In my last blog post, I briefly mentioned platform agnostic systems being a way to ensure your business and virtual team were working effectively. I also mentioned that systems and processes are the keys to your business freedom because they give you a way to tidy up your business house and run a tight ship.
In this blog post, I want to expand on what I call platform agnostic systems to show why I rate them so HIGHLY and in the hope that you get a few nuggets you can take away and apply in your own business.
Putting together my systems has given me the confidence to delegate tasks to my team and more importantly, it’s allowed my team the freedom to do what they need to do, so long as they’re operating within the lines of what our processes and system say they need to be doing.
Giving them that freedom in my opinion keeps them productive and it makes it easy for me to analyse and interpret what’s going on and find where there are roadblocks that need to be addressed.
Platform Agnostic Systems in Action
The idea of platform agnostic systems is you create processes and systems that work how YOU work and by that virtue, they free you from being tied to one specific platform. This usually means sitting down with a pen/pencil and paper and manually mapping out your system before it goes digital.
Why pen and paper? Simply because it allows you to think about WHAT needs to get done and HOW it gets done without the distraction you would get from starting with your favourite project management tool/software. In my case, I was reading and researching about systems and task management when a friend of mine showed me how he was using a super simple Kanban system to manage the tasks he had to do in his business.
After seeing how he used the Kanban system and how effective it was for him, I did a bit of research and I liked everything I saw during my research.
If you don’t know what a Kanban system is, it is basically three columns: one for “To Do”; another for “In Progress”; and the last for “Completed.”
When I show you how I’ve set things up, you’ll see that we follow the same basic premise, with a couple of adjustments that work for us. In each of those columns, you put the tasks you want your team to work on, and assign to it the relevant member/s of your team.
The first project management software that I used was Trello, which I can’t really show you right now because I’ve shut down my Trello account. Trello was good because it was so easy to set-up your Kanban board and assign tasks. Currently, I’m on Teamwork.
As far as setting up the system for communication, I mentioned in the previous blog post that I didn’t want to use email because I have had negative experiences in the past where conversation threads just get lost. Or sometimes important tasks slip through the cracks, because it’s sent via email, and it’s relatively easy to forget and or lose.
The final thing is using automation to either trigger tasks or to send a message that triggers some form of action from the team. An example of an automation could be if we have a guest book a time for a podcast recording, we could do one of three things.
- One would be to set up a card in Teamwork to say when this interview is. That way, we are all aware that it’s coming down the line.
- Another thing we can do is we could set off a notification to get somebody to start doing some preliminary research on the guest.
- And then the final thing is we could set up automations to send SMS notifications either to me or to the person who’s requested to be a guest whenever it’s closer to the time to the podcast.
Don’t Rely on One Platform
The idea of this entire set-up is to have your systems mapped out in such a way that if you outgrow a tool or if a tool goes out of business, you don’t end up hamstrung because you’ve built your system and processes around ONE specific tool.
If ever you do need to change tools, now you have to go and find another tool that does something similar or worse yet, you have to now build your entire system from the ground up on a completely new tool as well as learn how to use the tool.
One important bit to point out is that when I show you Teamwork and how we use it, you’ll probably notice that what I have there is a little bit of a Frankensystem, this is due to the fact that we are not necessarily using Teamwork the way it’s designers and developers intended for it to be used. What I did was I made sure that the tool is fit for MY purpose.
This way, I am not swayed by any calls to upgrade or fancy new features. Provided my system is working and continues to work, there’s really no reason for me to be using any of the fancy additions or getting distracted by shiny objects that they add to the tool. Not to say that I wouldn’t use a feature that would enhance how we work, but I am far more judicious about using that new feature as it would cause friction in the early stages of implementation/integration
The reason I don’t need to listen to any new upgrades or features is again, because the way that my system has been built out is that it’s platform agnostic. If I want to use those fancy tools, I can. But if I don’t want to, then there’s no point and the tool continues to work as we need it to.
My Own Platform Agnostic Systems
It’s time for me to do some showing and telling.
Project Management: Teamwork
The first thing is going to be Teamwork.
Depending on when you are reading this blog post, the homepage might have changed simply because applications and tools online tend to change quite often.
This is currently what Teamwork’s homepage looks like.
You can sign up and try it for free. They have different solutions and different add ons that you can use.
For their add ons, I did try using their chat software when it was just new. It wasn’t as good as it could have been, which is why we ended up settling with Slack.
But don’t get me wrong. Even in the early days, this chat feature was powerful because it integrates directly with the task management side of things. And anytime that you talk about something, you can just link to the task or you can link to the specific item that you’re talking about.
They also have this thing called Spaces, which you basically use to manage your company documents.
In terms of what Teamwork looks like for us in the team, this is what you see.
