We Got This!

In this SmallCo. “We Got This” session, Mitzi Howard of Scott Howard Consulting and Susan talk small business and project management issues, led by hosts Gianna Harum-Alvarez and Hassell Moreno. From too much work, lack of delegation, and poor communication, this session helps you regain control of your business and your development team.

Please find a full video transcription below.

Gianna:  Hello, hello everybody.

Hazel:  Hello everyone.

Mitzi:  Hi.

Gianna:  We’re live and welcome to We Got This.

Hazel:  Session two.

Gianna:  Session two. If you want to see session one, you can click back over there. If you look at the top, you’ll see something that says SmallCo. and you can check out all of Small Co.’s Crowdcasts. This is just one of many that we’re trying to do. And so my name is Gianna. I’m a project manager at SmallCo.

Hazel:  And my name is Hassell and I’m an assistant manager at SmallCo.

Gianna:  And so this is our product management Crowdcast that we’re going to try to do on a recurring basis where we invite special guests from the FileMaker community who can speak on their experience in project management. And we have two amazing women here today. We have Mitzi Howard.

Mitzi Howard:  Hi.

Gianna:  And Susan Fennema. And so we ask you guys to introduce yourselves to the group.

Mitzi:  All right. My name is Mitzi Howard. I am the wife of Scott Howard and we own Scott Howard Consulting. I have been, we’ve been in business since about 2007. We started mainly with Scott just being a sole developer. At one point, he actually worked with Albert in SmallCo. and then about four years ago we started hiring developers and now we’ve got a development team of seven employees on our staff.

Well, actually, including myself and Scott nine. So we’ve got a development, a bigger development team now and about two years ago when our project management, project manager left and moved to California with her new husband, the task of project management fell more on me as the wife of the owner and to allow the company to grow a little bit more, we hired Susan Fennema to help us establish some processes to improve our project management process in general so that we can be more effective with our clients, more effective in managing the time it takes an estimating everything, really. She gave us several templates that were just great and that’s pretty much it about me right now. Susan.

Gianna:  Yeah.

Susan:  Well, Mitzi did a great introduction for me too, so, hi, I’m Susan Fennema. I am the Chaos Eradicating Officer for Beyond the Chaos. That’s really what I try to do is take the chaos out of wherever we go. What I help specifically with FileMaker companies, I help them with their project management, their operations development, so processes, systems around repeatable tasks so that you can successfully do the same things over and over again without reinventing the wheel every time. We do have some products that are templates for FileMaker that give you a base start without having to go through the whole consulting, although I think consulting help is better because it’s a lot more customized. But that’s what I do.

Gianna:  Yes, and I forgot to mention this before, everyone in the audience. If you try to speak to us, we won’t be able to hear you. Unless we invite you on the screen, which we can do later on. But to make your voices heard, there’s a chat box on the side, so please write your questions and we’ll keep an eye on that. If you have any responses to what we’re saying or any questions, you can pop them in there. And then also later on, if you want to be invited on the screen and you have something to say, we can invite you on. Keep an eye on the checkbox. We can start by, Susan has an amazing little quote about product management that really, is useful. And I thought it was an amazing point of view. So if you can share that, we can begin our …

Susan:  Sure. Sure. A product manager is the go-between, the messenger, the cheerleader, the babysitter, the translator, the mom or the dad, the alarm clock, the mission control, the problem solver and basically the catchall for anything else that needs to be done.

Gianna:  I love that.

Susan:  The only thing I think I left out of that is psychologist because that’s hard to do.

Gianna:  Yeah. So what is amazing is we each have as project managers and then a business manager over here. We have different ways that we view our role and so that’s going to affect also the way that we manage our teams. You know, am I like a mother to my team? Am I like a mediator? Am I a cheerleader? When things get rough. So I’m going to go through a bit of our questions and I’m going to start answering this. You’re going to see a prompt. We’re going to start answering our question number one, which is, “What do I do when my boss is wrong?

And I will say that Mitzi’s boss, well we can call him her boss, is her husband. So we can start with you, Mitzi. What do you do when your boss is wrong?

Mitzi:   First of all, don’t blow up at your boss whether he is your spouse or just your boss. I think of the quote, harsh words stir up anger. I happen to be the fiery one in the company. My husband’s very mild. Being angry doesn’t help at all. It doesn’t help the company be successful. If I know that he’s wrong about something, I really strived to explain where he can hear me. Exactly why I think the direction that we’re taking on a particular issue is wrong. Sometimes people like to see spreadsheets, you know, the visual learner, who wants, you know, all spreadsheets. They’ve got to see it all laid out. I happened to be one of those people.

