Everyone knows that clearly defined and repeatable processes are the lifeblood of high performing teams and organizations. They help companies scale, increase output, minimize costs, and improve quality. Bad processes, on the other hand, can be far more detrimental than most people realize. In addition to wasting time, damaging morale, and reducing quality, bad processes can take a huge chunk out of your bottom line. In fact, it’s been estimated that companies lose up to 30% of revenue each year due to inefficient processes.
Given the staggering amount of wasted potential, high performing teams consistently and continually analyze their processes to ensure maximum efficiency. This kind of continuous improvement is what many organizations aspire to, but can be difficult to achieve at scale. It requires a way for leaders to get both macro and micro views of their teams and projects so they can identify exactly where momentum is lost.
Justin Liles is the Chief Product Officer of Advice Local, an SEO management software, solutions, and services company that completes hundreds of thousands of projects each year. He’s obsessed with efficiency, and has tried nearly every product on the market in search of a tool that would give him complete visibility across his organization. He and his team of 20 consider Wrike a critical part of how they’ve been able to produce multi-millions in revenue over the last two to three years. We caught up with Justin in Dallas to ask how they achieved this and what role Wrike plays in helping his organization achieve Operational Excellence.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Justin: Sure. So, I started with Advice Local in 2011. They actually acquired my company. Previously, it was a sole proprietorship; just me and a bunch of contractors. Before that, I was in internet marketing. I started learning HTML, and CSS, and PHP, and SQL... just whatever I could get my hands on. I finished my bachelor's degree in 2005 and got a second in Internet marketing in 2011 when I was acquired.
As the CPO (Chief Product Officer), my daily responsibilities include managing an internal team here of about 20 people. I also manage an external team of about 45 direct people who themselves manage another 100 or so. I oversee our overall product and product marketing strategies, API strategy, our design, our configuration. I am responsible for turning visions into the true products and specs.
In addition to that, I am responsible for all manual fulfillment on a lot of our direct resources, the external strategy and tactics for our agency accounts (of which we have anywhere between 50 to 75 or so). This includes the strategy that we deploy as well as the month to month on what we do. I report directly to the CEO across numerous divisions that I manage including the API strategy.
What else am I leveraging? Fulfillment strategy, outbound support, inbound support, account support, client success, I liaison with them. So I am very integrated with almost every division of the company.
Wow that sounds like a lot! What was your workflow like before Wrike?
Justin: So, before I was using Zoho, as well as Basecamp. Actually, I was using Zoho, Basecamp, and ActiveCollab all at once, because different teams had different things that they liked and they were already using. Before Wrike, I was responsible for a lot of the setup of Zoho, how templates worked, what techs need, how to add this or that person; just basically the overall infrastructure of the platforms.
First, we noticed that we were using too many platforms. Second, they weren't giving us the features and functionality that we needed to keep up. We knew what we wanted to do and that what we were doing was viable, sustainable, and would continue just with more volume.
One of our former co-founders found Wrike and then asked me to vet it. We considering a few other platforms at the time; JIRA, Smartsheets, Trello and Asana. I realized Wrike could grow with our business and it just made sense. After that, I was responsible for the setup of the infrastructure of Wrike, from the first folder we ever created. We made a lot of mistakes, but it was worth it!
So what made Wrike standout from those other solutions?
Justin: I didn't have to learn a whole lot to get it up and running. I just had to learn what I wanted it to do. The methodology made sense to me; how you organize your workflow, your organized data. You have folders and then you have sub-folders under it. Depending on what you are looking for, you know exactly where to go and how to navigate it all. The first thing that appealed to me was that it is modeled kind of like how we already had set up our Dropbox. I could follow that structure that we already had found.
“When it came to adoption, everyone realized that this was a tool that works.”
Did you have any trouble getting team buy-in?
It became apparent pretty quickly that Wrike was really flexible. One person can use it completely differently from another person, but at the end of the day, the end goal is still achieved. I had a lot of planning sessions and collaborative sessions with the other leaders of the company and their divisions.
They are running 200-300 projects daily and Wrike gave us immediate insights. We could see everything going on. We had task management, where we could see who was assigned what. And then I was able to export and filter, so I could give it to clients, as well as giving clients their own access to their own folders without having to go through a whole lot of hoops to give them access to it.
When it came to adoption, everyone realized that this was a tool that works. Our adoption was very easy. We didn't really get any negative feedback from people below me.
What made our on-boarding much quicker with people is that we made some training material around it and then distributed that globally. We had internal quizzes which gave you further access if you passed them. If you didn't pass it, we worked on why you didn't, and then, no one ever failed. So the adoption was a very easy challenge for us.
Where would you say Advice Local is on the journey to Operational Excellence?