Again, I will preface this by saying that I signed up to Teamwork in the early days. So I’m on what’s called a legacy account. And kind of to drive the point home about shiny objects and getting distracted within the tool, there’s been some changes on Teamwork.
They’re actually trying to get me to upgrade and pay for a different plan. I can ignore this. And I have no problem ignoring that just because of the way things are set up.
This current set-up is what works for me.
You can actually see what tasks need to be done on your homepage. But I find this view to be quite cumbersome in the sense that everything there’s just kind of laid out and is quite confusing(for me) because of the list format.
The way that we use Teamwork is we use their projects feature, and for the different things that we do we have different projects.
So this dashboard that I have here is primarily where all the activity for the business takes place.
The Client Hub is used as a project to hold information about our clients so that whenever we get new clients, their information is stored here. And if somebody from the team needs access, they can get access by requesting access from either me or my other team member.
When it comes to Advertising, I wanted to remove it from this dashboard because it needs its own space just because there are so many different moving parts for what you have to do, and because I do a couple of different things, it needed it’s own space/project.
Today, I’ll show you what my main project board looks like and then I’ll also walk through an example of how to set this up for yourself.
As I mentioned, we have a variation of the Kanban system. Traditionally, the Kanban has only three columns. But you can see that ours is different.
We have the following columns for the following purposes:
- Tasks – for tasks that need to be done.
- Podcast Tasks – this needed a separate column because at one point, there were so many podcast episodes being managed that we would’ve missed them if they were still in the Tasks column.
- In Progress – for tasks that are currently being worked on.
- Needs Review – this is where things that need to be reviewed by either me or the client manager to make sure everything is as it should be.
- Review Completed – this sends a signal to whoever is in charge that the task is done
- Completed – for once a task has been completed.
And that is our variation of a Kanban board.
Also, I just wanted to note that I don’t use any of the menu items on the top because everything we need to do can be done here from this board view.
I also mentioned S.M.A.R.T. tasks in the previous blog post. You’ll notice how certain tasks are named very specifically. Let’s take this card for example.
And when you open a card, you will see all the steps that need to take place for that task.
This makes the task measurable, because we can see what’s being done and what’s left to be done. And each thing that needs to be done is assigned to somebody or there is someone primarily responsible for doing that thing.
In terms of it being attainable, we have a documented process that lets us know that this task should take anywhere from two to three days. And the bulk of that time is primarily editing the podcast audio.
The tasks are also realistic and timely because we have a due date that is reasonable.
And that is an example of a S.M.A.R.T. task.
In terms of using Teamwork to set all of this up, let me show you how.
First step is to go to the Projects tab and click +Add Project.
Then go and give your project a name, choose a company, and add a description.
Next step is to add the people who are involved in the project (but I won’t actually do that because I don’t want to confuse anyone in my team).
And then you have the advanced options where you can create a category for this project or create a tag.
And once you’re done with all the details, click on Create Project.
Now, when the project is first created, this is what you’ll see since it’s still a new project. There is absolutely nothing.
What I’m going to do is go to the board view since that’s what I’m used to. And this is where you build the Kanban system.
Go ahead and click Add a Column.
From there, you can start with the basic Kanban system which is composed of the 3 columns.
We also started with this board, until the team grew and the number of things we’re working on grew as well. We had to add columns to represent those changes and make it applicable to us.
To add a task, click +Add a Card.
To make it S.M.A.R.T., you would assign it to someone and add a due date. You can also choose the level of priority.
For what I do with my team, generally the highest priority goes to things that we have to do for clients. This is in the sense that we have clients who are going to be paying us money and that money is important for the business, because that’s how I pay the team and pay the bills.
Anything else that’s not client work and is related to my stuff usually gets medium priority.
Other stuff such as creating process docs or creating process flows gets low priority, because we can work on that in the background when things are not quite as busy.
I don’t worry about progress, tags, or estimated time in the card options. But you can definitely use those features if you like. The reason I don’t worry about the estimated time is because we have our processes documented and we know roughly how long certain things should take.
When things are taking too long, we can actually see that and either dive in and investigate why or grill the person responsible for the task to figure out why things are taking too long.
When this happens, it either means someone has been lazy. Or it could be that there are a couple of steps missing in our documentation of the process, which is then slowing down the work that they have to do.
And once the card is good to go, you can just move it to the next column whenever something has been completed.
When I was talking about choosing a project management system, I mentioned the ability to create task templates. This is something that we can do with Teamwork, but you need to have the paid plan.
You have the option to go for a project template or a task template because everything we do is kind of at the task level. That’s why we have the different task templates as you can see in the image below.
Whenever we have a podcast task, for example, having this task template means when it comes time for a new episode, I can set things up so that whenever somebody books a time to record, I can let the right team member know what the next steps are.
