Episode 311: Project Management with Adam McLaughlin

Show Summary

Rob Cairns sits down with Adam McLaughlin to talk project management in WordPress.

Show Highlights:

  1. Why Project management.
  2. Processes to follow.
  3. What happens to projects when they are not managed well.

Show Notes

Hey everybody, Rob Cairns here and today I’m here with the guest I’ve had him before and my good friend Adam McLaughlin. How are you today, Adam?

Rob, thank you so much for having me. I am always happy to hang out here with.

Yeah, it’s always a pleasure. We were sort of chatting about life and WordPress and marketing and all kinds of things before we got to record. And you know, I think I talked to you a couple months ago when you were somewhere sunny and making me jealous. That day.

Yeah, last time we podcasted I think was April and we at the time my family and I were in England. And I can, I can imagine exactly where I was sitting at the time and exactly where my. My camera was positioned and and. Yeah, exactly the conversation we had. So I know we were in England in April at that time. Now we’re back in Canada. Actually reality is we’re only a couple 100 kilometers away from you.

Yeah, it’s funny you. You live in interesting life, and that’s all I can say. What I thought would talk about today and it it came out of a tweet I was reading last week that you put out and you got talking about project management. And that’s the subject dear to my heart. A lot of my listeners might know I spent 21 years in healthcare and they used to manage $1,000,000 projects. So that that’s part of my life. I’m quite familiar with and I thought we’d jump in and talk about. A little bit about project management, so let’s kind of start and say what does project management mean to you?

Well, to me it means. Like the thorn in my side because frankly, I hate project management, let’s just get this thing over with. Why do we need to write out all the? To do lists. But I think for me it’s part of an overall communication strategy because for a lot of my clients, it’s the back and forth with the emails like where are we on this, what do you need. From me I need this from you, you know, to use your inbox as a as a project management software is probably the worst option. Maybe next to text message or Facebook Messenger or. So for me, project management is kind of like the lesser of two evils and I know that’s probably not how you think about it, cause you know that might be how you’re wired. But for me, it’s like when I want to be most creative. I don’t really want to be constrained by project management tools and at the same time it’s also the way I can get. That To Do List actually done so I can clear some way for the creative stuff I actually want to.

Work on it’s that’s an interesting thought. And I actually agree with you. So when I was a project reader, the biggest joke in healthcare was we had a CTO and most corporations. I don’t know if you know use Microsoft Project. They don’t use all these great online tools that we use. And he had a way about him that he liked his reports to look a certain way and project management reports were always due Monday mornings, Monday afternoons at 4:00 PM come and.


So it was known that if you wanted a project leader in the IT department at the hospital I worked for, you would probably find them in their office early Monday afternoon updating their project plans to get them in to make the CTO happy and most of them, most of us can’t. Had two copies of reports, the real working one that made sense with the proper resources and everything. Else and then we had the one that worked the way the CTO wanted it just. To get back boarding rooms.

Process of course.

And it was like every Monday afternoon, it was like, somebody look at me and say, can I have you for a meeting? I said it’s Monday afternoon. No way I had said I got 3 hours of work to do because I’ve report due at 4:00 o’clock and not happening and we spend all this time.


So I don’t think. And I should tell you I hate project with the passion. It’s not happening. I agree with you though, the it’s when we’re creatives, we don’t want to do the management side and when we’re managers, we don’t want to do the creative side. And I had a instructor many, many years ago when I took my PMI courses. Project Management International basically said if you don’t have control of the project. And your input doesn’t matter. Run and don’t be a project manager.


What do you think about that?

I I I think it’s a necessary evil and as much as we do or don’t want to communicate that or think about that or even you know, put that in the box and try and keep it in the box. The reality is you have a project and it needs to be managed in some way. And there’s no way to get around that. So the question is, how are you going to manage it? And I’ve talked with a lot of people, you know, web designers, because I have the opportunity to mentor web designers and some of them will say, well, I just don’t, I just don’t have a project management process and I say yes you do. You just haven’t articulated what that process actually is, because if that process is just a bunch of back and forth. Emails then. That’s actually your. So it’s not that you don’t have a process, it’s that you have a process that doesn’t work or a process that is inefficient. And so if we can take the mindset that yes, every project gets managed, every project has a process rather than thinking you don’t have a process and you need a process or you don’t have a process and you also don’t need a proof. You have to start with the reality that your project management strategy currently is actually a strategy. You do have a process whether it’s working or whether it’s efficient. Those things are all up for discussion, but like it or not, you have a.

