OWEN: My guest today is Craig Harman and he’s the Managing Director at Harmonic New Media. Craig, welcome to show.
CRAIG: Thanks for having me on Owen. It’s a pleasure to be here.
OWEN: Awesome. The reason for this show is to get guests like yourself who have been able to systematize the entire business where it runs successfully without them and share that with our listeners. So I’m wondering, our listeners want to get something that would make them stay all the way to the end of the interview. What are some mind blowing results that you now experience as a result of going through the process of systematizing and automating your business.
CRAIG: I think the most important thing that came out of it for us was the efficiencies that we came across. That was for both myself and for all of the staff. But automating things and systematizing them, we’re able to record every action that was going on in the business. And that meant we could accurately measure the time it took people to do tasks and budget and estimate accordingly.
OWEN: And why was that to be able to estimate tasks and budget how long it takes to actually do tasks?
CRAIG: It just made our budgeting much more accurate. So when we were quoting clients we were easily able to know that task X has taken 20 minutes in the past or 15 minutes in the past, and we know that the figure we’re putting down to, the quotation was going to be pretty accurate in terms of how long it’s going to take us, what the cost was going to be to us, and how much profit we’d make on the job.
OWEN: Awesome. How has your company been transformed as a result of systematizing your business?
CRAIG: We implemented a project management system roughly two years ago now. As a result of that we’ve been able to double our team size. So our staff numbers have doubled. And we’ve tripled our turnover in the last year.
OWEN: When you say you implemented you own project management system what does that mean? Did you build something custom or what?
CRAIG: Yeah. We used a couple of off the shelf products for a number of years before that. And we found that although they’d kind of do up to about 90% of what we wanted there were some parts of our workflow that they just wouldn’t cover. So being a website design and development company I guess we had a bit more of the luxury of getting some of the team to spend some time on developing our own system that 100% matched our requirements.
OWEN: Yeah. And we’ll talk more about the systems you guys created custom and even with the name you guys call it and how it works down the line in the interview. But I’m also wondering, you mentioned during the pre-interview saying now there isn’t much admin work. That admin work now takes care of itself. Just talk about that a little bit.
CRAIG: When we had a job coming in originally I would be responsible for quoting on that job, so I’d need to talk to the team about an estimate in hours and how long it would take. I need to take that, convert it into a quote. And then the team would need to be spending time recording all of their times, putting that into our system at the end of the day. Now what they’re able to do is we can all just concentrate on the jobs that we’re actually here to do so we’re much more specialized who are doing development are doing development. They’re not sitting there helping me with quotes because I’ve already got the history of all of the times that they were doing a similar job before so I can accurately estimate how long it’s going to take them to do the job. We put that into our quoting package. When I take that quoting package and send out the quote to the client it’s an automated generating of a PDF. If we get the job then that information on how many hours I’ve estimate automatically goes to the team so that they know how long they’ve got to do the job. They record time against the jobs. And then once the job’s completed we can see how we run on profit or loss for the job, and all of that takes care of itself and it’s just really recording the time rather than someone having to look over someone’s shoulder, make sure they’re running on time. Everyone knows that automatically.
OWEN: That’s awesome. How was your personal life been transformed as a result of systematizing your business?
CRAIG: To be honest at the moment it probably hasn’t as much as I’d like it to.
OWEN: How so?
CRAIG: Look, the end goal is to obviously give myself some more time to be able to work on some other projects, spend some time with the family. We haven’t quite got there yet but I can certainly see the light at the end of the tunnel. Because of the growth we’ve been able to achieve systematizing the business we’ve taken on some more staff. So there’s just a few growing pains I guess that come along with that having doubled the staff size in such a quick amount of time has meant that I’ve had to spend time managing those people, making sure the systems are robust enough to cope with the extra staff and the extra work. But now that that’s sort of in place I can certainly see that what we’ve done is now ready so let me step away from the business a little bit more and try and achieve some of those goals of stepping away a bit more.
OWEN: Yes. I understand that on the personal side it has not had as much impact as well as much as on the business side itself. But I’m also wondering, since the business, right now it has systems in place that allows it for the most part to run without you what’s been the longest time you’ve actually been away from the business?
CRAIG: We’ve been in business about 15 years. I think the longest time that I’ve been away is about two weeks. And that sort of continued at the moment, but I’ve got a big holiday plan in the middle of the year this year. And that’ll let me get away for at least three weeks. So that’s very exciting.