And to remove any unnecessary communication, I use an automation program, Zapier, to send a message or create a task to a member of the team to say we just had a podcast begin, can you start XYZ on the template.
The reason this is useful is because when it comes to creating this task, we can just create the new task from a template as opposed to having to create the task and then add all of the sub tasks, and then assign the sub tasks and then do all of that finicky stuff as as we are setting the tasks up.
And that’s it for task or project management.
In terms of communication, I mentioned that we use Slack.
This is currently how my Slack’s homepage looks as of writing this.
Slack is a communication platform that allows you to set up different channels for the communication that you are going to be doing between you and your team members.
Let me show you how Slack works.
On the left side, you have these things called channels, which are basically specific locations for discussing specific things.
And you get to include only certain members of the team on each channel.
Some of our channels includes one for #clients, where anytime we’re carrying out a task for a client, all communication happens in this channel. Now this is a private admin channel for myself and my “number two” where we talk about ways that we can improve the business.
The #content channel is where the communication for our content plan goes. Anything from resources to communication to output is posted here.
We also have a #team-chat channel where we mainly give meeting notifications or anything else team-related, whether it be funny or serious. The idea here is this is an open channel for the team to communicate and share anything that they have.
One more channel I want to talk about is related to automations. I mentioned automations and notifications earlier so that people know when things need to be done. These can be found in the #notifications channel.
Most of the tasks here are from me because I use Zapier to send a notification or to just ping this channel every time something is done or added in Teamwork. The reason we did this was because there were times when tasks were being missed so I decided to automate the notification, instead of sending a message EVERYTIME a new task was created.
Automating this means that I don’t then have to go to Slack and manually send a private message or send a channel message to anybody on the team to let them know there is a new task in Teamwork.
I’m going to show you how you can set this automation up in Zapier.
Zapier is basically like a middleman or a middle monitoring mind that is constantly checking for what it calls “triggers.”
In the example I just showed you in Slack, the trigger for that notification channel would be a new task created in Teamwork.
This is a very simple thing to set-up which consists of two steps. Whereby you have the trigger and the action. So in this case, the trigger is a new task in Teamwork and the action is to send a channel message in Slack.
Naturally, you can have this tool do a whole bunch of different things. But because I was only trying to solve the issue of tasks being missed in Teamwork, this simple automation was all I needed.
For now, let’s keep this tutorial simple as I don’t want you to get confused. In the future, I may do a simple Zapier tutorial so that you have a better idea on how to make the most of this tool.
Going back to this example, once the trigger is established, you need to choose the app & event, which is Teamwork. If it’s not connected, you’ll have to connect your programme usually through an API.
Once that’s done and you have chosen your account, you can then test the trigger. This is basically sending Zapier to fetch a task and making sure that it can communicate with the programme.
And then once that’s done, you then set up the action. This is similar to the previous step, but this time, you’re choosing the action instead of the trigger.
In this case, to set up the action, set the channel to #general in Slack (it’s currently named #notifications). Then you just need to set everything else up to instruct Zapier on what to do once this trigger is pulled.
You can see that I have other Zaps as well, which I turn off when things are quiet.
The New Client Gravitas Assist automation sends a notification anytime we have a new client for this service. Whenever a new client pays us, Zapier then creates a task in Teamwork to notify the right people to start the process.
In terms of getting information from the clients, there’s a page that the client is directed to after they’ve paid so that they can fill in all the necessary details.
That way, we don’t have to play email tennis with that client to get all the information we need.
This information is then stored in the Client Hub in Teamwork I showed you earlier. And anytime the team needs any details about the client, they can just pull the information from the Client Hub.
Creating Your Foundations
So that in all its glory is how I think about and have set up my platform agnostic system. I made sure everything is platform agnostic because things keep chopping and changing. But the three things that are stable are project or task management, communication channel, and then automation.
All in all, this is how I work with my virtual team. Everything that you see here today in this blog post is the result of years of practice, aka trial and error.
To figure out what works for me, the core of it really comes down to this idea of the platform agnostic system and processes. And once you have established what your system is going to be, then you get to go out and look for the tools.
The big benefit of deciding what your system is going to be before using the tools means that you don’t get dragged into the analysis paralysis stage of all the shiny objects that the tool offers.
In my case, figuring out the Kanban system beforehand actually created a lot of freedom because it made it easy to work with Trello. And then when we outgrew Trello, it was easy to make the switch to Teamwork without having to get overwhelmed by any of Teamwork’s extra features.
And that’s how to work with your virtual team through platform agnostic systems. Once you’ve taken the first step of actually using the WHO first method to go out and hire virtual team members, the next step is then figuring out how to work with your team.
If you haven’t read the first part of this blog post, be sure to check it out here.
I hope that this blog post helps you figure out the systems you need in order to have everything organised for both you and your team.
Best of luck and I’ll see you in the next blog post.