Aderson Oliveira: I've spoken with Alma Abreu about Project Management and why business owners should consider applying a methodology like Agile to doing business in general. We have also talked about how to project manage a team of remote and outsourced professionals. She mentioned about the importance of having a product road map even if you are a service business. Finally, find out why she recommends business owners to build autonomous and automated teams.
Hello, hello. Aderson Oliveira here. This is the OuchSourcing Podcast where I talk to professionals, to business owners, to people with a lot of knowledge on the outsourcing space, and what they do to make the outsourcing process way, way better, and way, way easier for everybody. Today, I have with me Alma Abreu. Alma is an Agile coach who helps business with project management, outsourcing business strategy, and new product development as well, and her company is called 360AgilePro.com. Alma, thank you very much for being here.
Alma Abreu: Thank you for welcoming me onto your show. Thank you so much.
Aderson: Pleasure is mine. We have a very interesting topic here to talk about. We're going to really dig a lot around the outsourcing when it comes to project management. But, I said Agile coach. I don't leave any stones unturned here. Let's try to explain, Alma. I would say what is Agile?
Alma: Agile is a framework that companies use to develop new products and bring them to market really quickly. It's actually a project management framework. There's different styles of project management, and Agile is one style. But, it's actually the framework that a lot of companies all over the world are moving to, and they're kind of moving away from the older method of managing a project.
Agile is used heavily in the technology industry, it's used by startup companies in Silicon Valley. A lot of high-tech companies that develop websites, mobile apps. Even marketing agencies or website development companies use Agile to manage their product launches from beginning to end.
Aderson: You are comparing that to the traditional waterfall type of approach. Is that correct?
Alma: Exactly. Traditionally, project management was always done in a waterfall approach where you plan everything in a phase, and there were about five phases that you use to plan out your entire project, everything had to be planned upfront, and what Agile does is that it does that whole cycle. Instead of doing it a whole year to plan something out, or months to plan it out and then after you go and build a website, or an online tool, then you go and test it and see if it works. Instead of doing that, you do everything within two-week Sprint cycles, and you get it done a lot quicker with higher quality.
Aderson: I’m a coder myself, so I do coding, and I always heard of the Agile concept and Agile methodology applied to coding projects, to programming projects, to projects like that, to projects more from a technical standpoint. Again, it might be just my limitation here, but I have not seen Agile applied to projects that are not tech-related. Is that where you applied Agile as well, to non-technical things?
Alma: Yes, definitely. Agile, specifically the framework that I specialize in, which is called Scrum, Scrum is excellent for helping teams of people work well together. Scrum is really about psychology, the psychology of teams. When you're planning to do something, whether you're a non-profit, or you're planning to do a charity project, or you are a marketing agency, or you're a company who you're selling a product and you want to launch something, you can use Scrum techniques to deliver those products to the market.
What it really is, and I can kind of summarize a little bit, you have a team of people who are going to deliver whatever that it is that you're trying to launch. It doesn't have to be a website; it could be something not related to that. But, you pretty much have a daily meeting, and you plan all of your work in Sprint cycles. You try to focus that you're going to get something done within a two-week period. You're going to have something that the whole team can see and your whole business can look at so that what this does is it actually pushes you and your team to actually make something a reality versus just taking your time and procrastinating.
Agile is like a psychology. It's almost like a way to think about how you run your business and it also gives you a lot of visibility into the status of your projects. On a daily basis, you would be able to see where you are, what issues you're having, if your team has any roadblocks, and where you're moving along the project cycle. With waterfall, that visibility wasn't easy to kind of see the status, but with Agile, specifically Scrum, you can see where something is, where you are, if you're stuck, and then the team works really well together because, over time, as you work using this process, your team becomes more self-organizing. So, if you're a business owner and you have a team, you can kind of let your team run on autopilot so that you're not always in the day-to-day of the business and they can kind of run your projects, get things done, and anytime you want to, you just hop into that daily meeting, and you can see where everything is at any point in time.
Aderson: You bring an Agile project management style to businesses. Just thinking out loud, is it appropriate to any size of business or any size of projects to apply that methodology?
Alma: Let me back up a little bit. The thing about Agile is not just managing a project that has a beginning and an end. Really, what Scrum does is it helps a business create products. The way you make money, typically, is that you have a product, or if you're a service-based business, you have to deliver something. You have to give your client something, whatever it is. What Scrum does is help you deliver that, whether it's a digital product, a physical product.
