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Jack Skeels author of his new book ‘Unmanaged: Master the Magic of Creating Empowered and Happy Organizations’ joins Dave and shares insights on the challenges and pitfalls of Agile transformations, the importance of measuring success, and the inevitability of project failures.

They discuss the concept of staying in one’s lane versus diversification in service offerings for agencies, emphasizing the need to balance innovation and client needs. They also explore the concept of the “manager tax”, improving productivity, agile methodology, utilization and working together as a team.




Jack Skeels is a former RAND senior analyst, and currently CEO of AgencyAgile, an Agile transformation and coaching firm that helps agencies, consultancies, and other complex service organizations go better, faster and happier. His career includes leading Sapient’s 105-person Los Angeles office, and founding and executive roles in multiple startups. He is a coach to executives, a thought-leader and evangelist to industry, and wakes every day driven to create a revolution in leadership and management practices, optimal organization design, and delivery excellence.

Jack is recognized as an outstanding speaker, writer, and educator. He speaks at over 15 industry and association events per year, including Ad Age, Digiday, SoDA (annual meeting and The SoDA Academy), 4A’s conferences, Advertising Week, Magnet Global, Miss Collective, TAAN, Bureau of Digital, and others. With over 35 published articles, his work frequently appears in leading publications such as: Ad Age, Entrepreneur, Ad Week, MediaPost, and Campaign.

He is a two-time Inc-500 Award winner and entrepreneur, with several successful startups to his credit. In addition to a bachelor’s in Industrial Engineering and an MBA with honors in Entrepreneurship and Finance from the Marshall School of Business, he has held several “graduate-level teaching roles, including associate professor at the RAND-Pardee School of Public Policy.

Show Notes


Dave 0:00
Welcome to another episode of the Agency Balance Podcast. I’m super thrilled to have an amazing guest for you today. Jack Skeels. Jack is a two time Inc 500 award winning executive, and former Rand senior analysts, frequent keynote speaker, which I just saw recently CEO of agency agile and author of a brand new book, unmanaged master, the magic of creating empowered, and happy organizations. Jack, congratulations on the book, and welcome to the podcast.

Jack 0:36
Well, thank you so much, Dave. It’s pleasure to be here and great to spend some more time with you.

Dave 0:43
All right, before we get into the book, which is, thank you so much for letting me get a sneak peek of it, and I had an opportunity to read it. Before we get into the book, I have my hard hitting question for you right off the bat. And Jack has no idea what I’m gonna throw. What are you seeing as a disruptor? Right now in the industry, in specifically talking about agencies, you’re you have the you have the pulse as to what’s going on? What disruption is happening right now?

Jack 1:15
You know, the one that comes to mind? Great question. The one that comes to mind is that it’s not clear what the impact is, I think we all know, this is the impact of chatbot, AI, etc, that kind of thing on the on the landscape of and not so much the landscape of the agency, but really the landscape of the client demand. In other words, what are clients going to do about this? I know actually, in fact, I know of an agency that’s actually just started its own consultancy, to go help clients navigate what to do about it is just sort of a reaction because it’s so many clients saying, well, we’re not really sure how this applies. And so they turn that into a business, it’s a new consultancy, basically, that they’ve spun off going after their existing clients and that way, so they get the work the other side of the picture, which is, by the way, which is consistent with a theme that that I came out with a couple of years ago, I did a piece for the forays called The Future of agencies, you can find it on our agency agile website. But in there, one of the things I talked about is that increasingly for a bunch of other reasons, agencies need to become more like consultancies. So I thought was pretty funny. A couple of weeks ago, when I was visiting this client, and they told me about this move. I thought, there you go, you figured it out. That’s the new the new agency may be in fact, that consultancy.

Dave 2:40
I’m smiling and bobbing my head because it is so true. I think I’ll be in countless meetings, especially with my partners and be like, Guys, we’re consultancy. That’s what we’re consultants. That’s who we are. We’re telling people direction. We’re telling them what to do. We’re helping them with their revenue operations. We’re helping them with their business objectives. Consultants. The dirty word? Well, yeah,

Jack 3:06
you know, on a good day, you are right. I think that’s the when we one of the things we see in fact, when agencies start growing beyond the 2535 45 people, they start institutionalizing some roles, like account management, and one of the things that happens is the account management function often sort of leans backwards rather than leans forward into it right and in account people become well be cliche order takers, right? That they’re, they’re actually people who are, just have the client tell me what to do. I’m gonna run back to the agency and make that happen. And that’s like death right there. That’s Death of the client relationship. The

Dave 3:45
so true, yeah. Once you stop, stop there, the day you sign a client’s a day you lose them, right. It’s just you start losing them right away, whatever, whatever that adage that we said back then, but yeah, for sure. All right. So first off, everybody keep listening because Jack promised me a discount code for his new book on managed at the end of this episode. So we’re gonna put that at the end of the episode, you can run out to agency I’ll put a link right to Jack’s new book or if you just like me, and you want to be able to find it quick while you’re listening to this search unmanaged book unmanaged book on Amazon. I did that again this morning. It came right up. Very good stuff. So I want to always start with why. So let’s start with the why I have I have my own interpretation. And for those who are watching on YouTube, please do that. You can see my sticky note here. I was going through and sticky noting everything in this this book because I loved it so much. I don’t know if I told you or not Jack. But my background was in project management. I was a PMP as a scrum master. So of course, this is my this is my these are my favorite topics. So, but why did you write this book? Yeah, I