OWEN: The listeners are probably wondering and I’m sure they probably get like a clue of what the business is because you mentioned developments and stuff like that. But I’m wondering what exactly does your company do and what big pain do you solve for your customers?
CRAIG: We offer digital solutions and that’s usually sitting in the marketing realm, so websites, web applications, mobile applications, digital strategy, SEO, SEM.
OWEN: I want to break that down for the listeners because you said something during the pre-interview that you guys are focused on back end systems. What does that mean?
CRAIG: A lot of digital agencies come more from a creative or front-end design type background. My background’s in computer science. So we’ve built the company up here that it’s much more about creating back end solutions and technical solutions to solve our customer’s problems. So we may create a, like we’ve done for ourselves, we might create a project management system for our client or integrate their existing CRM with another back end system, things like that.
OWEN: Okay. So it’s basically creating integrations for your customers, things that happen behind the scenes, not so much in front of the scenes for their marketing or website, things that are happening behind the scenes. Like maybe when something is bought on the website, probably what is being integrated to let the accounting know that something has been paid into the account and stuff like that. That’s what’s happening, right? How many full-time employees do you have?
CRAIG: We’ve got eight now.
OWEN: You said during the pre-interview you have two part-time as well?
CRAIG: That’s correct, two part-time.
OWEN: Okay. So the listener can have a context as to the company’s revenue. Is the company profitable? What was last year’s annual revenue and what do you plan to generate this year?
CRAIG: Sure. Yeah, we’re profitable. Last year we made a profit of $450,000. And then this year we’re looking at about $800,000.
OWEN: That is awesome. The business was not always like this where it was systematized and can actually run without you for the most part. So take us back to when the business was not systematized and automated like it is now. What was wrong with it at that time?
CRAIG: I think going back to what we were talking about before, both myself and the staff spent a lot of time doing work that wasn’t directly related to making revenue for the company. So I was spending a lot of time managing developers and designers, chasing them up to see where they were at in terms of their project load, making sure they weren’t going over budget, having meetings to discuss the timings and cost that I was going to be then quoting, writing up and providing quotes. So there was a lot of time that was spent just managing and being in administration tasks.
OWEN: You also mentioned that there were some issues also that you had to deal with, staff time sheets and stuff like that?
CRAIG: Yeah. Previously we had our staff time sheets in a separate system to our accounting system. So they had to be transferred by our bookkeeper into our accounting system especially the part-time staff to be paid. And also for me to then compare to what we’d estimated and budgeted for the actual job. So there was about a day or two’s work for a bookkeeper just doing data entry.
OWEN: Wow. Back when the business was not systematized what was the lowest point and describe how bad it got.
CRAIG: There was a number of times where we sort of felt like we needed another employee. So we were getting a lot more work in the door and we felt like we needed someone else but we couldn’t really prove it because we didn’t have the figures to back it up. So we were sort of having to bear the risk of either taking on an employee and paying a salary when we didn’t know whether we could afford that person moving forward, or what was probably worst looking back on it now is that we’d actually pass up on work because we couldn’t have the capacity to meet it.
OWEN: Yeah, having to over promise and not being able to do it for the customers.
CRAIG: Exactly, right. And I never liked to throw away work or say no to work, but the risk was then we couldn’t deliver to the client.
OWEN: And this issue of not being able to deliver it to the client and stuff like that. You mentioned something how it went on for quite a while. What was that time frame?
CRAIG: Yes. That was roughly about 6 months where we sort of just sat without making a decision in terms of do we expand, do we put on some new staff and see what happens, or do we start looking at how we solve this problem in terms of gathering more information and data about the projects we’re working on.
OWEN: My issue that you mentioned during the interview was managing different income stream and specifically trying to figure out it was harder due to the nature of the business you have, figuring out which specific jobs were more profitable, and which tasks were profitable, so on and so forth, right? Talk about that.
CRAIG: That’s right. We had to look at profitability. And because all of our work is basically time spent by staff members I could see a total amount of time in a job, but I didn’t really know how that time was divided up. So were we profitable in development but not in design, or vice versa. We didn’t know the individual staff members who were maybe working ahead of time…
OWEN: Contributing most of the revenue.
CRAIG: Exactly right.
