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Interview with Irina Poddubnaia – The Basics of Project Management – Ep. #27

Irina’s changing the world one entrepreneur at a time by helping to create self-managing teams. She’s an executive coach and IT project manager. She’s also the founder of, a shipment tracking software for eCommerce businesses. And she is a certified Scrum Master, Agile Coach, and Lean Six Sigma Green Belt. Needless to say, Irina is a master of project management.

In this episode, we discuss the differences between Agile and Lean project management, the common theme that leads to all challenges in project management, what is a knowledge base, the story of how she started her company while living in China, and more!

Full Episode Transcript:


Kenny Soto  0:00  

Okay, we are now recording in 5432 Hello everyone and welcome to Kenny Soto Digital Marketing Podcast. Today we are recording episode 27 of the podcast and today I have a special guest. Her name is Irina pub Duke Nia. 


Irina is changing the world, one entrepreneur at a time using project management. She’s an executive coach and IT project manager. She’s the founder of track, a shipment tracking software for E commerce businesses. She is also a Certified Scrum Master Agile coach and Lean Six Sigma Greenbelt. Welcome, Irina.


Irina Poddubnaia  0:41  

Thank you for the introduction, Gainey. I’m really excited to be on this podcast. And thank you very much for having me here. So yes, I’m, I mean, I’m all wet, what you mentioned. And recently, we launched this new software as a service. So originally, I started as a I mean, as a freelance contractor. And now I am my own. My note, my own boss, you know,


Kenny Soto  1:07  

which was very exciting. That sounds like good news. Yep. So you were referred to me by a previous podcast guest Vince did Benedetto and he ranted and raved about how great of a person you are in general. So just for the audience, to get more context on what you do. As a career, I wanted to first ask you, how did you get into digital marketing?


Irina Poddubnaia  1:35  

Well, digital marketing is a vital part when you’re on your own trying to get customers or trying to get more money on your, I mean, like you’re trying to get noticed, and you’re trying to get paid. And digital marketing is an essential part of this. Because marketing is senior to sales, when you just knock at the door. I mean, on the first meeting, people don’t automatically trust you. 


They are always asking, like, who are you? What are you actually doing? What’s in it? For me? This is the kind of question that we are asking. And if you have a good digital marketing, platform or support, or actually you have good digital marketing presence, you don’t have to prove to your cold audience or to your leads who you are, you are already you have automatic credibility. Because people already know you, they like you and trust you, I think, you know, is like Kielty factor, like know, like, and trust. 


So that’s what marketing helps you do. And I’ve been long, I mean, long term student of marketing, and I, and I’m still learning every day. And marketing is just a very vast part of my life and part of everyone’s business.


Kenny Soto  2:54  

Could you tell us what was the first job or set of jobs you had in marketing?


Irina Poddubnaia  3:01  

Whoah, Well, actually, you know, I have a university degree bachelor’s degree in marketing. So I started with marketing back in my student days. And at that time, it was, I mean, it was very different. We were thinking, Well, the thing that I was taught in the universities that listen to the customer, listen to the customer. 


And that’s one thing that they’ve been teaching us, but they didn’t teach us any practical strategies, or anything that could be applicable. And specifically, now in 2020, that’s, I mean, like, a decade ago, I mean, it’s okay to go Wait, we’re not preparing us for the digital world. So then I actually entered a world of real digital marketing, I had to relearn everything, because everything that was taught in university was pretty much useless. 


And the thing is, like my first job, what was like truly digital marketing related? I think that was when I started working with agencies, because digital marketing agencies were in need of project management, because I come from very different, like, very different industry, industry, or I mean, like sort of business. So I started actually helping digital agencies sort out their processes. So instead of like this enormous chaos of like, Oh, what do we post on which social media? What do we prepare? In what order? Like, what, what did he do? I started just breaking those processes down to very small deliverables. 


And then we started structuring all that. And that’s how I got involved in modern day digital marketing. And of course, when I have to launch my own software, and when I have to launch my own offers, I had to learn the marketing for myself. And that’s them. Yeah, I had to experiment a lot more because when you’re spending your own money, not your customer As my, it’s a little bit different story, you know.