Jack 5:02
think it’s a great question. I think there are two things. One is the, the external journey and then the internal journey. Right. So the external journey was this, we, I came from, as, you know, sort of the same background as well, and, and always sort of thought it was a job that shouldn’t exist in a way I don’t know where you come down on that. But that it was just a little overhyped as a job. And that the essentially, people do a pretty good job on their own solving things and the like. And that’s what we built agency agile around is stealing some ideals, behind agile and, and helping and showing teams how to sort of self managed and the like, in doing that, we’ve been crazy successful with it. The situations where we’ve been really successful managers that had an attitude that was a lot like mine originally, which was, can we stop doing all this management bullshit, and just get some work done, right. And in so in a way those those were easy clients for us, right, easy to make change. And on the other end of the spectrum, and we’ve had clients we’ve worked with who we’ve done, they’ve been like, wow, this is amazing. And then six months later, they’re not doing it. Right. And the biggest obstacle to that is management itself. And, and I believe, you know, in one part there sort of negative evil manager kind of things that happen, right? Like, I don’t want to give up control and my power, that kind of thing. But there’s also probably more managers that are just like, I’m not sure I get how to do it. So I’m just going to do what I used to do all the time. And so that’s what the books aimed at is, how do we how do we just teach managers how to have a better posture towards the work and that goes into, you know, essentially, some of the things maybe we’ll talk about today, which is, like the first law of on managing the first and only love on managing, for example. And then real quick, the internal journey, my journey was, we’ve been wicked successful with this stuff. But I’ve never really written the, you know, the treatise, the Bible, the manifesto of how it works, and how it should all fit together and why. And so doing that was an amazing journey. That just insanely amazing, realizing that all my ideas belong together, but they didn’t necessarily fit together, and making it and getting it to the point of being a narrative. So that’s there. Yeah, there’s a long answer to your short question. No,

Dave 7:28
it’s great. And right off the bat, I enjoyed this book on so many levels. The first is you’ve made it a resource. That’s how I’m going to define this in Dave’s term. Because what I’m going to refer back to this, I’m going to put my sticky notes back into it, because I’m wanting to display it proudly over my shoulder here for you, but I’m gonna put my sticky notes back and it’s gonna be a resource. And thank you, you put diagrams and examples in this book. And as as a former project manager, I love to see those process and flowcharts and examples and diagrams. And let’s just face it, that’s better. There’s less words I gotta read.

Jack 8:07
Yeah, well, thank first of all, That’s high praise because the I have a topic I call business porn. Okay. And that’s sort of the Jim Collins Good to Great and other books like that. And even like Simon Sinek. eaters, the leader, leaders, Simon cynics leaders, the last. The problem with these books are that they they’re essentially platitudinous that they have this. They give you these ideals it like in Good to Great they started about companies and people in these companies that you will never be okay. You’re never going to be the CEO of a Fortune 200 company making a strategic decision. And by the way, it’s not even really clear that some of those stories are exactly true. But but it’s something you can read. That’s aspirational, but it will do you no good in your job. I mean, there’s nothing you can take away from those things, except maybe your company sucks compared to the stories that he’s telling. And likewise, Simon Sinek sort of stuff. Again, fascinating. Malcolm Gladwell, all this kind of thing, but tried to put it into action. How do you how do you eat last? If you’re a leader who wants to eat? What’s that mean? And how do you truly take that posture? And what do you need to abandon? And what do you need to adopt? And so I, I love those books. They’re great. And I hate those books because they don’t move the needle for people. And so one of my biggest goals was to write a book that not only had some of that, admittedly, business porn in it, but also had and here’s what you do, right? And you can only write so much of that without becoming a massive book, but I I’m really grateful to hear that. You as a practitioner, feel like this is something I’m going to go back for because that was an objective of the book. Absolutely. Yeah.

Dave 9:59
And there is As great resources throughout the book, there’s links dropped in there, we’ll make sure that we share some of those on agency So that you can continue to bookmark this and make it a resource for you. So, as I mentioned, I really enjoyed reading this. And now I love, love, love. What

Jack 10:19
was your favorite part?

Dave 10:20
Well, I think so there’s a couple of things, right. I think for the the the theme for me is it made me my takeaway was it made me challenge and rethink how we’re servicing, how we’re managing and what our offering is, right? I love the discussion around managers and metrics and looking at this, I spend a great deal and my people know, they’re gonna listen to this. My people know, I focus on utilization. Right as, as a small, small, lean and mean, agency, you gotta be maximizing everything, everything’s getting more expensive salaries are going up. How do you? How do you plan for, you know, you know, churn I liked at the end, when you talked about D AI, which we’ll talk about. So there’s a lot, there’s a lot of those elements, but for me, I’m utilization and metrics and looking about the manager tax. That to me is my shining moment.

Jack 11:22
Oh, nice. Nice. Yeah, that was actually the manager tax was the working title of the book. And it is, in fact, the core of the book, the idea that we had to figure out sort of the, what’s the anchor idea for managers, and the anchor idea is you don’t know how costly you can be. And so we identify, and I apologize, you know, it’s funny, you write the book, and then you edit it 5 million times, and all that kind of thing. And then here comes this moment, where, how many manager taxes were there, I think six, maybe five, one of the two, but a bunch of different ones, and four out of the five or six, are completely non obvious to most managers. And so the real idea is, do you realize that you’re just as likely to make productivity killing action, as you are to enhance productivity, and that the decision is wickedly difficult to do a lot of times. And so I’m glad you love that, that that’s a central idea, because it is, if you can get your head around that, then you start you’re on your path to becoming a better manager. Absolutely.