OWEN: And it’s very critical because at the type of business you are you need to really get granular and know exactly not only the tasks at all levels where it’s racking the most income. But also the employee who’s driving the most revenue, in the sense that they’re delivering faster than everybody else, hence, you’re getting paid faster and stuff like that. When will you say was your breaking point? Do you remember something specific that happened that you realized, “Hey, you have to systematize and automate your business.” What happened?
CRAIG: There wasn’t really one breaking point I would say, there were probably a few. Obviously what we’ve just spoken about that I couldn’t pull out real profitability figures from projects was a major one. But also we started looking around tools that were available in terms of contact relationship management, project management. And seeing what other people were using we just realized that there was a better way to do things. So there were certainly that. And then just the idea that our bookkeeper was spending one or two days a week doing this data entry for us, we decided there had to be a way, and being integrated ourselves we sort of had to practice what we preach.
OWEN: Yeah. And that actually stood out to me the most from that point you made during the pre-interview how you’re helping people become systematized and automated by helping them integrate a lot of things behind the scenes and you had to practice what you preach.
CRAIG: So it’s like the plumber, he’s always got the leaky [Unintelligible 00:13:57]
OWEN: [Unintelligible 00:13:57] kids, right? And so what was the very first step you took to systematize the business back then?
CRAIG: Because we’re being sped on by looking at what was available it was really looking at some software-based solutions that we could use to manage our projects end-to-end. So we went through and did an extensive internet search, spoke to some other people in our industry, see whether they were using anything and what they were using. And I basically put together a bit of a shortlist and requirements analysis to say, “Here’s what we really need out of everything and here’s what each software package can deliver.”
OWEN: Okay. So we put together a list and figure out which ones work. The ones in the list, did you try using them to see if they worked. I’m asking did you only just did the research, but did you actually try to use them and see if they worked well with your workflow?
CRAIG: We’ve done this a couple of times now. So the original time we found something that we basically met every requirement we had, the one drawback of it was that it wasn’t cloud-based. So what we’re finding was we actually implementing that throughout the organization. We’re able to address all those major concerns about looking at profitability, reduced our data entry down. I’m not sort of 100%…
OWEN: Do you remember the name of the tool?
CRAIG: Yes. It was called Studiometry.
CRAIG: And it is still around today and the company’s called Oranged Software if anyone is interested in looking at it. And we thought it was a great package. It’s really flexible. It has an amazing amount of features. But for us being primarily an online and web company we started to realize that would couldn’t operate with a software application based-solution. We really needed to be in the cloud so we could get access to our clients we could automate with other cloud software. So we used that for a reasonable period of time and then we sort of went back to our list and went well. Is there anything else that’s going to address what we’re long for, and that’s when we found the package called Tree.io which was a very similar to Studiometry and what it offered, but it was cloud-based.
CRAIG: So we implemented that and used that for about a year and found again sort of very good but got us about 90% of the way there. So once we sort of realized, we’ve tried to things that fit almost to what we need to do. We’ve got the facilities in-house. Why don’t we start taking what we’ve already got in terms of the experience and the software packages we’re using and let’s use that experience and build our own.
OWEN: Okay, so you’ve tried a couple of solutions out there, saw that certain things are missing, even you tried the next one after that, realized that, okay, not almost quite complete what you needed to be. And you guys also have developers in-house due to the nature of what you guys just said. You said, “Okay, we know. Why don’t we just build ours?” And you built your own platform to manage your work. Okay, so that’s kind of a bunch of things you did altogether. But what was the second step you took… that’s what you said after the lessons you learned from using the first one you decided to build yours. So that’s obviously the second step. What other steps did you take to systematize your business?
CRAIG: Around the same time we moved to Xero which is a cloud accounting platform.
CRAIG: One of the main things to be honest wasn’t really about systemating and automating the business, it was just usability. It was just much easier to use to get reports out of to get historical data. But specifically in regards to automating the business, what it allowed us to do is to plug in to the project management system. So all of the data that we collected in terms of people’s timings, quotations would then get pushed through to zero, which then meant those two days of bookkeeper time to do data entry completely disappeared.
OWEN: That’s awesome. Now, the Xero accounting stuff because this is where the finance comes into play as well. You also mentioned that you had your sales person introduce a CRM, what was this about?
