan Fennema. I hope you guys enjoyed the show. I love the information that she offered. Man, I wish I knew. It was something I would have done years ago. I think I could have did a good job, actually. Yeah.
You guys, if you enjoyed the show, please leave a comment, a like, on Patreon, actually. On Patreon. I am on Patreon, you guys. Go to Patreon and leave a comment or a like. Tell me what you like about the show and what you don’t like, show ideas, and other topics you would like to hear. Please, shoot it out to me. I’m pretty sure, if I don’t already have a guest, I will get guests like that.
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Always remember: you are the author of your legacy. Bye.