Dave 12:31
So I was saying, like, I’ve leveled up, I was a project manager, and now I’m CEO of an agency. And so I have a personal opinion on this, that I think that this book is actually pretty, I think everybody has a lot of layers and levels. What Who, who do you think should read this book?

Jack 12:53
Yeah, well, you know, I have to confess, as a first time author, I’ve written a lot of articles. But that’s a whole different thing. It’s nothing compared to writing a book, I probably tried to serve too many people. So my answer is vague in that way. And so the, I would say, if we sort of take this mix of leaders, managers, and makers and sort of say, we can divide the world that way, and granted, you know, if you’re a smaller organization, a lot of times those can be off, you can be all three of those, for example. But in a sense, at the core of it is managers, right? It is intended for managers, project managers, account managers, probably less so requirements managers, but certainly project managers, right. So it’s very, it’s probably because that’s my background at the core, it’s a book that will inform project managers. The message about project managers is probably more severe in that way. And right, I don’t know how you took it, but but in a sense, some of the biggest problems come because of the way we think about project management incorrectly, around how agencies operate and the white. So but to finish that answer, I did put a whole section in Section Five around leaders, leaders issues and the like. And the the challenge that see the biggest challenge for a leader and make them change is actually the managers as well. So I feel like it is a good book for leaders. It’s a good book for leaders who want to understand managing, and I think any leader who doesn’t understand managing is sort of just a flag waver in a way, right? You’re going around, hey, let’s all be kinder to each other, let’s all be empowered, those sorts of things. But it doesn’t, it doesn’t anchor into and then you as a manager, here’s here’s specific behaviors that you need to be acting on. Right? Yeah,

Dave 14:45
I think most I don’t know. I’m gonna say most most agency leaders got there because they’ve leveled up. They started out doing the work. They started out selling the work they figured out Okay, now we got a couple more resources, or maybe they were part of something else, but they’ve kind of figured it out along the way. I know I have. I never had formal training. I just kind of emulated what my last manager did. But I tried to do it in a better way. I tried to put always my, my human thumbprint on it, I have this caring thing, I always try to come at it with caring, right? It’s like, listen, people, we’re not saving lives here. But we can care about what we’re doing. Well, unless, if you’re like, you know, picking drug names, or something like that, maybe you actually are but in my, we’re not saving lives. And, and I’m glad, let’s let’s let’s dive in to the manager talks because I know for us, my example is we, I’m looking at, I’m reading this and I’m like, oh my god, I got way too many managers, I got way too many. But, but then I started to break it down. But I’m like, but some of their titles have manager in it, but they’re doing production level things. They’re they’re there are a consultant, but they are actually doing some execution as well. But because like you said, we have to wear a lot of hats here. So, you know, for, for us at 25 person agency, some of the managers are doing that x execution. But for for for our listeners who have never heard the term manager tax, how would you summarize that?

Jack 16:16
One of the interesting things is if you ask managers, how what their relationship is with productivity. Most managers think of themselves as as an engine of productivity. And in fact, this is absolutely not true. And it’s this is proven and Nobel Prize winning research and theory and the like, that actually the the amount of managing that goes on inside of an organization. And I’m gonna tie this to your intro to this question as well. The amount of managing that goes down inside the organization, which roughly equates to how many people have a manager title, right, is inversely proportional to its productivity. And that is to say, the more we manage, the harder we manage, the less productivity we get out of the organization. I’m going to tell you a really simple example, which I came, came up with, like literally the day after we published the book, because I was talking to someone about it. And, and it goes like this, I’ve got a factory, one man back in factory land, and we talk about factory land and the old industrial model. And I’m a manager and I have my eight people on my assembly line, right? And, and I’m, as a manager, I’m measured, my measurement is do we get those 200 widgets assembled every day? Right? That’s, that’s my main measure, right? And so maybe I’m thinking, Hmm, time to be managerial, I think I’ll hold a status meeting with everyone, right. And I scheduled my one one hour status meeting and pull everyone off the assembly line and, and during that hour, we don’t assemble any widgets at all. Come the end of the week, my supervisor, my manager says, Hey, I noticed you only hit 192 widgets this week, what’s going wrong. And what went wrong is I took everyone off the assembly line, okay. And in the old factory model, this was crystal clear, managers knew that they needed to minimize their impact upon the production function. But that was a very trackable production function, right? It’s very obvious how many we’re supposed to produce because we’re producing the same thing over and over it’s consistent process in the light. And I was the only one to blame if we didn’t hit that number. Fast forward. We’re in a multi manager environment where there are multiple people who think that they can conduct acts of managing with impunity with no cost or anything like that. And when we take the workers productivity down, who’s responsible, the worker, we push it back on to the worker, and this is crazy. But it’s all this idea of managerial exceptionalism that it couldn’t possibly be a manager decreasing productivity yet, in fact, as we see in agencies, an amazing amount of productivity gets killed by managerial actions. They’re just sort of thoughtless, they don’t know better. It’s an ill intention, but they just don’t know better.