Process. Oh I I agree. I agree with you 100% on that one. Should customers, clients be part of that process or should we just kind of manage the project and tell them to go away? And we’ll see. Them when they deliver.

Well, so my business works kind of in two categories. One category is that we do templates for a specific industry. So we do $0.00 upfront and we basically collect all the information we need from a client and an onboarding form. And that onboarding form has everything that we need to populate their template and get their website. Live for a monthly service package. And then the other column of my business, which is getting more and more rare for me specifically, but the other column of my business is custom design work where you know that’s where a lot of web designers live. And I would suggest that for most clients in custom design work, yes you do need a project management software or system. Or some kind of presentation. You know, I use Trello, but there’s lots of really great options in custom world. You need the client to be in on that process. Uh, but in populating the templates, which is, you know, the majority of what I do now, probably 95% of what I do is, you know, $0.00 upfront templates move on to a service fee, get that client live, get them paying their service fee. They don’t really need to be part of the project management because there. Is nothing. I need their input on once they’ve completed the onboarding form, so I have their information. Then it’s just our job to populate the template and they just review it for accuracy. So I would suggest that if an agency is focused on custom work, then yes, the client needs to be. Involved, and you know partly because you want the client to see how much work is actually going into this. 3/5 Ten $20,000 project, right? So you want them to see there’s 200 steps along the way in sort of a way to continue to convince them. The value they’re paying for, but in a templated process, you know, we don’t really involve our or we don’t, I shouldn’t say really we don’t involve our customers in the project management portion. For template work.

Yeah, I I would agree with you and and you mentioned you use Trello, I mean there’s a number of products out there. That we can use. And Trello is 1. I’m an ocean guy. Personally, I think what you need to do is choose the product that works for you and get to know it. Too many of us in the creative space are what I call product junkies, right? So we all check out. Oh, trolls are flavor of the day today. Donna, so flavor of the day tomorrow, notions of favor day there. Stay and we spend more time in our creative space because we’re creatives jumping around tools instead of learning what we have. And I think.


That’s a big mistake, right? And the other thing, you know, we say involve clients, so I do. Two sides of my three sides of my business, the marketing side, the web design side and then the WordPress security side. And what I’ll tell you is on the design side, most of my clients never want access to the project management tool, no matter how many times ioffer and say I can give you access to step by step what clients really want truthfully is a summary of where we’re at compared to what we agreed to. They don’t always need to know. Every step of the way, what are your thoughts on that?

So I I like to like you, you mentioned I use Trello and one of the things that I value with Trello is the fact that you can open it up and get a snapshot of where everything is or you can send a link that somebody can simply view what’s going on. I’m guessing you could do the same with with a lot of other project. Management pieces. But the nice thing about that is I have a column that shows all the things I need from the client. So I need your photos. I need your logo. I need your, you know, ADA compliance text copy. And then I have all the things that I’m going to do. So I’m going to, you know, everything from install the SSL certificate. Upload a favicon to, you know, write the copy for the home page and write the copy for the subpages and format the mobile menu and and all that fun stuff. And so for me, it’s just being able to the client at any point in time, even if they think about it at 10:00 PM or 7:00 AM. You know, whenever they think about it, they could pull it up and see, OK, this is what I’ve been working on. This is what he still needs from me. And I find that really valuable. But the one thing that I think is maybe the piece that a lot of web designers miss is that once you build that To Do List in your project. Management software. It’s kind of like locking in a. Scope and so now instead of the client saying oh when when you said Facebook Button, I thought people could log in to Facebook and then log in to their website and see custom content. It’s like, no, what I was creating was a Facebook icon that points to your Facebook page, right? But if you use a project management software. You can outline. OK, I’m, you know, instead of just on the quote, it said Facebook button. I’m going to say if on my project management software, I’m going to have a thing task that says. Facebook Icon that points to Facebook page. So now what I do is I run through that entire list with the client. It doesn’t take long, maybe about half an hour at the beginning of the project. And I say, do you have any questions about any of these things? That’s a good point to start a discussion about. Well, I thought this was going to be included. You know, you might be. Able to. Either modify the scope or add in a phase two, or change the quote or whatever at that point in time. Uh, and also, if partway through the project the client wants to add something, now they actually have to go to the project management software. They have to create a new task and that just opens the door to have a conversation about well, that wasn’t included in the original project scope. And so to me that’s a really helpful. Tool in the sense that the client sees the entire scope. We go through all the details, they approve the whole scope and they actually have to take an action if they wanna treat or if they wanna sneak something extra into the scope. And that is that’s been a really helpful tool for me. And of course this is specific to the. Custom design side.

