The ZGM team at the 2019 Anvil Awards

ZGM

A powerful full-service marketing agency making waves from Calgary, Canada

As a modern marketing partner, ZGM is a true force. Numbering around 80 (busy) individuals, the folks at ZGM handle everything from media planning and buying, branding, lead generation, and even crisis management. Alumnus Conlan Seder, Digital Project Manager, and Peter Bishop, Partner and Director of Conversion, spoke to Louder Than Ten about the impact that the apprenticeship had on them personally and ZGM as a whole, from implementing a diagnostic discovery phase to optimizing their billing and client onboarding process.

ZGM Website

Organization
ZGM

Based in
Calgary, AB

Website
zgm.ca

Program
Apprenticeship (cohort LTT-017)

What convinced you to try an apprenticeship?

Conlan Seder: I worked as a web developer at ZGM for about 4 years, and was noticing that as we landed larger projects and our team grew, it felt like project health was at an all-time low. It seemed like things that should have been out of scope were getting added in at the last minute, and project deadlines would stay the same. The frustration I felt was making my job less enjoyable and I started thinking about switching it up. Right around that time, ZGM found Louder Than Ten and one of the partners identified me as someone internal that may be a good fit. I looked through the site, read job descriptions, had a few chats with Rachel, and decided to give it a whirl. Sure glad I did.


What struggles or challenges were you having before the apprenticeship? How was it impacting you, your team, or business?

Peter Bishop: ZGM is a full-service agency with services spanning from media and campaign work to public relations and product design and development. We treated our projects the same way, assigning an account manager (we didn’t have project managers) and possibly an account coordinator to run the project regardless of discipline. Sometimes that worked and sometimes we had struggles but inevitably, we had the biggest struggle with digital. What we realized was that running large digital projects like web apps, native apps, or large content-based sites required a different set of skills. We were constantly under-pricing and over-promising, frustrating everyone who was involved in the process, including the client.


How did you know you were ready to press the trigger?

PB: We had been doing research for months into digital project management. Our Product Design Director Scott Irwin knew there were far better ways to run projects than what we were doing so he finally started conversations with Rachel at Louder Than Ten. At the same time, Conlan Seder, who was one of our developers, raised his hand to ask to be a part of this initiative. It solved two things for us: a growth plan for Conlan and a way to change our processes.

A portrait of Conlan Seder

Conlan
Seder

Product Manager
at ZGM Modern Marketing Partners

Peter Bishop

Peter
Bishop

Partner & Director of Conversion
at ZGM Modern Marketing Partners

Work­ing through class time, one-on-ones with Rachel, and Slack con­ver­sa­tions with my class­mates, I was able to cre­ate a strat­e­gy to roll changes out — changes like a new SOW tem­plate, new esti­ma­tion tech­niques, and new task assign­ment process, to name a few.

What have you learned about yourself over the year?

CS: I learned a lot throughout the apprenticeship, but what surprised me the most was how much self-growth would be involved along the way. The program does an amazing job of teaching you the ins and outs of digital project management, but it also teaches you to use empathy and communication styles, as well as how to manage relationships and build a stronger team. This has allowed me to build stronger relationships with the people I work with and create allies who help tremendously when I am looking to introduce organization-wide change.


What makes your company special? And how are you making sure they understand sustainability on projects?

CS: ZGM has been great at allowing me to apply new course learning to our everyday work and we’ve seen a massive positive change in a very short period of time. I don’t think many organizations of our size (80+ people) can be so nimble and empowering. We have a very talented product team. I tried to let everyone know what I was learning and what I was trying to implement. It really helped to have the team on the same page and they would assist me in keeping things on track if they noticed a red flag on a project, or a way to build upon the new process.

Zgm Bike Team2019
Conlan and his coworkers at a Calgary Stampede event
Conlan staring intensely into his computer screen
The ZGM cycling team
Peter and teammate, Scott at a Calgary Stampede event
Conlan with his ZGM coworkers strategizing on a project

Talk about the biggest changes you’ve implemented since starting the program. How have they impacted your team? Your business? What impacts are you seeing?

CS: The biggest changes I’ve implemented were:

  • A new Statement of Work (SOW) template to help keep projects in scope, on budget, and on time.
  • Moving from an hourly rate to a day rate, with a minimum unit of time being half of a day.
  • Implementing a diagnostic discovery phase to get the information we need before starting a project. This helps us avoid any surprises and stay focused on the goals of the project.

These changes have given us more structure to our larger projects, avoiding scope creep and project drag.