CRAIG: Sure. About a year ago we’ve got a sales person on-board and she introduced to us a software package called Agile CRM which then managed all of our contacts, leads, sales funnel type of stuff. And when that was put in place because we had Xero in our project management system. We’re able to take all those contacts from the CRM as soon as our salesperson had a lead and it pushed them straight into if that lead became a project then we would push that straight into the project management system, and then straight into Xero.
OWEN: Okay. It sounds like you did quite a lot of things just to get the systemization and automation on things in place. I’m wondering, back then how did you even prioritize what other steps to take, how did you decide what systems to create first, what things to automate next, stuff like that. What was the decision factor there?
CRAIG: Sure. Really for us we went straight into to project planning using the systems that we already had in place as the basis. So we sort of viewed it from the point of view of how can we change over and start using our own project management system as quickly as possible. So it was really about recreating the base functionality of what at the time Tree.io was doing for us and then slowly increment over time to add in the other features. So when we originally switched over, it was really more about let’s just keep recording all of the task and times that guys are doing because we know once we’ve got that data in there the next step can be that we pushed that into Xero for example.
OWEN: Okay. So how exactly did you document procedures and processes for the business? What tools did you use to do that?
CRAIG: We used the Atlassian tool suite…
CRAIG: For documentation specifically yes we used Confluence which is their wiki tool. And we wrote the day-to-day procedures for each member of staff into those wiki pages but then collaborated with the team to say this is the process at the moment but is it ideal? How do we automate that? How do we take what was a manual process and make it into an automated process. And the rest was really just sort of self-documenting what was already happening in the existing systems. So largely we’re sort of pushed the users in the right direction based on how we laid out the new system or how we may force people to serve, go from step A to step B.
OWEN: And by new system you mean the actual custom app that you built, the project management app.
CRAIG: Correct, yes.
OWEN: What is it even called? I’m just wondering. You guys have a name internally for it.
CRAIG: Yeah. We call it our harmony.
OWEN: Okay. It’s almost the same as the name of the company. Okay, I get that. At the time when you were systematizing and automating your business I’m wondering what books or even mentors had the most influence on you and why?
CRAIG: Sure. I think the biggest for me was I had a business coach that came in sort of on the tail end of the process. And he was very big on automation and obviously he needed to take a look at my business so he could help advise me on the best course of action. So he was a big push from his side to get this data and be able to manipulate it and make sure that I knew exactly what was going on in the business. And so more so than books and things I think it was a combination of just what he required from me to assist me in the business. And then also just being inspired by looking around at some of the project management tools that were online and saying, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great if we could do this, or there’s this feature we’d really love to put in.
OWEN: If we just want to talk about what steps you took while you’re trying to create this custom project management tool as well as creating procedures and processes for what you guys do all these things we’re doing, if we only talk about the steps you took but don’t talk the challenges that you had we don’t give a full, round story of what was really happening. What was the biggest challenge you experience when you initially tried to systematize your business and how did you solve it?
CRAIG: For us because we developed the project internally I think probably the single biggest thing for us was that we put it in place and then I was looking around online and finding all these other features or other ways of doing things, and there was always things that we felt the system could do better.
OWEN: It was missing, okay.
CRAIG: So we had to strike a balance between putting those features in and doing client work which was paying the bills.
OWEN: So basically you had to figure out what free time was available to build the tool was actually going to run the business versus free-time to use on actually doing work which pays the bills.
CRAIG: Exactly, yeah.
OWEN: How did you even balance that?
CRAIG: In the end once we had collected some of this data in terms of the profitability information we were lucky enough to say we are actually tracking well in terms of profitability. We do have enough scope to bring on some more staff. So once we hired more staff we’re able to sort of free people up. And to then say, “Okay, we’re going to package, some of you work’s going to be working on clients, so roughly that 80% will be working on client and then 20% can be on internal tools like the project management system.
OWEN: Okay. So basically, first of all after you’ve done the research on the profitability you can see where exactly you’re making money. And based on that you’re able to now say, “Okay, we can still continue doing that because that’s the highest use of our time and that brings the most revenue. But then now all these other minutia that you were doing that was taking time, you could basically eliminate that, and that now frees up the ability to say, “I’ll bring in more people to help build this other side project that we need internally.” Did I miss something when I say that or did I…?