Kenny Soto  5:03  

So before we start talking about track, I wanted to dive into something that I’m personally interested in. And I know other people are also interested in, which is project management. So I see in your biography that you’re a Scrum Master, you’re an Agile coach. And you also have a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, I have a Lean Six Sigma yellow belt, and I’m working on my green belt right now. 


But some of my audience members don’t know the differences between these three things. So could you explain what is Scrum? Can we start off with what is Scrum?


Irina Poddubnaia  5:38  

Yes, of course, this is one of the most popular questions, you know. So I personally divide projects into two different categories, when you have an unpredictable outcome of your project, that’s probably in a gel project, or have a project where an agile methodology is applicable. Because whenever you’re, you’re creating something new, something like, I mean, maybe an article or some kind of content that you’re preparing, you don’t know what will be the end result. 


But you know, like, how many of those results you need. So agile allows you to adapt as, as you go, when whenever you don’t have a refined process. So and there is another type of project, it’s lean project, a lean project, just imagine maybe a manufacturing plant, where always, for example, they are assembling something like that. They are assembling pans every time. So every time they need to create the same pan with the same size with the same standardized. I mean, they’re the same standardized qualities. 


So it should be writing and should have a specific logo on it and all that. So that’s a lean project. And digital marketing probably fits more with Agile side, because you don’t know what kind of new tactics are new. I mean, if we’re talking about high level digital marketing, and goal is to get more leads, and more subscribers, more followers to over channels where the customer is present, right? The brand is present, right? 


So you have to create awareness, you have to create the top line awareness over brand, and then the sales part comes in. So when it comes to Agile projects, you can try one strategy and see what the outcome is, you can try another strategy and see what the outcome is. And you can always adapt and adjust the course of your action. As soon as you see what kind of results you’re getting from the previous strategy. 


But then you see something working consistently, you can apply some of the lean methodology because you understand that you need to reach out to 500 people with this message. And then they need to reply with this message if they reply to your previous message. And that’s a lean type of process. Because you need to make sure that your virtual assistants are constantly doing the same stuff with the same results. And they are meeting the standards and expectations every time. So this is the key difference between Agile and Lean.


Kenny Soto  8:20  

Now, yeah, and correct me if I’m wrong, because I want to make sure I’m digesting this for myself and for the audience. So the two type of project management styles that you leverage in your businesses are agile, where it’s mainly focused on experimentation and flexibility, correct?


Irina Poddubnaia  8:37  

Yes, and then adjust based on the outcome.


Kenny Soto  8:41  

 Yeah, and then and then once you have the desired outcome from your agile approach, you could then apply lean and Lean Six Sigma principles to the other style of project management, where once we have the outcome, and we know what leads to that we can standardize a process and delegate that process to other people, correct?


Irina Poddubnaia  9:02  

Yes, and in gradual, gradual process, our people are also involved. But when you are going Agile, you are always going in small iterations and you’re tracking. If the iteration is resulting into the desired end, I mean, into the desired deliverable. If you don’t get the result, you just adjust and you try something else. 


But when you have something that is consistently producing results, it doesn’t make much sense to apply the same adjustable process, because you just need to make sure that your factory is not producing any errors. Basically, what Lean what lean methodology allows you to do is minimize the percentage of defects. 


So that means that for example, in customer support, customer support is a perfect example of Lean project. In customer support. You need to reply to your customers as soon as possible, right You need to help them resolve their issue. 


And you need to help them maybe ascend to your higher ticket offer every time because you have to keep in mind that you’re not only helping your customers at this time, you’re also establishing credibility for the upsells later on. So good customer service as part of marketing. And again, in Yeah, of course. I mean, sorry, if I’m going, No, it’s fine. It’s perfect. 


It’s a great length on this topic, because customer support is part of what trackmate helps with. So the thing is, if your customer support is working correctly, you don’t get any negative reviews, and you don’t get any list of customers. And this is the type of defect that I’m talking about. So if your goal is to minimize or make the, I mean, make that figure zero, so like, zero negative reviews for a period of time, that’s the perfect type of project where you can apply lean methodology.