I want to see it laid out. Where are the numbers? Scott, on the other hand, is one that, he likes visuals as well, but if I can express it in a way that the words are clear and not bound with emotion but very clear, you know, verbally with him, it just helps. It helps to lay out what are the benefits for your boss to understand about a situation. Will it affect the bottom line of company profitability? Can you prove that based on what you know? Will it cause your clients more stress or will it make them less and make them less likely to work with your company? If a project gets off the rails and you’re like all into this nonbillable time, you’re not going to get more money out of a client for all of that.

You’re going to basically have to understand it’s going to be a loss. And I’ll give an example in our company, which actually helped my husband understand, and I shared this earlier with you guys, was basically we had a client that was pretty much a charity that we were doing for pro bono … and we knew that going in. But after about a year of trying to get this project completed, I suggested, I said, “Scott, let’s just give them back the money and they’re gone.” And he really so wanted to do this project for these people. And we continued for yet another six months and another $25,000 in payroll and the project tanked anyway. It was a harsh, cruel lesson, you know, to learn to invest that much money and that much time. But it really helps Scott understand even more so. So you have to be willing to let your boss or even the company fail in a particular area.

You have to be willing to let it get off the rails so that your boss will be able to hear you more clearly sometimes.

Gianna:  Wow.

Mitzi:  And you don’t have an I told you so attitude. It’s more of a, okay, that helps you see that I was really trying to look out for the company. That’s what you do and your boss is wrong, is keep your head about you and understand that sometimes those are going to occur and that’s going to be okay. The company is probably going to survive. There’s only a few situations where the company’s going to completely tank. So, you know, you just have to think of it that way. Hope that that might be two-thirds of an answer.

Gianna:   Yeah, that’s amazing. Also prompted a follow-up question for me, but I’ll let Susan answer our first question before I try to pop in another one. But Susan,

Susan:  Okay.

Gianna:  What do you do when your boss …

Susan:  My boss is, are my clients, right? I can’t make them do anything and no project manager really can make someone do anything. You have to use your ability to focus on the facts to ask great questions. And Mitzi, that was one of the things I noticed is what you were saying, how you dealt with it. You ask questions, you don’t tell them what to do. You might start asking, so if we go down this path and we do it this way, what do you think’s going to happen when we get here? Or you know, I see some potential problems with this plan. You know, I see, you know, one, two, three, four. These things that might happen. How can we mitigate that before we get there? Eventually, if they make a decision that is not what you would make, I have said, “I don’t agree with you, but in my role, I will do what I can to support you as we go through this.”

Mitzi:  Absolutely.

Susan:  I’ve worked for a lot of small business owners before I went out on my own where I was, you know, I reported directly to them. So I have a lot of that. Trying to manage your manager type role. It is a challenge. But to me, it always came down to it is their decision. It is their company and if you do your part and speak up, that’s the important part. If you just let it go and you don’t say a word that when it’s your fault. That’s how I see it.

Gianna:  I liked that, that concept of sometimes you have to let things fail a little bit in order for you to see, do I continue with this or do we have to go a different way? And it must be really gut-wrenching when you see ahead of the road a little bit. Especially, you know, maybe if you’re not making all the money decisions, you’re seeing all of your resources going someplace where you know they shouldn’t be going. How do you find the appropriate place to say stop, danger?

It’s funny because when we were talking about, from your quote, project manager as the cheerleader. You don’t want to be Debbie Downer and … if there’s a lot of people putting all of their hard earned … time and sweat into this and … a lot of emotion in there. How do you say, let’s, can we take a pause on this? Or pull something, pull a project back. That’s tough. How do you, how far do you let things go before they get to that point? And how do you, how do you manage that pulling back on a project when it’s going south?

Susan:  So I think it’s important that on every project that you’re having weekly meetings internally as well as with your client. Depending on the pace of the project, maybe it’s every other week or something like that. But in those meetings you need to be where are we today? What is preventing you from doing your job? And then what is already complete and from those three questions you can figure out do we have risks that aren’t being addressed?

And those are risks need to be talked about as a team in those meetings. It can’t just be a, “Oh yeah, I’m on schedule. I checked off this box and it’s done.” Which I do love checking off boxes. That is one of my favorite things, but that does not necessarily mean that it’s actually done. Making sure that you’re asking what those risks are and bringing up on a continuing basis, repetitively, every time the concerns you still see. Are they closer? Are they further? Have we mitigated them completely? That’s an important part of that conversation. And if you’re not having that in an open way, you’re going to head for disaster. You have to have that open communication.