Dave 19:12
Yes, yeah, absolutely. And as I’m looking at utilization, we track that it’s always that debate of like, are you going to track time, you’re not going to track time, like for us, we’ve chosen as a service driven company, we track our time and but we don’t, but we have our own methods. I’m not going to go there. That’s a whole other podcast people I’m not even gonna get into that you’re gonna

Jack 19:32
have you’re gonna have me back and we can do timecards utilization and other fumbly sort of metrics. You know, some of the stuff from the book in fact,

Dave 19:41
yeah, the first year that definitely would be part two of this. So I’m gonna I’m gonna, I’m gonna pivot from man and this is a good building point because Agile is is is a big part of this. And Agile is in your company name. And as a former Scrum Master, I absolutely love it. Agile on certain types of projects. It’s not for everything, right? But I love this example that you gave about, you’re on a plane with a businessman and he picked up agile, and I’m about to get on a plane to inevitably, somebody’s gonna see some of my stickers on my laptop. But I’m, you, you, I’m going to put it in a few short words, you basically told him like he’s struggling, he’s spending all this time on a Sunday night to figure out people’s schedules for them. And you just said, How about on Monday, you just put everything on no cards or sticky notes, and you just make them figure it out? I mean, that sounds so silly. But I mean, sometimes you kind of have to put it back. So what Mike, my specific question and maybe you can build on that example, is any advice you can give those who are listening that have never made that leap into using Agile methodology that have traditionally have just gone through a waterfall approach? What advice would you give our listeners when they’re thinking about approaching agile?

Jack 21:06
You know, I think that the so this is a whole huge topic, of course, and I’ll try and do my own short version as well. One of which is the majority of Agile transformations, in my opinion, turned out to do almost nothing except maybe make people feel a little bit better. I was at a conference that was in the Midwest, and it was the heartland developers conference. So the 800 people in this audience, and yeah, like, probably a third of them are project managers, or some form of quasi manager, like you’re talking about. And I had this great presentation on the fact that you need to only take a few pieces out of Agile to be successful. But if you take them all, kind of like, you can over agile yourself, right? And do a bunch of rituals that don’t add anything and the like. And I asked everyone to raise their hand, I said, How many of you here use agile, and this was five years ago, but it’s still it’s crazy popular, then you could hear the air move in the room, the hands went up so quickly, kind of thing I do. I do, you know, that kind of thing. And then I said, How many of you and by the way, there’s a great book, the business case for Agile software development that rolls up a bunch of research from about 10 years ago left, put a link in your, in your podcast. The end, they point out that well run Agile projects return five to 10x, productivity gains. I said, so. So who here has gotten a 2x productivity gain from implementing agile? And I assumed like this is these are developers software. Agile is invented for software projects. No one raised their hand. Now we’ve got clients who’ve gotten 100%, productivity gain double bottom, but absolutely. And so I said, who’s got a 100%? Productivity game? No hands, I worked my way. Now I’m freaking out. Because by the way, my whole presentation was based on the idea, someone would raise their frickin hand during this thing. Finally, get down to 25%. Who here 800 People, this is pretty good sample of 800 people who here has gotten a 25% productivity gain, which by the way, if you don’t get 25%, using agile, you’re just on the wrong train. You’re not You’re either not doing it right, or it’s not the right situation, whatever. Like, I think maybe six hands went up, eight hands, something like that. And I think I felt as bad for them as they felt for themselves in that situation. And so I had to wrap with something like, Who here thinks it’s better? And everyone raises their hand again, right? And so but that was a scary moment for me when I realized that actually, most people don’t understand how to make agile techniques work really well for you. And that’s the answer. Really, the thing that works, we’ve proven this over and over is that some pieces of agile may work for you. But a very important lesson is software agile was made for large scale agile development with dedicated teams with Bob and going on, you know, three year planning horizons, etc. Those things look nothing like your world 98% of the situations where software agile get gets applied, that is not the situation. And it’s just sort of like, Hey, here’s a tool that my friend used to repair an airplane, maybe I can use it on my car, or something or on my dishwasher. Right? So there’s this applicability problem. That’s, that’s very huge and, and leads to a lot of challenges. And so aside from calling us to help, of course, but the it’s pick and choose wisely and do things very incrementally and like you started off with Dave, you’ve got to measure, okay, you got to figure out how to measure how well you’re doing now and then when you apply a technique is it getting better? Hope that it’s a big topic, right? So sorry about the long answer.

Dave 24:57
It’s a huge topic eight years ago. I walked into my director of Project management’s office once and I don’t think we were doing using agile than I was, I was, I knew about it, I don’t think I ever managed a project had a couple of years under my belt. And he drew a triangle. And he’s like, I’m gonna draw the project management triangle for you. And I’m like, Okay, here we go, budget time scope. And when one of those those sides goes off, the other two have to adjust, right. So a lot of times, it’s too late, when you’re in the middle of something to try to change course, or change methodologies. He’s like, You need to be planning this, he’s like, I need you to build a project plan, I don’t need you to build me a project schedule, the project schedule is just the time it’s going to take it’s the timeline, I need you to plan how you’re going to do this work. And we use this with our, with our website redesign this year. So cobblers, kids, we never get to update our own website. And I said, we need a we, our conversation is so far ahead of where our website at, I want to website in three weeks, and everybody looked at me like I had four hands, not three heads, foreheads. And I said, we’re gonna use agile, I said, here’s what we’re gonna do, the first version is going to be very bare bones. But you need to figure out you have these amount of resources, you have this much time, there’s a priority list, rank it high, you know that you have to launch it. So there’s going to be certain things that just cannot happen in launch. So, you know, I think I think there’s a way for agencies who haven’t done it before, or if they don’t have a huge pool of resources, right? To do it a hybrid approach to take elements of of agile, absolutely. And apply it right. Yep.