Kenny Soto  11:02  

Perfect. And my follow up question to what you just stated would be, what are some common challenges you’ve seen not only with building track mage, but with just servicing clients throughout your entire career from a project management standpoint? Like what are some common challenges that you see on a daily, weekly, monthly quarterly basis? When it comes to project management?


Irina Poddubnaia  11:29  

Well, sure, I can definitely see one common theme that is hindering progress, the progress of a lot of projects. So that common theme is that people are afraid of outsourcing. People are like, they are more totally terrified about hiring another person just for part time. 


I don’t know why this happens. Like they spend 5k 10k 15k on coaching, wherever coach is just telling them, You have it and you you, you’re great, you’re destined for greatness. But when it comes to virtual assistant for like, $250 per month, maybe were like, Oh, my God, no, no, no, that’s true. Let’s do much I don’t. I mean, like, I’m terrified of hiring.


Kenny Soto  12:14  

Why? Why do you? Why would you suspect that there is a fear? Like what would you say? Is the origin of that fear of outsourcing certain tasks to a virtual assistant?


Irina Poddubnaia  12:26  

Well, I guess, this is a deeply rooted fear that a person has to overcome in their mindset. Because where is this interesting versus interesting situation, where a person thinks that they are in the industry for 18 years, but if we don’t outsource or we don’t delegate and Grover business scale it, they are just repeating one year 18 times. 


So instead of progressing, instead of growing their business, instead of just challenging their behavior and their beliefs, instead of just going beyond what they are capable of right now, when they are a solopreneur, and were just doing overstaffed themselves, they get stuck in this same in the same loop, promote, then service for a moment, then service. 


And whenever we are servicing the current customers, for example, they got on board 10 customers, and this is where maximum, they cannot service more. So instead of trying to get the 11th customer on board, they try to service this group of customers with 10 customers, when they get to the project to completion. 


And then they’re left with like zero people in their pipeline again. And they are just going from promotion to servicing service promotion, service promotion, but they don’t ever break free from the cycle. And from my standpoint, I think the fear is related to the fear of losing control, but person is so so concerned about the quality of a result, that they think that they are the only person, the only person in the whole world who is capable of writing that particular part of copy, or posting that content on social media, or launching when you add in Facebook admin manager. 


So they just feel that they cannot outsource. And that is understandable. But the thing is that I mean, like this is just like the gold nuggets if you’re if you will, this is a gold nugget when you are servicing your current customers. Just think about that. You want to outsource this, at least at some point. So while you’re doing the work, write it down. 


Just open notion open some kind of like workflow we or whatever software you use, and just write step by step, what do you do, and then try to give it to your mom or somebody who is not Technical who doesn’t understand anything. And you will see if your process is actually bulletproof, or even toddler proof, I mean, like, show it to somebody who is very low technical, who has very low technical level, and let them do it with your close supervision. 


And after that, you will see that, Oh, you missed that you didn’t, you didn’t write that. And you also have to add it. And once you have a process, you can hire a person part time, you don’t have to commit, a lot of people, for some reason, they think that, then they hire a person, at least the virtual assistants, now they have a commitment to that person, they are very employer, they have to, I don’t know, supply that person with work. 


And they have to worry constantly, if that person is doing work, you know, like freelancers, you know, freelancers, they will not die. If you don’t supply them with work for one week or two, they will just find another customer, they will service that customer. So you don’t have to take on the commitment. If you don’t need that work done, you know, like just part time freelancer, and just that kind of process. So document while you do it, then give it to some non technical person troubleshoot after you have a very good standard operating procedure. 


But SOP, when you have as NSLP just have a person part time doing only that. And you’ll see how your life becomes easier, because you will have more time to spend with your family to spend on your like profit producing activities to actually live more freely. And that’s then an event that is just the first step. But Matt is essential to actually call your business business, not solopreneur ship, or I don’t know, like one on one contractor ship.


Kenny Soto  16:54  

Now before I ask my next question, because I’d like to do this just to see if I’m learning. You mentioned earlier, two things, the first thing you mentioned is that someone would have 18 years about have experience in a particular field.


 But it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have 18 years of consistent progress, because sometimes they’re so stuck in their ways that it’s just a one year loop times 18. Correct. Yes. Perfect. And then the second thing you mentioned, which is going to lead to my question, you mentioned two things, you mentioned notion, and workflowy are those project management tools.