Mitzi:  Yeah. And I would say, I think, Susan, you were the one who gave us the idea, but I’m not sure. We have a, a question that goes out to our developers every day through Basecamp 3, which says, what did you do today? What, what is preventing you from moving forward? You know, what is causing you problems? Those are questions. And we expect our developers to let us know. We’ve even tried to developers if they’re, if they are getting, you know, if they’re finishing their work and they’re like hands, your hands are free. There’s usually something they could do on another project and said, we even try to encourage a lot of that open communication, understanding that, what can we do to help this move forward? We also, I would also suggest making sure that people test your software.

And not the person who developed it. Because if somebody says something that you as a pro, I mean, me as a project manager in our company, I will test software. Or we have someone who’s not, I prefer someone who knows nothing about software to test because that person is going to be your typical user. Most of the people that are going to go into your system and expect to be able to use it are going to be somebody who doesn’t know anything about the software. You know, a developer has his mind all in it and knows all the intricacies. But having someone else in the office test, when somebody says, yeah, I’m complete with a project, have someone else test it just to make sure.

Susan:  Yeah. I totally agree with that.

Gianna:  I love that. I’ll put done answering that question. Hassell you want, do you wanna take the next one?

Hassell:  How do you handle your mistakes as a project manager?

Susan:  I can, I can jump in on this one first. You own them. I mean, I, I’m a firm believer in, yes, I did this. I am very sorry it happened. This is what I’m doing and make sure it’s never happening again. So own it, apologize for it. And then we’ll say how you’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And I think if you can lead by that example, you can then also, I just saw Martha Zink in the chat. She’s getting ahead of me. Owning your mistakes allows everyone else to own theirs too. You’re, as a leader, setting that expectation that it’s okay if you’re wrong. I mean, nobody in the world can be perfect all the time. How you handle your mistakes is your measure of your professionalism.

Gianna:  Yeah, that’s true.

Mitzi:  Yeah. I agree wholeheartedly. Apologize immediately to no matter who it is. The client, the coworker, your boss, if warranted. I mean, the last week, I had a meeting that I had the, well, when we were on this trip, I had a meeting that I had set up. It was supposed to start at 9:00 AM. I’m in mountain time. Guess what? At nine in AM. And I had an east coast client. Guess who didn’t make the meeting.

I immediately, I emailed everybody on the team, your team, everybody else in you apologize immediately. And I just, I agree with this and that it just sets the tone for everybody to be able to understand that mistakes are expected. That nobody’s going to be perfect. Most of the things that I’ve learned, most of them are of most value to me. And even as a mother, my kids are the failures that I … had in front of them and in front of my employees. It’s the failures and how you handle those failures is, determines whether somebody is going to be willing to admit their failure to you. Just keeps integrity and honesty in the forefront.

Gianna:  I love that. I was just watching a TED Talk about … building … what is it called? Well, you’re building confidence. Building your team’s confidence in you. Credibility. Credibility. That’s the word. Building credibility as a leader. And sometimes that’s tough. If you slip up, you’re going to think, “Oh, they’re not going to trust me.” And they have to, your team has to trust you, in order for them to take direction from you and to believe that you’re actually steering on the right way. But honesty was one of the things they mentioned is to be very transparent with what you know, what you don’t know and where you’re going and if you slipped up just if it, as long as everyone is aware of that, then you know, they’ll feel more calm, confident in your ability to take them on to the next …

Susan:  You, the first time you place blame or try to hide something, you know, push it under the rug. You’re pretty much done as a leader and that’s really a leader in anything. Whether you’re a project manager, company owner, anything. Once you do that, your reputation, your integrity is gone. You just can’t.

Gianna:  Oh, of course.

Mitzi:  We’re all learning, all the time. And particularly even you, Gianna, even in your role. You’re going to be learning a lot. Part of just age for me is you’re realizing that everybody responds differently. People, if you respond to one person in a particular way. And run into another person and they respond completely different. Well, you’re coming, probably not handled them quite like they want to be handled. So it’s like you realize that there is, it is a process of learning and growing and, and just developing your craft, you know, daily.