CRAIG: No, that’s spot on. That’s exactly right. It’s purely about the balance of those two things, and how much time can we spend on the project management system which wasn’t making us revenue and how much can we spend on actual billable hours. I think also that we had in the back of our minds that there’s the possibility at some stage we could release the harmony system into the world and try and make it a software as a service application that we could sell to other people. So there’s always that potential that we would end up doing that, so I had that in back of mind as well that wasn’t just 100% dead time when we were working on it. It could at some stage go out into the world.
OWEN: And I know how as the owner of the company it’s easy for you to justify to yourself. You’re seeing the big picture. But as maybe a developer who’s signed up to work with your company to work on all this, so many different projects with different clients and exciting stuff. And then now you’re saying let’s do something that’s internal. Did you have kickback from them or not, and if so how was that solved?
CRAIG: To be honest, I think we’re very lucky with the kind of developers that we have here at Harmonic and everyone was really interested in doing something that wasn’t just for a client or that the client was ourselves. So we’re all able to embrace the challenge that was how do we do this better and everyone in the office is going to be using this so I think motivated people to go, “I really want to show off my skills here and show off what I can do.” So it was actually tended to be a bit more motivating to be honest.
OWEN: Okay. What was the second biggest challenge that you guys experiences when you initially tried to systematize your business and how did you solve it?
CRAIG: It was really the project management system current. Nowadays I’ve actually been looking around while I was doing some research for the interview today. I found that obviously there’s people who make this their full-time job. They’re selling project management software, so now there’s features on project management software that I’ve sort of… Wow, that’s amazing. Can we integrate that or can we do this, or do we need to start looking at using something else because there’s just so many great features in these products because people are spending 100% of their time rather than 20% of their time on the…
OWEN: …building it, yeah. I get that as a challenge. But I’m also wondering, because you mentioned something during the pre-interview that I also want to share, something about integrating the accounting tool you’re using, integrating this into the project management as well. Because you mentioned how you guys handle billing differently where hourly versus per project.
CRAIG: Yeah, sure. That was one of the biggest challenges when we were choosing eight pieces of software to begin with. And so it was one of the first things we need to address with our own project management system was that when we bill we bill our clients either based on a total amount that we’ve agreed and quoted on. Or we also do maintenance and support work that we do on an hourly basis. So we needed to be able to record both those types of work and efforts, and then have the hourly stuff that built goes straight into our accounting system. So what we would do is collect the hours regardless of how they were spent, but have the team say, “I think this is an hourly billable task.” They would record that and at the end of the month I would just stand up with a list of all the billable task that I could then review and approve. It was just as simple as checking a box and then that would automatically generate the invoices and send them off the client.
OWEN: Awesome. Given all the challenges so far that you had to deal with I’m wondering what made you stay committed to that goal of systematizing the business?
CRAIG: We saw what the potential was and what the results were going to be. As soon as we, because we did it sort of incrementally with a number of different software packages and each one sort of did something slightly better, slightly better. We knew that we were on the right pat. So from my side of things it was very easy to be able to say, “We’ve made all these incremental changes and we keep going along this route where we are going to achieve what it is we want to achieve.
OWEN: That’s awesome. Let’s take the story and bring it more current and the story in itself. So at what point in time where you’re able to systemize the entire business and have it run successfully without you?
CRAIG: I don’t think we’re 100% there yet.
OWEN: I mean if not 100% but you’re closer than a lot of people. You said 95%, right? Is that where you guys at?
CRAIG: Yeah, I think we can probably say we’re at about 95%. And realistically I think now I can sort of sit back and say the business can largely look after itself and I think the big first test is going to be in a few months’ time when I go on holiday.
OWEN: Yeah, but do you remember when you felt like you have actually reached that milestone of 95%, what year or time was that?
CRAIG: I think originally it was probably actually about a year ago. But then because of that automation we were then able to grow again, and that meant we brought more staff on which sort of then meant there was more and more time I had to spend on the business to manage those.
CRAIG: Exactly right. I think maybe we achieved it maybe as much as 12-14 months ago. But because of that we made the decision to invest in a bit more growth which is then sort of dip things down a little bit and we’re coming at the other side at the moment.
OWEN: Awesome. Now that we’re talking about more of current stage of the story, more recent times. One of the things I always wanted to do is give the listener kind of a behind the scene or behind the curtain look at your business and say, if I was a customer who needed some custom integration or something into that we want built by a developer or agency. And you had that problem. And on the other side that same person, that same company has had that thing built by you guys and they’re raving about how you guys do custom development work for them. I’m trying to figure out what’s happening behind the scenes to make that transformation happen to that very customer and also feel free to start from how you even attract such a person in the first place and work us through all the different parts of the business that’s making this happen.