No, I I would agree with you. And we all know that custom design is the best way. I like to describe it. It’s like a car with options, right. So you go to the car dealership you buy.


My mum’s got a Rav for a hybrid wonderful car and depending on what options you put in, what you’re paying for and and and in the car world, what you’re paying monthly for because you know that some car manufacturers now charge you monthly if you want heated seats. It’s part of your contract. You pay a monthly fee. Yeah, they’ve gone to that service model fee, which, yeah, many of us in our space do, for example, for security updates, right.

Sure. Yes.

So they’ve gone to that monthly reoccurring revenue fee and. As I always describe it with clients, when we’re determining scope, it’s a menu. So if you want your price to come down, we start pulling parts out of that menu. If you want, if you add parts to that menu, you your price goes up. It’s a cars with options is the best description I find in kind of describing that. For my clients, right?

Yeah, I’ve really found that having custom or having the project management system is really put a damper on scope creep. And if that was the only function, which of course it’s not the only function, but if that was the only function, it would save my agency hours and tons of unexpected costs in any given project. For me, that’s a win if if that was the only.

Yeah, it’s true. Now in terms of success to most of your clients, Adam, look at the project management or the most of them kind of ignore it. And send you an e-mail and say send me an update please.

Well, if they do send me an e-mail, I always just point them back to the Trello board with the link and the login details, and that’s as much as I give them. And the reason is because I intentionally create my project management to look like an overwhelming list of things to do, and I want the client. Intentionally this is. This is on purpose. I want the client to think, Oh my goodness, how is this ever going to get done? And then I do. And then I do it right. We actually execute on it and and so. I don’t want to, you know, send I had. A client this. Was a few years ago. Who wanted a Friday update e-mail every week and they wanted me to bullet list all the things I had done that week and everything that was going to be done the next week. And I quickly allowed the client the opportunity to find a different designer. If that’s as politely as I could put it. Thankfully, I caught that red flag early in the process, but I am happy to point. The client to the project management system. I’m happy to clarify any details they want within the project management system, but Trello, for instance, is so easy to use. I really don’t want to work with a client who’s trying to find excuses not to use it, and so that is another helpful aspect. That I can weed out the client who wants their hand. Hand held what? It’s so obvious how they can find out exactly the information they want to find out whenever they want it without having to e-mail me.

Yeah, I I agree with you. I mean, I think one of the best things a designer can do is say to the client, if you wanna work with me, these are my processes and these are half how we have to conduct business and stick to them and then the client has to decide. If they want you for your design skills. Am I prepared to work with these processes or not? And if they are, they need to stick to them? I 100% will support that every time, so one of the things I do is. I have a project management process with notion. I do share the link so as you mentioned, most systems you can share the links and then once the project goes live. For ongoing maintenance at whether it’s they’re on a security reoccurring contract and they want to know what security updates were done, I actually have a customer portal that I’ve built, believe it or not using WordPress and restrict Content Pro, which is a a stellar product.