Justin: Sure. As a full organization and all the initiatives that we have going on, we are definitely at the Optimize stage. As we are moving through stages, we have what we call a "Stage Gate." Stage Gate is when I discuss with the stakeholders where we are.
I am looking at everything that is manually done and thinking of ways to automate any type of interaction that isn't necessary. One of my main roles here is to think about ways we can become more efficient and effective. I constantly say those words together: efficient and effective.
We have done so much manual work in Wrike -- 300,000 tasks -- so we know how to create tasks and get them done across the whole environment. So our next thing is to really tie into our database and have these flags that are triggered from the database. What we are looking to do is to take those flags and to automatically generate a task. It knows who to assign it to and why to assign it. That is our next step.
Again, we still have hundreds of tasks on a daily basis that we are pushing out. If I have to have a person do that, that means that person is doing grunt work and there is too much technology in this digital age for someone to be doing grunt work. I look at thousands of API fails on a daily basis.
I want those API fails to automatically trigger a task for someone to manually look at it, versus us getting a spreadsheet every day. Our next step is really to automate it now that we know the gaps of inefficiency when it comes to the manual creation of tasks.
“There is too much technology in this digital age for someone to be doing grunt work.”
What has been the impact of using Wrike?
Justin: With custom fields and time-tracking, we know exactly the ROI we’re getting, which is great. We can now understand if we are losing money on projects or gaining money.
We have certain projects that range from 80 bucks all the way to $90,000, all across the board. Each project involves different people who make different amounts, and some people are pay-per-project, some hourly, and some salary. When everyone is tracking their time, we know what the budget is for the account. So, we can see from a high level if we went over budget as a team, and then I can drill down and see which area went over budget.
So from an ROI perspective, we are able to truly understand if we are making money or not. Before we had Wrike, we didn’t have this visibility. We just knew that we had things to do and we needed to get them done. That was it.
As for the quality of projects, they went through roof! Because with our (focus on) Planning and Process, we were able to look at them from a more visible perspective. We were able to look at the qualities of our product. We had this web-build that took 100 tasks while this other web-build only took 50 tasks. Why was that? So we were able to look at how that happened and Wrike was able to reduce some of our tasks-- all because we had a better process and a better capability to plan with Wrike in mind.
And then as far as the time savings, that is something that no other tool really offered. Being able to literally click on a task and manage time. Or we could click on an overall project to manage it and understand what we are doing. So it lets us know more about where and how our global team and contractors are working.
For example, I know if someone took an hour to do something that should take 15 minutes. I am able to then go to that person and say, "Hey. This should only take 15 minutes. Let's see what happened and how we can get you working faster and better." I was not able to do that before, because before someone would manually enter their time.
So across the board, Wrike has hit all four pillars of our ROI: our quality of projects, our time spent, our budget management, and being able to create a collaborative environment. When you have people externally working different hours, it is very easy to lose visibility if you don't have the right software to help you manage that. And Wrike is the right software.
Are there any particular improvements you could share?
Justin: If I didn't have Wrike, we wouldn't have been able to maintain and secure millions of dollars of revenue over the last couple of years. Millions of dollars to a company that only has 30 full-time employees is amazing.
With that type of money, we would have gotten the account in and then we would have been flopping around like a fish. We wouldn't have been able to manage all the requests that come in from companies that want to do business with us. So, working with Wrike and working with our technology, we wouldn't have been able to sustain that revenue. So I would say, based off that, Wrike has helped us maintain millions of dollars of revenue over the last two or three years.
“Wrike has helped us maintain millions of dollars of revenue over the last two or three years”
Incredible. Have you see a reduction in the use of email and spreadsheets?
Justin: I would definitely say we’ve seen a 50% drop in our use of spreadsheets. As far as my personal use of email, it’s a 90% reduction. My team doesn't need to email back and forth between what projects as much. Everyone using Wrike doesn’t have to email as much anymore. We comment in our tasks. And then if we don't need to comment in our tasks, we have a live chat that we talk in.
We have all these different groups in Skype. I have Slack. I have Google Hangouts. When you work with so many different people, we don't like to break what they are used to working with. All comments and chats are pasted back into the project folder. So it’s been at least a 90% reduction in emails.
“I would definitely say we’ve seen a 50% drop in our use of spreadsheets.”
One last thing, you’ve got nine computer screen displays on your desk. How many have Wrike on them?
Justin: I've got my dashboards. I've got my starts. I've got my overdues. I've got my productions that I am working on. I can see everything!
Justin and his team are pushing the limits of what’s possible in product, project, and process management. They’ve built a culture of excellence and are pushing their organization forward with every project. Are you ready to eliminate inefficiencies and optimize your processes? Start a free trial and join 15,000+ other organizations using Wrike to achieve more with less.