CRAIG: Sure. We’ve been very lucky in that respect in that we’ve been in business now 16 year. And the majority of our work comes from word of mouth. So in terms of leads coming in, it’s normally word of mouth from recommendations of clients who sort of used us before. Once we’ve got those leads it’s really about communicating with the client to make sure that they are a good fit for us and we’re a good fit for them. And what they’re asking for is something that we can deliver for them…
OWEN: You can mention, was it last year or so that you brought a sales person now?
CRAIG: Yes. In February of last year we had a sales person come on board and she has been very good in being able to take the requirements of a client and convert them from our techie jargon and re-communicate them back to the client to say, “What you’re really looking for here is an integration with your CRM to your Xero accounting package or whatever it is. And also make them aware of other possible integrations or other applications that we could be writing for them to assist them in automating their business or to be getting access to better information and data.
OWEN: I was wondering when you said you brought in a salesperson and whether if because you just mentioned how primarily most of your customers have been coming from referrals from other customers. So I was wondering you said you brought a salesperson in. This person now came in to now practically go out and get new sales from people who did not even know you or was referred by a customer, like new fresh sales.
CRAIG: Not necessarily new leads, it was really sort of helping us develop what we already had. So perhaps…
OWEN: Mind that relationship with the ones you already had.
CRAIG: Correct, or looking at the percentage of wins we had from referrals and [Unintelligible 00:34:49] coming in and increasing that percentage.
OWEN: Okay. Let’s move past the sales and lead generation part based on how you currently have it to the other parts of the business.
CRAIG: Sure. From that part of the process onwards we look at sitting down with the client and really scoping and writing a specifications document for what they want to be doing. So that would involve multiple members of the team depending on what the project is. And we place them usually in a mating situation. Sometimes we do it via Google Hangouts or even emails depending on what the client prefers. But the idea or the end result has got to be a document that comes in agreement between ourselves and the client to say, “This is exactly what we’re going to do for you. Once we’ve got that document all signed off the project would move into production. So production for us is really graphic design work that needs doing, that goes to our design team, it’s their development work that need doing. It’s their website hosting and infrastructure setup that we need to do. So from there really the process sort of diverges based on the type of solution we’re putting in place.
OWEN: Okay. How does the accounting and account management play into this as well?
CRAIG: From there what we would normally do is if once a quotation’s been put into our project management system, for projects we would normally have a deposit raised in the accounting system. And that would go straight out to the client as soon as we start work. And the project management system would sort of take care of all the tasks and things within the project. And once the project is marked complete in terms of that last task the clients then send a final bill for the outstanding amount.
OWEN: Awesome. We already talked about how you built your custom project management tool to kind of help you guys organize how you do work. But what I want to do is kind of go into a little bit more detail of how in fact it actually does work. So you said something during the pre-interview about how when you get a task you break everything into a project based on the customer. Take it from there.
CRAIG: Sure. The important distinction for us is again that idea of the billable and non-billable hours in our tasks. So in our project management system we can assign tasks to both clients directly and also to individual projects. So for one client we could be working on multiple projects and we could also be working on other tasks outside of projects that would normally be the support and maintenance type things that are then build hourly.
OWEN: What is the difference though, when you say projects and then something that’s outside of the… I just want to get the context so the listener who’s listening can really understand how this plays.
CRAIG: Okay, sure. The key differentiator would be that project work would quoted so that we would have a set price that we have to mate for the client for the specified tasks. Let’s say it’s $10,000 to deliver a website. All the time that is recorded by the team is recorded against that $10,000. And whether they go over or under when the project’s finished we bill the client $10,000. For work outside of projects we would be billing by the hour. So it doesn’t matter if we do 1 hour or 4 hours, that entire amount is then billed directly to the client.
OWEN: Okay. So if you’re building a website for this client what would be an example, something that’s going to be outside of the project that would be billed per hour?
CRAIG: Whenever anything goes out of scope, so if we go back to that document we spoke about when we sit down with the client to work out…
OWEN: Okay. I get it now. So if it’s out scope that’s when the second part applies?