And the client can log into that portal and say. OK. Was there anything funny when Wednesday updates were done? Was there anything when Sunday updates were done and it tells them real quickly? To all clients who get WordPress updates from me and that’s well over 300 and I don’t need 300 emails every week saying OK, my updates are backups were done and there was nothing abnormal.


Ohh, an update was done this week and there was a major WordPress release that was updated in this and it points the client right at that and it’s all done. And that combination for me has saved me udos of back and forth emails like you wouldn’t believe.

Yeah, of course.

So I mean, one of the things I would encourage people to do is work on what their process is and and refine it and stick to it. And then when the client says, well, I want an e-mail, drive them back to like you do back to the process and say, here’s your log in details. Here’s your. Information and go from there.

Right. And the other thing that I would do is I would template your standard projects in your project management system. So for instance, you know if every website you launch, you know you need an SSL and you need a favicon and you need the clients logo and you need to write copy for the homepage and you need to web size and image. Gallery or add in a contact form or update their e-mail address on the contact form. You know all these things. Anything that you would think to yourself, well, that just goes without saying perfect. Put it in your project management system in a way that you can replicate that task list and then allow that to go without saying. But make sure it’s there.

Because what I would tell you is things that you and I take for granted, the clients don’t always take for granted. They kind of work and say I didn’t know you had to do that. Oh, that’s nice.


And and they don’t realize that, you know, go to like something like a. Form you know, a lot of people on contact forms, they’ll write a blurb, they’ll have a form. They’ll update an e-mail list to where they’ll update an e-mail where the form goes to. They’ll sometimes put a map on the contact page, right, or a phone number. I know, like one of the things I build in when I do. A web is a web design. A custom build is one of the things I always build in on mobile is an automatic mobile call but. So if somebody hits my website on the mobile phone, probably the number one reason is they want to contact me. So I throw a mobile call button in right away. And yeah, and that’s in my project and and they look at me and say I didn’t think of that. And I’m like, yeah, but it’s a quick value ad that’s a no brainer for me because we all know that when people contact you. On a mobile device, so look at your website, there’s two things. How do I get to the business? And I want to call you now kind of thing, right? So it’s kind of outlines for the client, all these little things and sometimes they’re not even thinking about them.

Right. Yeah, exactly.

So how much time would you say running a good project management system saves your agency item?

Well, we’ve got our our templates for our industry. I can populate a template in four hours like that’s not a rounding error. That’s basically. Is the minute because I’ve timed myself and actually there’s a Twitter thread. If you look back to, you know, last summer where I actually. Outline every single step of the process. It took me to populate a template which I’m sure I was. Maybe the only person who found that interesting, but anyway it’s there and the project management. It outlines 2 things for us #1 everything we need to do on the client facing side and a separate thing that everything I need a contractor to do. So now I can. Say to a contractor. You know, like I did yesterday. Here are 43 steps that it takes you. It’s gonna take you 4 hours. I am going to pay you for four hours and here I just need you to go through the list and click every button along. Way and each one of our steps has like a QuickTime screen capture where I show and talk through. Here’s exactly how you do the steps. So for instance, here’s how you upload the logo. Here’s how you switch out the meta information. Here’s the what the SEO description needs to look like. On each page. So you know, if you look purely at the back and forth with emails. So I don’t have to keep giving clients a weekly status. This update, that’s. Probably a a fair number of of emails there on the custom side, but on the templated side there’s no real way to determine how much how many hours I’ve saved in in a week or in a year or even per project because you know my time into it might be 20 minutes by the time I. You know, set up the. The To Do List for a contractor and then the client or the contractor takes their four hours to execute and then I just review it all before I send it to the client so you know an indefinite amount of time. You know, currently we service 85 monthly service client. So figure out 85 times how many hours do I save not starting from scratch. Every time I build a website. It’s a it’s a fair amount of Fair amount of time that I could be out, you know, hiking or hanging out with my kids or playing video games or, you know, all those non productive things that I choose to do with. My time otherwise.

Hang on a SEC. Hiking and spending time with your kids. It’s productive. It’s non more productive.

That’s true. That’s true.

Where we need to go there and.