What were some of the trickier changes you’ve made or still want to make? What made this process harder or easier?

CS: The trickiest thing about this whole experience to date was coming up with a method to rapidly roll out company-wide changes. With around eighty people, it is hard to implement a new way of doing things and have it stick. Working through class time, one-on-ones with Rachel, and Slack conversations with my classmates, I was able to create a strategy to roll changes out—changes like a new SOW template, new estimation techniques, and new task assignment process, to name a few. I worked with some allies within the organization to increase the likelihood of adoption. It was super successful.

I learned a lot through­out the appren­tice­ship, but what sur­prised me the most was how much self-growth would be involved along the way. The pro­gram does an amaz­ing job of teach­ing you the ins and outs of dig­i­tal project man­age­ment, but it also teach­es you to use empa­thy and dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ca­tion styles, as well as how to man­age rela­tion­ships and build a stronger team.

How have your client and team relationships changed?

CS: I think both are healthier having completed the program.

Our clients come to us because we’re experts. So, if they’re trying to change something with the project that doesn’t align with what we agreed upon, we’ll gently push back with the project’s health in mind. I think it’s important to have both sides on the same page, so we’ll remind them of the goals we set, ask if they’ve changed, and if they have, we can see what changes need to be made.

Our team relationships have definitely improved, as I think there is more awareness of what other people on the team are working on. We’re also communicating better and running stand-ups—something we started after the addition of my role. I think having healthier projects means we also have happier team members.


How has your communication changed?

CS: LT10 has entire modules around communication and its importance. Learning different methods of communication, when to use each type, when to escalate the method of communication, and how to effectively get your point across has allowed me to be confident with clients and make sure our team stays aligned with the client and their needs.


How have your projects changed?

CS: Our project timelines are healthier, and we’re more profitable now because of how detailed our Scope of Works are. They outline the client’s needs, cover in versus out of scope features, and even outline project risks and assumptions. Our team is happier with more structure and knowledge about what the project is and isn’t before it starts.

By the numbers

So little time, so many returns

23% increase in department profit within one year

436% increased revenue on retainer based projects

$100K generated from new service offering within 8 months

I grad­u­at­ed from the Loud­er Than Ten Appren­tice­ship in Feb 2020, mov­ing from my role as a web devel­op­er to my cur­rent role as a dig­i­tal project man­ag­er. The men­tor­ship and per­son­al­ized coach­ing I received from Rachel Gertz and the team at LT10 were incred­i­ble and the pos­i­tive changes that came out of this expe­ri­ence still amaze me!

Rachel, my class­mates, and the very active alum­ni net­work helped me form strate­gies to roll-out orga­ni­za­tion-wide improve­ments through work­shops and our week­ly ses­sions. There is a big focus through­out the pro­gram on align­ment and cre­at­ing allies to help make pos­i­tive change, and it works.

Out of the changes I imple­ment­ed, came a dras­tic increase in prof­itabil­i­ty. For projects that required a long-term engage­ment (min. 6 months), our new meth­ods of scop­ing, risk mit­i­ga­tion, and esti­ma­tion yield­ed an increase in prof­it up to 23%. For small­er main­te­nance tasks, I cre­at­ed a min­i­mum engage­ment amount, and in some cas­es, increased rev­enue by up to 463%. By cre­at­ing, sell­ing, and run­ning a new ser­vice offer­ing, I was able to gen­er­ate over $100,000 with­in the first 8 months.

If you are a busi­ness look­ing to invest in train­ing for dig­i­tal project man­age­ment, this is the pro­gram you’re look­ing for.

Enroll, you won’t regret it!

How will digital projects and processes change over the next five years? Do you feel like you’re prepared for the future? Why or why not?

PB: It’s hard to say what’s going to happen on the horizon. Things are moving so rapidly now but we do know that project management, whether it’s working remotely or locally, is going to be a big part of how we do business. The Louder Than Ten program has given us the tools we need to move forward into the unknown. We are hoping to grow this part of the company now and expand this way of thinking into all our projects moving forward.


What do you want your legacy as an apprentice to be?

CS: In the (almost) two years since I took on this new role and started the LT10 program, I have been able to implement a number of positive changes for ZGM. I hope my legacy is that my enrollment in LT10 and the changes that came from it were a starting point to creating healthier projects with more stability, happier and more informed clients, and ultimately more efficiency and profit for the organization.


If a company was thinking about taking it, what would you want to tell them about the apprenticeship?

PB: This paid for itself within months and the experience and learning have been invaluable. We would strongly recommend this course to any company running digital products or services.

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