CRAIG: Yes, or we deliver the project and we give the client a warranty period. Once that warranty period is up they want us to modify some content, do some maintenance work rather than having to quote that up with something that might be 1 or 2 hours work. We would just bill directly to the client and say, “We’re going to roughly do 1 or 2 hours work, are you happy to proceed?” And then we can bill that directly to the client without the overhead of having to go in to that client creator project, assign tasks to the project, we can just go straight to the task process, put it against the client, and then bill it at the end of the month.
OWEN: And you also mentioned during the pre-interview that there’s a weekly work in progress meeting. Let’s talk about how that works.
CRAIG: Sure. Every task within our system is visible to all other members of staff. So we have a task listing page and it shows exactly, and this is very granular. So it could be design a homepage for client X or create this component of the website for client Y. And everyone’s got full visibility of that. And on a Monday morning we have a work in progress or a WIP meeting where we all go through everyone’s task to say, “Is this on track? If it’s not, why? Does anyone need any further assistance with task from other members of the team.” It’s all the things that’s sort of extra to the task that may need some collaboration with other people.
OWEN: So it’s kind of like every week you guys go through the list of all the task available to everybody but the focus really is kind of what have you accomplished so far, what is outstanding, and maybe what challenges that you’re having that’s preventing you from completing stuff kind of thing.
CRAIG: Exactly right Owen.
OWEN: Okay, good. How do you now track and verify the results being delivered by your employees?
CRAIG: With those tasks that we’ve just spoken about they actually include an estimated time of delivery. And that goes back to that original quote that I put together. So if I think a task is going to take 10 hours and I’ve quoted 10 hours in the quote. When I create the task I actually link that to the line item in the invoice that says 10 hours.
CRAIG: That way the person doing the job knows, “I’ve got 10 hours if I’m going to do this within budget or under budget.” And the system will automatically say, “You’ve spent 11 hours on this,” you’re over time and it’ll turn the task red so that they can see that they’ve gone over their time allotment. So it’s really on a task level because we’re relating to line items. We know exactly how many hours each task member should spending on a task. So I can say, “You’re at 80%. Have you got 20% of your time left? If not have we got a problem here? Is there something we need to do to move this along.
OWEN: Okay, I get that. You also mentioned that for the development project, this is during the pre-interview that there’s automated test that you run. And also once the job is done you also do post-mortem with the team. Talk about those two things.
CRAIG: Sure. The advantages of automated testing for us, and that is any test we can write that don’t involve any interaction from the team other than kicking the test off. So if we’ve got a program that keeps something very simple. It’s supposed to send an email out every 10 minutes to someone. We can write a test for that to say, “Okay, we need to check an email arrived in this inbox every 10 minutes.” And if it fails we can notify the development team that that’s happened. The advantage of that is as we add, or delete, or change anything else within the program we can still go back to that original test and say, “Is that component still sending it’s email out every 10 minutes?” And the test will tell us that rather than us having to manually go in and click a button, or enter an email address into that field to make that occur. So it means that we can very quickly test the system as a whole as we build up the functionality of the system, we test for it so that we’re not having to backtrack and manually test everything along the way.
OWEN: And to me this sounds like this whole concept of trust but verify, but you guys have taken it from a more automated version of this because you guys are developer. You create actual test to actually verify what was done is actually working the way it should work. But for someone who’s listening too that doesn’t have a development team, but once I applied the strategies, looking at it, you have work that needs to be done but how you create in a way in which you can verify that the work is actually being done. That’s kind of what you’re saying about this stuff.
CRAIG: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a really good point. I’m sure there’s ways you could implement that philosophy throughout general work practices as well.
OWEN: The reason I mentioned that is because we’re trying to show how a development agency like you guys where you have a bunch of programmers have been able to systematize and operate efficiently where things run through your system. But then I also have to realize that everybody who’s listening is not in that same, very technical background. So how do I make it so that they understand that the concepts here is to take it and implement it in their business regardless. That’s what we’re trying to do, is break it down for them. Moving forward with the questions, now that you have more free time I’m wondering which areas of the business you focus on now and why?
CRAIG: One of the things we’ve already mentioned is looking at the possibility of productizing Harmony somehow. So now that we’ve built it up as a useful system for ourselves I’d like to look at it as a business opportunity to say, “I’ve got the system. We’ve proven that it works for us. There are other people in our industry or other industries that could benefit from the software.” So one of the major things I want to look at is, is there a market for us to put this out and sell it as a software as a service application to people.