Let me tell you one thing. Let's kind of back up. The way it works is that you don't just use Scrum to manage something, you actually use it to come up with ideas, and the way it works is that, as a business owner, or if you have people, and sometimes with big companies, they have product managers, you use Agile techniques to actually come up with products that the market wants. The way you do that is you actually get together with your team, you define your features, you talk about what this product needs. You use these methods to actually test products before you even work on them to see if it's a viable market for that product, and you prioritize what it is. Pretty much, you should be prioritizing your business calls on a regular basis. You always have to reevaluate and prioritize what is most important. Out of all the work you're going to be doing, what is going to bring you the most business value, and you take out the waste that is not going to help you reach your business goals, and this is more like lean startups.
It's kind of all connected. It's like the lean startup, the lean business way of doing things and Agile are kind of all interconnected. So, that's what I teach business owners not just the management of the project, but actually prioritizing creating three-month road maps, creating a yearly road map, and I also help people create an Agile product road map, which is you map out for the whole year what you want to deliver for that year, what are you going to work on for the entire year. You can map the whole thing out, and of course, your plans are going to change. So, you meet with your team every month or every two months, and you continuously reevaluate your priorities. You reevaluate what's working, what's not working, and you reprioritize your business objectives every month, every two months, and that's what Agile is. Agile is the ability to be flexible to changing markets, to change quickly to be Agile, which is to be quick, right.
Aderson: Basically, what you're telling me, are you more focused on actually doing project management on behalf of your clients or are you actually training them to become the project managers that they should be?
Alma: Yes. I actually train them on how to make their company Agile, even people who are not in the project, because the team that's actually doing the project and the business should be one. It shouldn't be like a separate group for sales, a separate group for accounting. Everyone has to be working as one team. There has to be communication and visibility. We start there, and then I train teams on how to use Scrum so that you can use the Scrum framework to manage your projects. I actually come in and I can be a project manager.
I'm usually a Scrum master. A Scrum master is what we used to call our project manager for the old style of doing project management, but in Agile, specifically Scrum, we have what's called a Scrum master. A Scrum master is a team leader. We like to have teams that are not too large. We want to have maybe seven people on the team, nine people the most, and then from that team, you have a leader, and that leader is a Scrum master, and the Scrum master facilitates helping the team to deliver the work in the two-week cycles that I explained before. I actually come in and I can be your Scrum master, and I would actually help your business to run the project for you. I would actually run the project, and then I also coach and train your team, and train you as well.
Aderson: Let's bring that project management style in a remote environment that we can potentially be working with outsourcing providers as well. Again, the complexity escalates from here. We have distributed workers that may not necessarily be working full-time for us. How do you apply something like this to a remote environment of people working all over the place and not necessarily in a full-time basis for your client's company?
Alma: Exactly. I actually used to have my own marketing agency, and I had my team -- this is really where I got the concept that I realized business owners needed help with this. They needed help to manage virtual teams. That's what I teach, and for large companies, I've managed completely remote teams where I'm working from home and my whole team is all over the world, from Asia, to Europe, Latin America. I did that for large companies. I also did it for my own company when I had my marketing agency, and I used to use freelancers, freelance programmers, I use blog writers to help with the content, and I had a few virtual assistants that I work with.
In my own experience as a business owner, you can easily manage a virtual team. You should be using tools, like if you want to use Trello or Asana. You can use those tools. You create swim lanes where you show three columns, where you show the to-do items, in progress, and done, and you meet with your team. I used to have meetings with them, and we would have video, like kind of how me and you are meeting now. When you have a virtual team, it's really important that you have these video meetings, because it helps you feel connected, and it really helps you communicate.
One thing I wanted to say, for business owners who do have a virtual team, do not rely on email, and do not rely on Trello and Asana. You need to talk to your team on the phone. You need to hear their voice, you need to have real discussions and real conversations. You can't run a business, your team is not going to do a good job. What I used to do is I would meet with my team, and we would actually do a screen share. We'd use the tools like GoToMeeting, or whatever webinar software, and I would show them my desktop, we would share, we'd talk about the work by actually using and looking at what we were talking about.
