Authority Website Income
Shares

How Do We Manage Multiple Projects

I was at a great conference last weekend (RhodiumWeekend) and among other things one of the common questions that came up was about how do me and my team manage multiple projects.

What systems, management structure, incentivization plan etc do we use to have a handful of businesses running/growing simultaneously.

Let me first say that although I really enjoy the process of having multiple projects it may not be the optimal strategy for everyone. 

This post is going to share details about how we run our handful of businesses.

A lot of our process is taken from 3 books I am a big fan of…

E-Myth Revisited – This book goes down as my favourite business book and focuses on the the structure of the business with Entrepreneur, Manager and Technician roles along with defining the process and procedures of the business.

Scaling Up – Is a great book at laying out a system for setting up meetings and goals for a business.

The 3G Way – This book goes down as my most highlighted book of all time. It provides a glimpse into a high performance organization and lays out the framework they use to manage the business. It feels like a glimpse into one organization applied much of the teachings from the 2 books above with an extra emphasis on meritocracy and ruthless cost cutting.

In this next section I will layout how we operate our businesses related to each of the sections below…

Management & Team Structure

Above is an example of an org chart for one business (ContentRefined.com)

The key role for every business is to have an awesome Manager who is responsible for the performance of the business.

What I have realized is that this is the single most important role for a business to have success!

The team, process and results that follow the manager/leader of the business are critical.

  • Entrepreneur – Responsible for the idea
  • Manager – Responsible for setting up the team to execute the idea
  • Technician – Responsible for executing their part of the process

Sometimes people will wear multiple hats but it is ideal to not have too much crossover between the 3 levels.

Reporting Structure & The Single Most Important Meeting

If a management guru came in and told me that everything we were doing was wrong I could be convinced with the exception of our weekly 1:1 structure which I think is the #1 thing we do well.

I have been using the weekly 1:1 with my key managers and require each of them to do it with their managers.

The meeting uses the following structure…

  1. Any issues/questions/concerns (managers opportunity to share anything)
  2. Training focus areas (books, courses etc)
  3. Review their businesses scorecard – weekly updated metrics for their business, they update the sheet and we review it weekly. The scorecard is just a list of the 5-20 key metrics and notes on focus areas for the business listed in a Google Sheet.
  4. Feedback – Both the good and opportunities for improvement are shared. Most places I think are lucky to provide meaningful feedback 1-2 times per year we really strive to provide honest improvement focused feedback weekly.

Incentivization Structure

This is an area I could do a better job on regarding alignment of incentives but overall I am very happy with how we are setup.

Right now each manager gets a base salary and a % of the total sales they are responsible for (uncapped). This is good for aligning their interest in generating more sales but doesn’t provide the same focus on cost management I would like to see, luckily I am a pretty cheap guy to begin with so it keeps things generally under control.

It would be better to have this part of the process more aligned with incentives but since performance compensation is paid out monthly we need to use a system that is extremely easy to use.

Process and Procedures

The Key to Systematizing a Business Is Culture!

“Is there a procedure for that” needs to be the default response to most questions or issues by everyone!

It took me awhile to realize but it became clear that telling people systems needed to be created was a much tougher path to getting them onboard with the benefit of systems then them seeing and realizing the benefit.

We now have a culture where the first response to any issue or new assignment is asking the question “is there a procedure for that”. This has helped us scale up our businesses without too many repeated problems.

Tools for managing systems? There are lots of tools that look very interesting for managing systems/procedures but we have gone the super dumb/simple route and for each business there is a single Google Folder with a Single Google Sheet that lists all the procedures and then  each procedure is linked to from that sheet and in that folder. This creates some problems of updating/multiple copies etc but overall the simplicity of being able to onboard someone easily (everyone knows how to use Google Drive) and remove access when needed makes this route the best option for now.

I can see for some businesses with less turnover on the technician side and highly complex processes it would be useful to have a more robust procedure tracking system.

Goal Setting and Review Process:

Goal setting plays a big part in everything we do and although I don’t have the process down as much as I would like I do have a framework for cascading goals from annual – daily KPIs.