OWEN: Awesome. I’m wondering now, what is the very next stage of growth for your business? What are you planning to achieve and why?
CRAIG: I think in the pre-interview I actually mentioned we want to get a project manager. And at the moment that now sort of fallen on to me. So probably about 80% of my time now is managing the projects and the aspects of the projects that we can’t automate, so the client interaction side of things. And we’ve actually got a project manager starting next week.
OWEN: That’s awesome. What’s taking place now, you’ll get from that 95% and closer to 100% of your time being freed up from the work.
CRAIG: Exactly right. I’m very excited about it Owen.
OWEN: Granted we’ve had the interview based on your own situation of being a developer and having an agency of developers. But I want to ask you to summarize the steps the listeners should take, but keep in mind that the listener might now be technical. So when you give the summary how should they have a summary from you that can apply regardless of whether the business is technical or not?
CRAIG: Absolutely. I think for us it really boils down to we look to aspects of our business where we were spending time on things that weren’t directly related to delivering our products and services to our customers. The example we had was I’m spending a lot of time writing quotations and doing estimates for our jobs. So is there a way that I can reduce that time down through systems and automation, and that for us in our case was if I can know within a certain amount of error that this project is similar to project X and we’ve completed project X in this amount of time then I don’t need to go and sit down with a developer and say, “How long is it going to take you to do this do you think and how are we going to implement this bit?” Because I’ve got all their history. So really for us I think the first part of the process was just looking at areas that we can improve in and put systems in place that weren’t directly related to generating revenue for us.
OWEN: Okay. As we end the interview what would you say is the very next step the listeners should take to get to that point of transforming their business so that it runs successfully without their constant involvement? And you mentioned during the interview take a day off. I want to bring that into the interview to talk about why that is important.
CRAIG: I think what happens, whether it’s a day, or a couple of days, or a week. I think once you’ve taken some time off the first pain point you feel when you get back is probably a good indication of something that you can do better, or automate, or put some of the systems in place to alleviate that. For me if I came back from a couple of days off or I was even on a day off and I would have people interrupting me because they couldn’t themselves was sales inquiries. I was the only one in the business who was putting together the quotations because I was the one who had all the templates and the access to things. Whereas now the team have all this same information I do so they know that our project’s going to take roughly this time, and this is the amount of money that we’re talking about, so they can basically prepare a quotation without me around. So that was our example. But I just think in general if you come back from a day off and think, “Wow, no I’ve got all of this to do then that’s probably a good starting point to be able to say, “That’s something I can look at automating or doing in a way that it doesn’t have to be me who does it when I come back from a day off.
OWEN: That’s a good way to really catch where the bottlenecks are and zoning to where you should be focusing on. I like that. And that’s what I wanted to have you share with the listeners. Is there a question that you were wishing that I would’ve asked during this interview that I did not ask? And if so post the question and the answer. The reason is that you might have thought of something that might make this interview more well-rounded that we didn’t think of, so go ahead.
CRAIG: To be honest Owen I think we’ve covered everything. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that I’d like to add. I think we really touched on a bit all the aspects of our business.
OWEN: Great. What is the best way for the listeners to connect with you and thank you for doing the interview?
CRAIG: Obviously our website, it’s harmonicnewmedia.com. Otherwise my Twitter handle is @craig_harman, or you can check Harmonics at @harmonicnm.
OWEN: Awesome. I’m speaking to you the listener now. If you have enjoyed this interview all the way to this point I want you to do us a favor and leave us a positive review on iTunes. To do that you can quickly go to this URL sweetprocess.com/iTunes. And when you go there you’ll be able to leave your review and hopefully a 5-star review and hopefully a 5-star review. The reason why want you to leave a review is that the more reviews we have out there the more the Process Breakdown Podcast is exposed to more listeners. And then we grow the audience and we’re inspired to get more guests like Craig to come on here and share how their business is systematized. One more thing. If you are at that stage in your business where you are tired of being the bottleneck and you want to literally get everything out of your head so your employees know what you know, create procedures and processes that they can do tasks predictably and even track their progress through the task that you’re assigned to them feel free to sign up for our 14-day trial of SweetProcess. Craig, thanks for doing the interview.
CRAIG: Thank you Owen, it was a pleasure.
OWEN: And we’re done.