Gianna:  That’s awesome. I did have a different question next, but I think this one will be a better transition. As we’re chatting a little bit about this before we went live. How has your management style changed as you got more experience? And so you’re just mentioning it. Obviously, I’ve been a project manager for about a year and a half or maybe a little bit more. My mistakes are going to be different from probably yours at your, at your stage in your career and probably more frequent. What are the big lessons you would say that you even think about on a day to day basis today? Of just reminding yourself … of certain principles?

Mitzi:  I personally try to listen a whole lot more. Ask a lot more questions for clarity. Whether it’s a client or team member, what’s in the best interest of that person? Because most people aren’t intentionally trying to only look out for themselves. But the reality is that most people are and the thing is is that if I can think about what’s in their best interest, how can I respond to them to where I can really help them move forward?

We said it earlier, but just restating what I understand someone’s need or a feature request is restating that. Those are big things. Learning how everybody on your team sort of ticks. We have one team member that is very quiet and makes me a nervous wreck because I never really know he’s thinking. I have to think don’t think that he’s just trying to ignore me to be mean or it just happens to be a quiet person, you know?

And it’s like I have to think about, a lot about how I approach him compared to another individual who’s a little more outgoing like me. Just be me more and, but just trying to restate and listen is probably the biggest things. I record a lot of meetings. We used to not recorder our meetings as much and I’m finding that recording, I use Zoom. We use Zoom a lot. Recording those meetings are really helpful in making sure that we really understand the client expectation. I love it. Like the fact that we can all see each other here. That’s awesome. Very helpful to me when you’re doing client collaboration meetings because that helps you see whether they’re engaged. If I’m the project manager and I’m sitting there on the call, I see the developer talking and then I see the clients setting up here going…

It’s very obvious the client is not engaged. They’re just not. And then I will specifically at that point ask the client a question. So again, it’s like to pull them talking to us so that way they can focus a little bit more and help to developer move along.

Gianna:  I love that.

Susan:  I think what I’ve learned throughout my career is, why you are there. The reason that you need a project manager is because it’s messy and it’s hard and it’s a lot of people doing a lot of things on their own and going all different ways. If it goes smoothly, they probably don’t need you. So all of those problems that get you all emotional and get you all frustrated and get you all lit up on fire because how on earth is that happening? You have to remember that that’s what you’re there for. And so that thought process throughout my career has really helped me to tone down my reaction and to take emotion out of them and to deal with the problems in a practical approach. Okay, so this has happened. How are we going to get to the next step? Now that we all feel emotionally upset, how are we all calming down and, and do what’s best for the project, for the client. Bring it to its end.

So it’s really tempering that emotion, I think.

Gianna:  Yeah.

Mitzi:  Yeah.

Gianna:  You get the feeling, you can do something about it. I like that.

Mitzi:  Good quote, Martha.

Gianna:  We’re also talking before about being an anger translator for … sometimes our bosses. Maybe even sometimes for the client. I remember the first time that I got, I’m not, I’m not going to say yelled that, but I’m going to say I got heated, I got like an ear full from a client and then I have to go and kind of take what the basis of what the point was and then try to push that forward to the team, you know? You had some helpful things to say about that. Kind of like pairing it down. You’re absorbing, here are the shock absorbers.

Susan:  Yeah, that’s a great, a great way to look at it. And you’re right. You can, you can translate between client and developer without the angry emotion, you know? And that’s going to help move the project along, in my opinion.

Gianna:  Yeah.

Mitzi:  Yes.

Gianna:  Yeah. And what I’m getting from you is structuring the conversation. So I need the relevant information and why this is relevant to the project because you’re managing the project. All right, what does this mean for the project? And then stating those things up to whoever needs to know them.

Mitzi:  Yeah, I think to restate, really helpful. Asking the person to restate how they’re feeling and why they’re feeling that way. And I had a client one time … Oh, go ahead.

Susan:  Sometimes I use the phrase, “So what I hear you saying is….”

Mitzi:  Yes.

Susan:  So that you can repeat back and, and sometimes when you say it that way, you’re also pulling that emotion out because you’re just boiling it down to the bottom line and hopefully you can get that person to come down with you too as you make those changes.

Gianna:  That’s awesome. Let me … I’ll put done answering for that. We have … I’m trying not to make this go to I’m, but we can try … one more question. I think this is … this is something that we mentioned at the beginning is, do you bill for project management hours? Which I think this will be a helpful one for everyone. But that’s, it’s a lot about, you know, what we’ve spoken about for the past half an hour is the value and you can see we project managers have a lot of value. And how do we translate that value into money? Billable work. So, Susan, you had some words about that.