I think that using tools like conference meeting tools, online collaboration tools where you can talk to each other and share the work while you're having a conversation is the best way to manage a virtual team, and you really have to give them deadlines. You need to give them due dates. You have to tell them, "I need this by this time." You just have to be very clear, and when you're using Trello or Asana, you put those due dates there, you load up all the information, you give them a lot of detail, and you have your weekly meetings. If you don't want to meet every day, you can meet once or twice a week. I do like having as many meetings as I can. If I have a really big project that I really need to launch really, really quickly, then I would say, "Okay, you have a project. You want to get something out within a month or two months, then yeah, meet every day." But, if you're just doing the day-to-day, you can just have one meeting a week.
Aderson: I have a tricky question -- or not tricky, maybe complex. As a client, having a remote team and working with people all over the globe, how do I come to the realization that I may need some training or I may need some help with project management. Because, there are things in life and in business that clearly I need help from an accountant because I need to have my books done? But, project management, it does seem to me as a clear cut as could be something like bookkeeping or like an accountant. How would I come to realize that maybe I need help with project management?
Alma: For instance, I am a project manager that a business could hire for example. I would come into a company and I would run their projects for them to help them. I think that a project manager -- I'm actually PMP-certified. I'm certified by PMI, I'm certified by the Scrum Alliance, I have my certified Scrum Master, and I've been doing this for years. The thing is, if you really want to grow your business, you need to outsource to people. Obviously, I'm sure your audience knows about outsourcing because your show was about that. But, hiring someone who could be a leader for your team. If you have people already, you can train someone to be a leader and make that person a project manager, or you can hire a freelance project manager who can help you run the business, give you a weekly update on where you are, and just really help you so that you are able to work on other areas of your business.
Project management is needed. You need a project manager when you have projects that really are high stakes that if you’re a business owner, you feel overwhelmed. You just feel like, "I'm doing too much." That's when you know you need a project manager. You need to get a project manager to help you manage the team. If you want that type of level of freedom in your business and flexibility in your business, which is why we start businesses, not to be there 12 hours a day, 70 hours a week. Just get a job if you want to do it.
The point is to have that work-life balance as a business owner, and a project manager can help you streamline the task management and the work that your team is doing, especially if you have a team of outsource freelancers and contractors. The project manager will be able to make sure, keep abreast of what they're doing, and then get back to you on that feedback.
Aderson: Here is a personal challenge that I have, and I have run agencies, and a part of my business is still related to an agency. A problem that I have, or a challenge that I have in my business is that it's hard to get someone as a PM that can interface with my clients on behalf of my organization in a way that it can truly represent my organization properly. It's hard. I find it challenging to instigate or get out of someone to behave as part of my organization even though they are a third party providing me a service, they're not working for me full-time. I'm sure that this is applicable to what you do and the people that you train as well. How do you overcome the challenge of having a third-party person come to your organization and being able to truly represent my organization on my behalf and I can trust you with my clients? First of all, is that a challenge that you have seen before?
Alma: To be honest with you, I want to answer your question, but I haven't experienced that challenge because when I have my own marketing agency, I had a project manager, she was actually a virtual assistant and she was really reliable. She showed me she had good leadership skills, she was very professional, and the way she talked, and treated me, and worked with the team, I saw in her that she could be the face of my company to my clients. So, I had her as my project manager. I trained her how to be a project manager and she helped my clients, she communicated with them.
I think, as a business owner, I do understand that concern because you want to make sure the person representing you is going to be professional, they're going to have customer service skills. Here's the thing, if you're going to hire a project manager who's going to do customer-facing work, that's like a different type of person. I actually did both in my career. I did internal projects where I never met with the customer, and then I did projects where I was the face of the company, I had to be.
In that scenario, that type of project manager, which is we call them client-facing project managers, they have to have excellent customer service skills. They have to be very professional. It's all about customer service, and then you have to know how to manage commitments. If you promise your client you're going to have something by a certain date, and that is late. The project, whatever it is, is late. You're not going to make it. That PM has to know how to smooth it out, how to talk to them in a certain way where they don't get so upset like, "Give me my money back. I don't want to work with you anymore." There's a way and a method to in emails where you talk to them in a certain way. You reassure them.
Let's say you're late. Your PM should explain to them. Be transparent and explain to the client that, "We had some issues, however we will have this done for you within the next two days." Always make sure. Your project manager needs to be communicating with the client on a regular basis immediately. When the client emails you, you get back to them. You're professional. The way you find someone that's good is that you train them, you see how they talk to people, you can test them out, maybe have them work with you. Maybe, you can have that project manager sit with you on client phone calls and slowly reel them in so the project manager can learn about your business and your culture, and be able to communicate that and pretty much express that as well.