Jack 26:46
So what you were doing, by the way, and people can Google this, what you were doing was a technique that came out, I think, in 81, or 82, I was like a really young programmer, project manager back then. It’s called ie PM, and we can we can find a link again, for you guys. Iterative enhanced project management. And it was literally exactly that was the new way, the new idea around project management, which which was, figure out what the most important things are to do during the next week or two. Do those stop, reflect on where you got to and then figure out what the next most important things to do are? And oh, by the way, talk to your customer. Okay, that was it was it? It was amazing. So I had this experience. And by the way, I didn’t, I didn’t really even believe in Agile because I didn’t believe in project management. But it’s a great way to not have to do much project managing right? Is actually I would have the team define what like you did beautiful practice. By the way, congratulations. Have the team to find what it is we should be doing. What are the most important things to do. It’s amazing. And that essentially, if you go back to the example you started with, which was the the vignette about the guy on the airplane, I basically said, Why are you trying to solve this problem that they should be solving? Basically, we we that I want? Here’s another part of that answer I want to come back to. Back in the old factory days, we develop this idea about managing it was based on the fact that it wasn’t necessarily true. But it was true at the moment, which is the people working in the factory were largely rural farm workers are immigrants with little or no education or English language skills or anything like that, in a way we were sort of just putting meat in an assembly line, right? And it was really more about and in fact, the founder of this, Frederick Taylor said, basically, you need to treat these people like animals like oxen, you need to just command them to go or they won’t go. And there’s that idea of managerial superiority or exceptionalism is something that still pervades and that guy on the plane had that is like somehow he was better at solving puzzles than than the rest of the people in his organization. By the way, he was a it was a CEDIA consumer electronics distribution installation association. So they do they’re the MacGyver is of installing like in a you want a refrigerator that pops out of the for that kind of thing. The funny thing is, they were probably better solved. Some of them are probably better solvers than him even because that’s what he hired them for us these amazing feats of engineering. So I think we as managers underestimate how powerful our people are even things that we think are managerial functions.

Dave 29:32
Absolutely. Let’s talk about the F word not that F word failures. Let’s talk about failures. This is something that I came away with you were you were speaking at Mind Your Own Business Conference, which I attended in Atlanta a few weeks back, and I it’s something I wrote down and it’s just a reminder is like you spent so much time especially as a manager as a leader of like improvement. You’re always focusing on trying to get everything perfect. And I fall into this trap all the time. And I have to remind myself, so if you’re listening, you’re not going to get it perfect. It’s not gonna happen. It’s not going to be perfect. So what advice would you give our listeners, when you’re talking about rebounding from failures? Or even going into a failure type situation? I know you’ve, you’ve struggled, you’ve probably had them, you know, over over over your career many times over. Right?

Jack 30:26
Yeah. One is the there’s an inevitability to project failure that most people don’t understand. I would recommend a resource called the Standish Group, as a source for this information, they do a bi annual survey of project, what they call project outcomes or something like that. And what they do is they track truly successful projects. We have fun with this, by the way, we used to ask clients all the time, our clients, what’s your project success rate, and they say 100%, which is kind of true, but it’s kind of not. And Standish Group says, well, successful means on time on budget, feature complete, client happy, everyone’s CFO, happy, all that kind of thing. Challenged is the next category down the down the order, right, which is basically, some of those things aren’t true, maybe all of them are not true, right. And and then failed, of course, is the bottom of the thing where one or both parties stepped away from the project in one form or another. Now, the stats look like this is that the majority of all projects that Standish Group tracks are either failed or challenged projects. In other words, your your likelihood of having a truly successful project is way less than 50%. And so and this is driven by size, also, the larger the project, the more likely that that is true. But there’s an inevitability to failure. And and what I call being having challenged projects, projects that struggle that really it and you and I love the mentioned project plans, okay? The project plan is usually a it’s a, it’s a wished for list. It’s a dream that we construct, saying, If only everything goes perfectly on this project, and this project plan will be true. And in the agency world, and this very important takeaway I hope people get out of the book is that in agency land, intrinsically, you have worked, it’s not that plantable because you’re figuring out what it’ll be. And there’s so many uncertainties, and there’s just no way anything you write at the beginning of the project is absolutely going to be wrong. You want to write great project planet and agency, wait until the project is over. It’ll be perfect.

Dave 32:43
Yeah, you’re starting at the beginning of that, that project with so many undefined requirements, and as you’re getting closer and closer to the end that trying that other than starting to come complete. So you should be, you know, better on track there. So there’s a lot of different types of organizations out there. And you talk about this about product driven versus project driven versus process driven. And then the messy middle. You know, for us, we’re mostly retained, we’re mostly MRR 80 plus percent of our business is is is that model. So you can have your your your pitfalls there, too, on how that can come up. Come around. You’ve talked about that late in the book as well. And about staying in your lane. What advice can you share about help staying in your lane? Versus and trying not to offer everyone everything to everyone? Especially like in that? Like for me in that retainer, MRR situation wherein we’re like, yeah, we’re just your bolt on marketing agency? Sure, we’ll do that.