Here is how that process works…

  • Annual Goal Strategy and Goal Setting Process
    • Here we establish the MAJOR ideally only 2-3 goals for each business for the year
  • Monthly Reviews and KPIs for next month set
    • Each month we track our progress towards the annual goal and see where we are ahead or behind.
  • Weekly Meeting Reviewing Data
    • Each week we deep dive into the KPIs that drive the monthly results. Here we are looking at up to 10 data points vs the monthly review where we are really digging into the progress on only the key data points that roll into the annual results.
  • Daily Standup Meeting Talking About KPI
    • So that we never lose focus on our overall main goals each day at the daily 15min morning meeting each manager reports on their main numbers that pushes us towards our goals. Each manager has 1-2 numbers they report for over the last 24hrs. Usually it is sales and then some secondary key leading indicator metric.

Tools

There are a lot of awesome tools people recommend and I do believe there is value in them but for me we keep it dumb/simple.

  • Gmail
  • Google Docs
  • And then as standard a tech stack for our businesses as possible (wordpress, thrive (although thrive architect is sucking!), zaxaa, Shopify, active campaign) – The fewer unique tech solutions that are used the better so the same centralized support person/team can jump from one business to another and help solve an issue quickly.

My 5 Key Takeaways

Having built this process over the past few years these are the 5 key takeaways I feel I have learned.

  1. Dumb and Simple – Keeping things simple on the tools and the tech across multiple businesses allows for centralized resources to help in any business
  2. A Good Weekly 1 on 1 meeting is KEY! Everything else will flow from this meeting!
  3. Systems Culture – Forcing compliance to building systems doesn’t achieve the results you want – a systems/procedure first culture is key!
  4. Incentive Alignment – Having managers with skin in the game and investing heavily in their improvement is ultra important!
  5. Set but more importantly track Goals – Setting goals is great but setting and forgetting is much less powerful then having a process for tracking progress towards achieving those goals!

But What Does My Team Think?

Maybe  I am crazy and none of this is important… its possible… so here are the thoughts from Kelley and Maddie two of the teams key managers and their thoughts on what the good aspects of this system is for them.

Kelley

With running 5 different businesses for the company, processes and systems are an integral part of ensuring everything runs smoothly. When setting up new businesses it is important to lay a great foundation in order to maximize output and minimize expenses.

Processes

When I start a new service, I like to do everything from start to finish by myself to see how the process works and how I can improve them. As I do each part of the work flow, I like to create SOP’s that I can later use to help train employees. This helps alot with training but also if that person is sick or you need to replace them, it’s an easier transition with little to no leg time.

After I create a workflow that I think will work, I start to hire different people to fill the different roles in the company. I also try to ensure I am using the most efficient approaches possible from both a productivity and a cost standpoint.

Management

From a weekly meeting standpoint, I have a one hour meeting with Jon to go over the different businesses. We look at productivity, output and costs of each and how we can improve on them. This process allows Jon and I to get a good understanding of how the businesses are doing and if we see anything out of the ordinary, we talk about ways to adjust them. These meetings help with my managerial development and allows me to take ownership over each business and correct anything that needs correcting.

From managing my team, we usually just use email communication to talk about any issues arise. Apart from that, they have weekly numbers that they need to report to me. This allows me to see how each sub-team is doing and ensuring everything is on track.

Maddie:

Managing a company like Content Refined can be challenging, as our processes are changing all the time to fit the current needs of the business.

There are 4 weekly activities that are done on a weekly basis that I think are crucial to the ongoing success of Content Refined:

  1. My weekly Business Growth meeting with Jon
  2. My weekly 1-1 with Jon
  3. My weekly 1- 1 with my Project Managers
  4. My weekly coaching session with my professional business coach

Let me dive a little bit deeper into all four of these activities:

  1. My weekly Business Growth meeting with Jon

This is a really important meeting to have every week. Jon and I will sit down for an hour a week and go over several aspects of the business together.