Yeah, I know. Typically what I would say is I invest my time. I don’t spend my time. So you know, instead of saying I’m spending time with my kids, I’ll say I’m investing my time with my kids, which just, you know, it’s semantics, but it helps my. But then if my wife says, oh, what did you do this afternoon? And I have to say, well, I spent my time playing a video game. That’s when I get to say, well, I definitely wasn’t investing time into a video game. So again, that helps me reframe my mindset. But anyway, I digress.

I’m I’m I’m laughing with you because those who don’t know you well know and don’t follow you as much on social as I do know. You’re very family oriented and so AM. I I I understand that like 100% but. Is there anything else that we should touch upon on pawn project management for WordPress project that you think?

Well, I just think the the mindset that you do, the listener right now whoever is listening does have a project management process. You know, a lot of people again, they want, they want to think. Oh, I just don’t have a process. I’ll get around to a process. No, you have a process. It might be terrible. It might be back and forth. Emails that you can’t keep up with. You know you have a process, so why not make it a process that actually works? And then the second thing that I would drive home is that I’m not saying this because I’m a project management guy because I’m absolutely not. I mean, if I have my way, I would never ever be making to do lists and task lists and trying to manage projects. That’s that’s just not. My headspace, it’s not my personality, but what I realize is that this is a tool that allows me to get to live in my sweet spot. More so, for instance, if if I was to not have a project management system, I would have a terrible time trying to outsource work. Which means I don’t get to invest time with my kids and I don’t get to invest time hiking or going to the beach or booking travel arrangements or spending seven months in Europe or taking days off because I have to be on a train. You know those things would not be possible if I didn’t have a project management system. So in that context now it makes it worthwhile to put the effort. Into creating a project management system that actually works for me. Rather than procrastinating pushing it off or saying I’ll just do it myself.

No, I I agree with you. The whole reason for managing projects properly is to free up time to do other things and. Fortunately, in business and in life, the one finite resource we have is time. Anything else we can work out but time kind of stops. So I wholeheartedly agree with you on that one. So you won’t get disagreement out of me, my friends. If somebody wants to get a hold of. You and sort of discuss this or discuss. Anything else you’re doing? What’s the best way and what are you working on?

Well, the best way to hang out is Twitter. I mean, I just love my Twitter verse and so come hang out with me on Twitter. It’s at Adam, under score McLaughlin. We better put that in the show notes, cause McLaughlin is a pain to spell, but so that’s the best play to place to hang out with me. What am I working on right now I have. Been working on a lot of resources to help web designers who want to convert their agency from a roller coaster model to a model more like what I have, which is based on monthly recurring service contracts. So I’ve created some ebooks and some online training. And I’ve got a few other things in the works. You know, we talked about that before the show started, so I’ll tease at that, but I’m hoping you’ll have me back to chat about more of those projects once they’re more publicly available, but that’s a lot of what I’m working on right now. Now is is. I’ve created a model that’s worked for me. It provides me monthly recurring revenue and when people ask how’s business going, I’ve been saying it’s going seven months in Europe. So gauge that for what you’d like, but you know I’m. I’m really hoping that we can change the mindset in the industry. From this roller coaster of I made a deposit and now. I’m going to, you know, go and finish the project and now I get another huge lump sum and then next week I get to panic because I don’t have anything in my pipeline. I want to change that model in our in our industry to I’m building monthly recurring revenue every single month with my web design agency. I’m creating a service that my clients love that’s creating value. For their business and I’m creating a stable income for myself to go live the life I want to live. So I’m I’m going all in on create. Using tools and resources and mentoring opportunities and coaching opportunities for web designers who want to move to a monthly service model.

Yeah, that’s absolutely awesome. And what I would suggest to anybody who’s on Twitter get to know Adam. His Twitter threads are well worth the read him and I have had many conversations privately and publicly, and I think he’s he brings a lot to the table. So if you want to help your agency get to know because. It would be an avid resource for you so. Thanks Adam for sharing your time and all the best to you and your family for the new year.

Thank you so much Rob. It was great. To be here.

Thank you.


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