Jack 33:41
Yeah, you know, what, look, it’s a beautiful thing. I’m a multi time entrepreneur. And, and yeah, they’re the, the language of entrepreneurs is filled with all sorts of vernacular, like, pivot and, you know, adaptation and service extension and things like that. And they’re all valid. The reality is all of them are far more costly than you think they are. And we did this great study, I think, did you day, or one of the publications published the the roll up of it, that basically, when you stay in your lane, you have maximal productivity? The The challenge, though, is that you’ve got you have more fragility, in other words, the maybe, maybe you’re into, you know, copywriting and all sudden chatbot comes along, right. And so that’s a tough business to be in. So the diversification is a business strategy. It’s a valid one as well. But one needs to temper it a little bit. I, you know, I know a lot of agencies that your size that are they dream of being full service, and I’m thinking, Well, how about just to service rather than full service, right. And so I think one needs to be a little bit careful around that. I’m not advising people to not take new business. I think they have a couple of the things that came out of that research, I should probably dig up that hole study, we never got the full thing published, unfortunately. But one of the things came out. And it’s it’s in the literature, the research literature as well is that if you’re going to extend your capabilities, the best way to do it is with a good existing quiet. The most dangerous way to do it is when you have no talent to do it, it’s a new client situation. And of course, you’ve never done it before. Those are those are blood baths. And maybe you gained enough experience, you’ll probably not keep that quiet. And so that’s that’s sort of the challenge. The the entrepreneur literature is really cool on it. And they said that basically the best capability enhancing activities for for startups and small small businesses are getting your existing clients to pay you to develop that capability as an addition to what you’re doing already.

Dave 35:53
Great advice. We try to practice this with our long term clients, I’ll just have a conversation with the business owner or whoever the point of contact is, and be like, Hey, listen, we’re going to try something new here. Are you interested? And this whatever it is your new piece of technology, are we you know, looping this back to trying to stay in your lane, but paying attention to AI and how you’re going to work that into your business? And I just have that conversation? They’ll probably be like, Heck, yeah, we’ll take it. That’s why they hire an agency to begin with, is they want, they want that innovation. They can hire people to do this stuff, but they’re paying you for that intangible they’re paying you because you should be smarter than them in steps ahead of them. And and that we talked about that earlier is like that’s the difference between a consultant and innovator versus an order taker. You do not want to be an order taker, you’re going to lose them. Yep,

Jack 36:51
exactly. And I’m going to throw out another thing for your listeners as well. You can actually go to your clients and say, what else should we be doing for you? Okay, now, this is actually a really clever move. Because if the client says, oh, yeah, I’d like you to pick up this whatever funnel optimization or something like that for us as well. If you if they say that now they’re part of the project, right. And literally, like your failure, cost goes down. Because, frankly, if you do Moffitt and I hope you don’t, but if you do Moffitt, you can turn to them and say, Thanks for the opportunity. I’m sorry, we didn’t do as well as we could have. But it wasn’t you pitching them to trust you. They had actually pitched you to help out with it.

Dave 37:37
My next favorite topic, meetings, meetings. Can we can we just spend a few minutes talking about everyone’s favorite part of their day, which is meetings? So there’s the manager tax, which we talked about, but there’s also the meeting tax? You have a formula for lists as well, right? Yeah.

Jack 37:56
So I do want to do just a little author thing here, which is the books 340 pages, okay. And you know, the you want to as a business author, you really would love to have a really tight 180 page book, that makes one good point, and everyone gets it. And you know, you’ll be famous, there’ll be Patrick Lencioni, or something like that. Right? The I had, I’d written the meeting section. And when we were on the next to last edit, I cut it out. And my editors and reviewers said, you can’t take meetings out. And, and so the book is a collection of those things that you can’t take out of the picture. So I thank you for bringing it up. It is a shorter version of a bigger topic, of course. So the one of the things back to that. I’m glad I used that assembly line example of the manager pulling people off the assembly line for meeting, that one of the things we do that if you’d ask those workers, how much what was your return on time invested? We call it the roti score. Someone else called it that but we we put it in the book that way? Return on time invested? In other words, you spend an hour in this meeting, how much value did you get back? And this is really interesting. First of all the meetings research data on this type of thing is ridiculously bad. The research itself is good, the the findings are horrible, which is typical roadie score, the equivalent is about 50%. So I can pretty much guarantee I’m going to at least kill 50% of the time productivity that I steal. And and the problem by the way, I’m gonna do a little tangent here. The problem is that if I had one manager, like I talked about before, okay, then that’s my time to steal from these people. But when I’ve got a multi manager environment, which I’m sure you do multiple project managers, multiple COGIC, client managers, multiple department managers, each of those managers gets to steal time and the like, and there’s no way to, to really attribute it back to them and the like. So we have this situation where we’re calling me meetings and we did some roadie survey for a couple of years. It’s just so dismal that it was dismal one is interesting, but it’s dismal because it it showed the agency how bad the situation was. And we didn’t have an offering at the time we do now. But we didn’t have an offering at the time. People who weren’t the meeting organizers generally rated the meetings around 25% effective. And so if you think about you call a meeting with six people in it, and the math gets like ridiculously wonky, like six times 45 minutes. And so it’s like, what, 250 minutes or something like that, which is four hours of productivity for me to have this stupid status meeting. It’s just really, really bad.