  1. a) The weekly numbers for the business- This will include numbers like the number of sales that week, trailing 30-day revenue, the growth rate that week, the number of new customers, number of churned out customers etc..
  2. b) Marketing and growth initiatives- This is basically a to-do list for different marketing strategies that we’re trying out. We will assign these to one another, or another team member, and this creates accountability for these tasks to get done. Some of our recent tasks include activities such as acquiring new affiliates, creating targeted Facebook ads, creating an inbound content marketing strategy on our Content Refined blog, creating a backlink strategy for the website, etc…
  3. c) Evaluating our weekly costs/margins for the business: I will do a weekly calculation of what we have paid our production team every week. I will calculate the cost per article based on how many articles were delivered throughout the week as well. This will allow us to see if we need to improve our margins or not. Lately, our margins have been suffering a little bit as we have had to expand our team, so we will be adding a Project Manager ” efficiency” metric to our management system so we can get better reporting and figure out where our costs are highest.

This meeting allows Jon and I to be on the same page on a week to week basis about the business. It doesn’t leave room for the business to go stagnant or for any frustrations to build up since there is solid communication about crucial aspects of the business every week.

  1. My weekly 1-1 with Jon

My weekly 1-1 with Jon is similar to the growth meeting except it is more personal and it is more about “me” and “my” role within the business.

This meeting gives me the opportunity to discuss any issues that I might be having or any resources/training I might need. Jon is a great business mentor and can generally provide some great feedback and provide resources that will help me in my weaker areas. The weekly 1-1’s have changed a little bit over time, but are tracked on a weekly scorecard where we will take notes and set goals for the following week. Again, this creates accountability but is more focused on the individual than the business. Here’s a little piece of advice, don’t ever tell Jon that one of your goals is to read a few books on your vacation. I did this and had a stack of nerdy books delivered to me at the next 1 on 1.

  1. My weekly 1- 1 with my Project Managers

My weekly 1 on 1’s with my Project Managers is a structured meeting that will allow me to have a bird’s eye view of all business activities. This also gives my Project Managers the opportunity to express any concerns, issues or resources that they might need from me. I like the current structure as I am able to track the MRR that each Project Manager is responsible for. When you weigh that against their hours billed, you can get a good sense of how much time they are spending on each client which can help me identify where their strengths and weaknesses are.

Here is a template of our weekly meeting scorecard . Feel free to make a copy if you want to use it to help you manage your staff

  1. My weekly coaching session with my professional business coach

I was never a believer in ” coaching” until I won a free trial with a business coach. Now, this is a meeting that I rely on heavily on a weekly basis. It is so useful to have someone who is completely removed and neutral from the business. Don’t get me wrong, Jon is great, but he isn’t a neutral party and in a small company it’s really important to be able to bounce ideas off of people who don’t have an invested interest in your business.

My weekly with my business coach is broken into 3 parts:

  1. a) Personal work-life balance
  2. b) Productivity and organization
  3. c) 1 thing I want to achieve by the following week

This meeting allows me to take a step back from the business a bit and see the bigger picture. It also forces me to stay organized and productive because if I don’t hit my goals I get seriously scolded the next week. Since I started with my coach in early September, we sustained a 25% growth rate in just a few short weeks.

All this to say, I think that my week is generally pretty filled up with non-day-to-day business activities, which means that I’m constantly working on things that could very well go stagnant if I didn’t have parameters, timelines, and goals around them. I think that the open communication piece is very important to managing any successful business. You are much less likely to have unhappy staff if you have weekly updates as you give people the opportunity to discuss issues as soon as they come up and then come up with strategies, together, to solve them before they get out of control.

One thing that I think would be beneficial for us long term is to find a project management tool that can help us track this stuff. Jon is a huge believer in the Google sheet, which has worked really well for us up to date. But I do think that there are some great tools out there worth exploring that might have different functionalities that might help us be much more efficient with tracking, assigning, reporting etc..

About the Author Jon

I am a 33 year old husband, father of 3, engineer and a huge fan of developing systems to build useful and profitable websites. The reason I build online businesses is to provide financial independence for my family and yours AND so I can spend time outside skiing and biking with my family.
Jon Gillham, Online Entrepreneur

Leave a Comment:

1 comment
Ryan says November 20, 2017

Hey Jon,

Great post here. Long time reader and really enjoy watching your mission. Got a question for you and Maddie. First, do you have any business coaches that you talk with regularly? If so, how did you find them?

And Maddie, how did you find your current business coach? You said you won a free trial, so what does that mean?? Thanks.

Reply
Add Your Reply