Aderson: I love it. That's what I was looking for, really. You have explained that very well, but it's challenging to find individuals with that profile. My point to you is that part of -- because, you said that there's a distinction between projects that face clients and projects that are internal. Is your business and yourself only dealing with internal or you'll deal also with external projects too?
Alma: Me, personally, as part of my consulting, yes. I do both because that's the experience I have. I've managed client-facing. I had a lot of technology companies where I was helping to implement software for their customers, so I had to manage the schedule, make sure that I was sending people out to their site that was involved. I was doing client coordination. Me, personally, that's what I do. I had that skill set, and I think that is a special skill set. If you're looking to hire a PM that has that type of skill set, I typically would look for someone who did that before who has experience doing it, because it's a special skill.
As a PM you have to negotiate. You're always negotiating between when the client says they want something and when you can truly deliver. When can the team really deliver and you're always negotiating scope, because the client paid you a certain amount of money to get something done and then they say, "Can you also do this for me and add that?'' and at some point, your PM is a negotiator. They're managing this scope and so you have to have that negotiation type of skill. If you are looking to hire a PM, make sure that they do have prior experience with client-facing project management. I know when I used to work for big companies when I was being hired by recruiters, they only wanted people that had prior experience, because it just takes a different type of skill.
Aderson: You're very right. Let me mention this. The other day I was talking to a good friend of mine. He is a technical guy that has a business. He's a smart guy, but he made a comment, and I'd like to hear from you your thoughts on that. He made a comment about project managers and project management in general, and he said that PM is an overhead. I heard that and I said, "I don't know if I fully agree. I don't if I fully disagree," but I'd be interested to hear your take on someone coming to you and saying, "In my opinion, PM is an overhead and we can manage our project ourselves." What would you say to someone that would say that to you?
Alma: What type of business does he have? That would be the number one question I'd ask first.
Aderson: It's a web dev shop.
Alma: Okay, I've heard that before. I guess, in that scenario, I know some development shops, they don't have PM's. They may have like a senior technical architect or analyst as the interface. But, what happens is that person is doing project management. Even though that's not the title, they are the project manager. They're doing project management anyway. You know what I'm saying? But, they're also doing other things. So, they're doing project management, they're also doing development work, or they're doing architecture.
I guess, in his scenario, and I've heard that especially in the tech for small dev shops, I hear sometimes they say that, and I guess they want to have someone who does both so that they're not paying like a separate function. But, I've heard that before, and that's just how if they feel happy with that, then yeah. But, sometimes people who are really technical, they don't know how to speak to people who are non-technical. A PM, typically, should have that skill. They would know how to talk to people who have no technical background and explain to them very highly complex concepts and make it sound really easy. That's where the PM would benefit.
Aderson: I love it, and I think that you have a valid point there. Depending on the size of your organization or the agency size, maybe someone will be doing both roles. They may have some skills that can be leveraged to be a PM as well, and not only an architect. But, I love the answer here.
Let me ask you this. One of the ways that we learn as people and as businesses and as professionals is with mistakes, is with problems that we come across, and we overcome them. I can only imagine that, in your experience there, you may have come across a lot of problems, a lot of issues, a lot of horror stories. I'd love to hear if you are able to share, maybe, a problematic situation that you found yourself in related to project management, related to maybe outsourcing as well. Can you, maybe, share with us one of those horror stories that you may have come across in the past and the lessons learned out of that situation?
Alma: When I have my own content marketing agency, it was really crucial, because if I had a team, and I was supposed to deliver something to my client by a certain date, and anything went wrong, it's all on me. The pressure was stronger. I've had bad experiences. I would hire a graphic designer, or I would hire a freelance writer, and I wouldn't hear anything back from them at all. They said they were going to get something done in two weeks, or one week, or a couple of days, and no show. The way I started to handle that situation, I just started to really test people out before I brought them onto my client work. I use websites like Upwork.com or those outsourcing websites, and I always tested them with a small project first.
What I looked for was reliability, communication, and professionalism, and if they didn't have those three, then I wouldn't work with them. Sometimes, even if their work wasn't -- not that it was bad, but it was just okay work, I would still sometimes hire them because I knew I can maybe give them more direction. But, they had the qualities of being reliable. If you're really good at what you do, and you're unprofessional, and you don't communicate, then it's going to be hard for us to work together, right?