Dave 40:44
I’ve tried so many different things over the years, we still use a fraction of these. Well, we do rate all of our meetings at the end of the meeting. Cool. Yeah. So we’re reading those. And we keep

Jack 40:52
track of that, by the way, that’s, that’s a dangerous way to collect the data. Okay, because there’s a lot of social, social conformance stuff that goes on and that sort of raise the hand who thought this was a valuable meeting or whatever? measure you use the, there’s research on diaries, like we talked about in the book using a roadie diary. Okay. versus using a meeting and survey, but go ahead. Sorry,

Dave 41:18
no, I want to Yeah, let’s, let’s dig into all of them. We’ve tried like, so the other thing is, if you book an hour meeting you’re gonna use up all the time. So like, think about the increments, we’ve tried 21 minute meetings, so you have you no flexibility. So that’s a weird time. It throws your schedule kind of off, it gives you some buffer, it forces you to cut out the fluff, like, Hey, how’s the weather in California today, Jack, you know, and it’s just, there’s, there’s time in place for those type of things. And then it’s like, let’s get to the point. When when I was a Scrum Master, we had daily stand ups. And it was called stand up for reason, when someone sat down and be like, We’re not sitting, that’s a seven minute stand up, because we’re going to get comfortable and you’re going to you’re going to drift. So there’s a lot of strategies be you know, behind that about the length of meetings. i This is advice I always give I still do this is always put a purpose in your meeting, especially if it’s an internal meeting, right? When you before you submit, and hit send, to all the attendees put a purpose. And whatever the action item is, or even for example, if there’s a discussion topic, put the put Google does this, put the link in there, spend, tell everyone to spend 30 minutes, 20 minutes ahead of it, go through it. There might be some questions we can get answered that we don’t even need to discuss and then multiply that there’s so much strategy around how to make an effective meeting. But it’s just it we spend too much time in them.

Jack 42:46
Yeah, in the book, I give a couple different formats for dealing with this. One of which, and I won’t go into it is the idea that Ricardo Semler, the CEO Semco, he wrote two books Maverick and Seven Day weekend, I think this is in Seventh Day weekend, he talks through a strategy that’s really a top down policy thing, which is what you need to do. So I’m glad you’re doing that. You’re, you’re driving how you do it. I think I think the the challenge and you sort of getting at it with purpose. The challenge is the purpose needs to be singular. The research is very interesting, which is compound meetings are judged as the worst meetings of all compound meeting is where we’re going to go through the seven topics related to this account. And I think there are two things that happen. One is I as the meeting organizer, go, wow, I don’t know how long I’ll need for that. So I’m just going to do an hour, right? Versus if I said, we’re just going to talk about this one thing. I’d be like 10 minutes max, right. And so that those are, that’s very different, because it probably is only about 10 minutes. And it’s definitely not an hour for the other one. And so that essentially getting narrow about your meetings will actually make for better meetings.

Dave 44:03
And then when once you do those narrow meetings, now you’ve increased your time to do more work, right. But we still struggle throughout our day to try to look at our calendar that’s just too full. Even when we were getting on we were like I’m doing this and doing that, right. But I want to share something that was really neat. And it’s something that I’m going to be trying we have focused Thursdays which is like one Thursday a month where it’s like no meetings, no email, no nothing. Just work on one client do something and get it together come together. So now you have three people, six hours a day or whatever applying to it. How much can you move forward in that time? A couple of weeks ago, we had our Day of Caring and we went out to this farm and we wasn’t glamorous by any means. We are in mud. We were clearing out brush we were clearing out this area around this pond we were beautifying their area for for people to get close. Sir with nature, and there’s a lot of great story behind it. But the point was, it hit me at the end, I was I looked at I go, we really didn’t do that much like, I don’t know, like, we cleared this. But the gentleman comes in, he goes, it’s just me and one other person. He’s like, this wasn’t even on our list. We couldn’t even get to this till next year is like what you guys did as a team in a few hours, would have taken me a week in the half next year. And now it’s done. Wow, wow. So why can’t we do that in business? Why can’t we come together? Stop working on it a little bit here a little bit there? Why can’t we just stop what we’re doing and come together and work together as a team. So what I’m going to try to do in our next focus is, is do more of that. And like have a punch list of saying, hey, we need to create this campaign. We’re doing it this afternoon. Yeah,

Jack 45:51
no. And in fact, you know, you’re bringing this up, because we actually go into this in some detail around just how effective it can be to, to concentrate work inside of an agency. And it really points to another problem, which is the concentrating of work and focus is solving a problem, which is we don’t realize how costly it is to not concentrate, work. workflow management systems, God forbid project managers, account managers, everyone tries to slice and dice and multitask people’s attention. And in fact, that’s extremely costly, I’d go into this in great detail inside the book. It’s so costly that in fact that when you collapse that as you’re suggesting, okay, by the way, two things happened, by the way, when you collapse that one is you regain a lot of lost productivity and focus, because people have to get back into the work and not get interrupted and all that kind of thing. So huge productivity gains. The second is you improve your culture, because there’s nothing we love more than actually accomplishing something together. This is shown in some cool research that back in the 19, I think 1960s or 1970s, were in group out group animosity, this is the fact that I don’t I don’t like working with so and so because of some arbitrary bias, that animosity shrinks dramatically when we go work on the same thing and accomplish it. So it’s amazing, you built culture, you’re absolutely spot on. And you got to see the concentrated effort of productivity. Very cool.