Susan:  Sure. So you know you’re, everybody is project managing. Whether you have a project manager involved in the project or not. It is getting project managed. It might be getting project managed really poorly, but it is being done. So even if you completely pull that project manager out, you would probably have more hours from the developer acting as the project manager or the tech lead acting as the project manager in a role that’s not their role. They have other things that they’re responsible for so … they would go for it if they were doing it right.

So when bring a project manager in who is better at it, who that’s their only job is to make things go. Now you have a project and if you’re billing by the hour, you have a project that now is running better, it’s taking fewer hours. So you’re billing your client less money and then you’re not even billing them for your time to make that happen. So you’re leaving all sorts of money on the table when you do that, you wouldn’t, absolutely not try to build a house without a contractor. I mean, seriously, the counters would show up before the flooring and they would all show up before the plumbing and the foundation was even laid. You are very willing to pay a contractor to make that happen. And our project manager is no different and almost every client on the planet understands that. So there should absolutely be no reason to not bill project management in my mind.

Mitzi:  I agree. I agree wholeheartedly.

Gianna:  What I’ve done is, I mean … I’m just trying to get a hang of it. Sometimes. I definitely don’t always go for all of the hours that I spend.

Hassell:  Never.

Gianna:  It depends because, you know, there’s, you know, meetings, it’s clear that meeting was an hour, I’m going to put down an hour. But then there’s the checking of the project management apps and emailing and it’s like, you know, that’s more of like I’ll kind of put a block for, I spent this much time on that issue and so it will be more divided by, you know, the ticket or the actual … I’ll just say an hour or something for that.

Susan:  Right. If you spent an hour going through email, cleaning up your tool, divide that hour between those client. That’s the easiest way to do it because the best way to think about that in billable terms is if the client didn’t exist, would I have to do in this task?

Gianna:  No.

Susan:  So it makes it a lot easier to say, okay, no, I wouldn’t have to do it at all if they didn’t exist. So yes, it’s valuable and yes, I’m going to bill them for it.

Mitzi:  And just a suggestion too, cause if it’s hard to break it out per client, if you know that when you make an estimate for clients that you just say for every development hour, there’s going to be a 20% surcharge for project management. But explaining like Susan mentioned exactly what that role is going to entail and why that is a huge benefit to your client so that the developer doesn’t get way off track and go down rabbit holes that the client’s gonna end up having to pay for later. I mean that to me is a real benefit.

Gianna:  That’s awesome. Yeah. Asserting your value. I love that. That’s amazing. I think we’re coming around to time. There’s a couple other questions, but we can always save that for another session. But I think that, at least for me, and I’m sure for all the viewers who are either going to view this live or later, which by the way, once you click on this link after we close the session, there’ll be a recording of the whole event. This whole Crowdcast and you can always share that and look back on it. And, and I definitely will because I love specifically, I love the idea. Obviously, the weekly meetings is a huge deal. And then also having the video sharing, that’s something that I’m always reluctant to do because I don’t want to show my face, my tired face,

Mitzi:  I know.

Susan:  I can give you a little piece of advice on that one. It’s like everything else, the more you do it, the less you care.

Mitzi:  Yeah.

Susan:   So just do it.

Gianna:  Just put the video on. I’ll just put in a reminder an extra 15 minutes before to make sure that I don’t look like a crazy person.

Mitzi:  Put makeup on. Yeah. And I have run my video calls without video with me and my pajamas so just to let you know, that’s what I’m like. I’m not showing video today, everybody. I don’t have my lipstick on. Just communicating with them so it’s really clear.

Gianna:  Yeah. Yeah, there’s definitely useful information about communicating with your clients that we’re going to take away from this. And I just want to thank you both so much for participating and sharing your knowledge. Thank you so much.

Hassell:  This was fun. Thank you for having us.

Mitzi:  Thanks for having me. Yeah, it was fun.

Gianna:  Yeah. And thank you to the viewers and if you have, the chat, we’ll continue on even after the session is done. So if you have any suggestions for future sessions that you want to see, or if you even want to come on as a guest, let us know in the chat or you can even email us. I’ll drop my email in there if you want to come and be on the, We Got This Crowdcast, let me know. Thank you so much, and then we’ll see you next time. All right. Take care.

Mitzi:  Bye.

Susan:  Bye guys.


About Susan Fennema

Susan helps you gain control of your business through process development, organization, and structure of your business operations and projects. From developing processes to coaching project managers, she can help you get beyond the chaos.
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