I definitely tested people out a lot and I always looked for when I'm outsourcing for my own business, the top thing I look for is someone who gets back to me. When I email them, they get back to me like really quickly, I know that person can be on my team. Because, when you're not in the same office and you're remote, you don't know what's going on. You need to have that constant communication. It's actually more imperative that they get back to you right away.
Aderson: Just briefly, what do you outsource in your business? What type of work do you outsource?
Alma: When I do some of the marketing I do outsource content writing, I outsource graphic design, I outsource website design. As a project manager, I'm just always making sure that things are going the right way. I do outsource a lot of the marketing aspects.
Aderson: What is the typical client profile of yours? What is the typical individual that you work with to teach them about project management?
Alma: I think, number one, website development companies or any type of technology firms that people who do coding, development software, but also businesses that are putting out digital products. If you have a membership website, if you're selling online courses, if you have like software as a service, SaaS companies, anybody who relies heavily on technology to deliver their products and services. That's the ideal client for me because that's just mainly where the project management skill is really, really needed.
Aderson: Awesome. Alma, what is the key to be successful in project management?
Alma: The key to be successful in project management is the negotiation. You have to be able to negotiate the scope, the budget, and the schedule. You may have a budget of a certain amount of money, and you may want to do certain things, but you may not have enough to do everything you want. You have to negotiate, you have to prioritize, you have to leave certain things out, and then making sure that all of that's going to fit in your desired timeline. Negotiation skills are really crucial.
Aderson: I guess it's all about compromising this and being able to see what can you compromise in terms of budget, scope to get things done.
Alma: Exactly. It's about compromising and reprioritizing. You can't do everything that you want within the next week. So, certain things have to come first, second, and third.
Aderson: Very good. Alma, is there anything that we haven't discussed here that you find it's important about, maybe, outsourcing, maybe project management, maybe project management within the context of outsourcing? Anything that we haven't discussed that you feel you need to get it out?
Alma: Yeah, I think, number one, I want to talk about the product road maps. I think it's really important that a business owner has a vision and they actually document that vision of what they're going to release for that year. Depending on what type of business, make a timeline as to for the next three months, for the next 90 days, what do we want to focus on? What do me and my team want to focus on? And communicate that. Sometimes, I use the wall back here and I put sticky notes, and I just kind of put all of my ideas there, and getting those ideas and documenting them is really important.
The other thing I want to say is that, for business owners, when you're creating products and services to sell in your business, you always have to create them keeping in mind and keeping those things in alignment with your true business goals, like what type of business do you really want to have? What type of work schedule do you want to have? What type of lifestyle do you want to have? Because, when you have a business, your business is like your life. That affects your life. That's what you spend time doing. So, when you're creating products and services, think about that, and they should always be in alignment, and prioritizing and creating your own value list for the business, a list of things that are important that you want to work on, and taking those other things out, taking out the waste is where I think business owners need to start before they begin any project. Because, you have to have that clear vision and priorities set. Pretty much, you have to focus on those things before you start to do any type of work.
Aderson: Love it. We're coming towards the end here Alma. What is the one thing that you like people to leave this conversation knowing more about? What is the one thing? Pick one. You mentioned a lot of things but pick one thing.
Alma: I think that, to be successful as a business owner, you need to be able to automate as much as you can. You use automation tools, but you can also automate your team. So, create a team of people that are going to help you and your business even if you outsource that work, and make them self-organizing. Make them meet when they can, or communicate. Use automation tools for communication. You can automate your team, because when they're autonomous, it will give you more time to do other things that are important. That's the main thing I want your listeners to take away is that use automation with the people you work with as well.
Aderson: Perfect, very good. Alma, I want to finalize, but before I let you go, can you please plug your company, plug your business, and let people know how they can contact you if they have more questions, or if they might be interested in engaging on your services?
Alma: Oh, yeah. My website is 360AgilePro.com, and if you go to my website, I have a free download for you where you can download a product road map template where you can actually use that template to plan your business out for the next 90 days. So, visit my website.
Aderson: Awesome, and as usual, all the links mentioned here will be placed in the show notes. Alma, thank you very much. You really open up my eyes to outsourcing project management as a viable option. I really loved the conversation, and looking forward to talking to you again in the future about some other topics that we may cover. Thank you very much.
Alma: Awesome. Thank you.