Dave 47:28
Last few things I want to talk about is the DEI and change. So you said in the book are regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, inclusion, inclusion, you said creating and retaining a diverse workforce is probably the best way you can grow on. So talk, talk more about choosing the right or the ready people talk. Talk to me about that. Yeah,

Jack 47:57
I think what happens so this underlying this is a as a fundamental problem about us as human beings, is, we are incredibly biased. And it’s not like I’m intended, there are people who like, who jump on top of that bias, and then develop that as a social style as well. I hate I hate such and such group of people, that kind of thing. But that’s, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m saying that we can’t assess very well, the there’s some great research I cite in there done by Deloitte and some researchers at a university. That said the single most significant factor in performance reviews, in terms of the quality of the review, someone got like the rating that they got, was how much the reviewer felt the person was like them in terms of their values. Okay, whatever that means. They like find footwear, they, they like coffee, like I like coffee just doesn’t, but it’s just it’s highly subjective, has nothing to do with the work. In fact, it was the third factor, I think it accounted for 27%. If I remember, right, only 20% of the review was attributable to actual performance. So if you step back, and this is really good, just no one’s disputed this research, if you step back and say, well, that’s, that’s that’s the research done on hundreds of managers and the like, am I the exception to that? No, probably not. In fact, you can bet that you have zero ability to choose well, and so what I what I, what I put in there is that. One is there’s to your point about the inclusion building a diverse workforce. The reason people drop out of your workforce who are diverse is because they get they get this, this intrinsic bias and I don’t I use some of the terms that are used these days around this, but they’re essentially as a inability to, to do to make fair decisions. It’s just wired into us. It’s not an evil thing, nothing like that. And so what I really propose is managers need to abandon the choosing role and Tell a great vignette about a guy who was a yo yo champion who was on one of our teams. And we gave him one of the hardest things. And everyone’s like, they rolled their eyes at me when I suggested that this guy do this part of the project. And and he killed it. Now they supported him and everything like that. But the reality is, he’d never done it before. And he killed it. And they all supported him. And he he’d become their new project and the like. But this is really an example of of inclusion. Now there’s if we don’t give people chances to succeed, they will fulfill our expectations that they can’t succeed. And so the, again, this is that I truly believe everybody takes turns. And how do we how do we go through our process and make sure that it’s not just the people who we know can get it done that get the assignment? But how about the people that need to learn how to get it done? Getting the assignment as well?

Dave 50:57
Very well said very well said, four stage change model, contemplation, planning, implementation sustaining. Let’s, let’s break that down for us.

Jack 51:07
Yeah, so it’s a it’s really interesting. And actually, it comes from a five stage change model by David Picasa. And again, I was struggling to keep the word count down a little bit. But one of the key ideas is that, how does change happen? How does effective change happen? Because it’s hard to implement new processes at an agency for a whole bunch of reasons. But one, probably the biggest of which is everyone’s just so busy anyways, why should I change the web, Prakash? Because work does as he points out that if people don’t understand the origin of change, in the reason why then then it just won’t happen. And most change efforts are like if you’re implementing Workfront, or Hive or something at your, your agency, you like you’ve got your, your operations officer and your PMS or whatever, they’re all configuring everything and telling everyone don’t worry, we’re gonna roll this out on the first and we’ll show you what to do and, and what they’re doing is they’re skipping contemplation and planning. Well, they’re thinking, Oh, planning is we plan it, and then we actually do it with them. And in fact, what you need to do is you need to enroll everyone in the whole process along the way. And this does tie to another thing, which we talked about why what go grow as a model for how to how to actually make projects succeed as well, they both have the same idea, which is, if I don’t understand this thing, then how am I going to do it. And if I don’t understand, I don’t even know how to think about how to do it. And so that it’s this basic idea that we really need to go back to this very early thing. And when you’re implementing changes, we found this at agency agile, we would be successful to the degree to which people understood why they had a problem, what the problem was, and what they could do to change it. So that’s essentially, the, the focus is usually on the last two steps, which is the actual execution of it and the sustainment of it. And if you put about half the focus on actually just enrolling everyone, then along the themes that we’ve talked about, that means my my implementation team is everyone. Okay? This is the difference between my three person implementation team that’s going to try and jam Workfront down everyone’s throat, and everyone going, Hey, how can we make this system work and implement it and sustain it and that kind of thing. So big, big difference, very thematic with the book. And I think it’s the thing for leaders to consider is that, and I think I mentioned this in the book, almost every client we worked with is on their second or third workflow management system. And I believe that at least half that failure rate is not the system’s themselves. But in fact, the way that they got implemented and the way that they, in essence, were never shaped and formed to fit the work processes that everyone had, and you didn’t get the enrollment, so you don’t get the people using it. And this next system is just a response to the complaints in the old system. It’s not a solution, right? And it happens so often with us third, fourth, even of the systems, that it just can’t be the systems right and, and the names just rotate, because you know, someone was on Workfront. Now they’re going to hive hive will save us, right, someone was on the hive, and now they’re going to Monday or something Monday will save us. And so it’s just this idea that the challenge of implementing things isn’t the actual implementation. It’s the enrollment before that.

Dave 54:45
Great, great Mike drop there, Jack that I’m with you for sure. First of all, thank you so much.

Jack 54:53
This has been great, man. Great questions.

Dave 54:55
Well, all my pleasure. It’s definitely been my pleasure, Jay. How can our listeners get a copy of unmanaged it’s

Jack 55:02
on Now is a soft back we’ll, depending on when this comes out should have the ebook available as well and maybe even a hardback. We’ll give you guys a code. Also, Amazon doesn’t really discount this as arcane stuff, but we’ll be up on Barnes and Noble where we can do a BOGO or some sort of promotional thing like that as well. Awesome.

Dave 55:24
So head on over to agency will link up all of the great resources that Jackie shared along the way as well and the exclusive discount code for agency Also, he I’m going to drop it right here unmanaged Jack is already putting up some things there. You can take a look at that relate back to the book. Jack, thank you so much.

Jack 55:47
It was an awesome pleasure. Thank you, Dave. Happy to do it again. We still got time cards to go visit at some point.

Dave 55:54
I look forward to that. Take care