Irina Poddubnaia  17:37  

Those are not specifically project management tools. Were note taking tools. I think if if I’m wrong, I have to just recheck again, maybe we can just edit in the comments to your podcast episode. So the thing is, notion is the note taking software where you can just write articles and save it in a manageable way. And structure a lot of folders, where you put wells notes, so you can just create whole documentation for your project. 


So let’s go into the internal. And you can also have something external, if you have a service or if you have an agency or some type of offering, where you just get asked a lot of questions all the time the same question. So whenever there is a repeated routine of answering certain things, try to create a knowledge base. So I would say that notion is perfect for knowledge base keeping.


Kenny Soto  18:35  

Can you elaborate on what what is a knowledge base?


Irina Poddubnaia  18:39  

Yeah, knowledge base is categorized, collection of all the things that are related to your business. So what I would say is something like a list of tools that we use, how to use those tools, or at least have SOPs for certain processes. 


So for example, when we’re launching a new Facebook, Facebook ads campaign, we do this, this, this and that, and that, and this would be in that specific folder or something like they Facebook ads campaign preparation. And in that folder, you will find like how do I create a business manager? How do I create an ad account? How do I, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera? So that’s what I mean by a knowledge base.


Kenny Soto  19:22  

Perfect. And I know notion isn’t a project management software tool. Do you use any project management tools at the current moment? And what would those be?


Irina Poddubnaia  19:34  

Yes, yes, I do, of course. And so since I was working mainly, in the beginning of my journey, I was working mainly with software as a service companies. My tool of preference was Jira, but JIRA is very heavy weight. It’s been on I mean, on on the internet for 20 years already, and it’s mostly catering to the needs of developers. 


So where is the new kid on the block right now, and that kid is clickup. So that, yes, that system has a lot of customization capabilities. And it’s very easy to set up they have templates and whenever you have a repeated task, so you can just configuring the task. So when you close with us, it will be reopened once the task is closed. This is perfect for marketing agencies with have to overtime post the content. 


So for example, you have a task that has to Repeat daily post the content on Facebook, okay, when we close it, there is a new task for tomorrow. And with that system, you can structure pretty much anything, because it’s very customizable, really customized.


Kenny Soto  20:46  

I’m really glad you mentioned click up because I started using click click up back in May of this year, and awesome system. Yeah, I can definitely testify that it’s something that is a major competitor. Obviously, you have other options like, Asana, Basecamp, Trello, what have you, but click up.


 Not only is it highly customizable, the templates save you so much time, you don’t need to necessarily create your own project management system. And these templates work for content developers, like designers or copywriters. They work for account managers who have to do client facing work, they work for sales teams, they work for operations teams. 


So if you work at an agency or a small business, if you’re working in b2b or business to consumer, it’s definitely something to consider. I have oh, you have something to say.


Irina Poddubnaia  21:38  

Yeah, and I would like to add that, in clickup, you can share specific list of tasks or specific board with your customer. So if you’re an agency, and you need to provide timely feedback, instead of keeping your customer only informed by email once a week, you can just give them access as a viewer to the board where your team actually does the work. 


And they will be always seeing what what is currently happening without actually interfering. So if they want to interfere, we can but it’s not necessarily something


Kenny Soto  22:10  

 Yeah., And I also have to add that they have API’s for like Zendesk, Slack, Google Drive, and a bunch of other tools. So if you are already using legacy software, quote, unquote, I definitely would recommend considering clickup Because you can see me Asli integrate those legacy software tools into the project management system. 


Now I do have another question. It’s a two part question. The first part is why did you start track mage? And what does track mage do?


Irina Poddubnaia  22:41  

Alright, so originally, I, I mean, then I transitioned from an office worker to an enterpreneur part. I started in E commerce, but not like any typical person, I moved to China. You know, I don’t speak Chinese, by the way, but I moved to


Kenny Soto  23:00  

 where, where in China? Did you live 


Irina Poddubnaia  23:02  

in Guan Jo. That’s a city in the southern part of China, where all the textile like clothes . Yeah. clothes.


Kenny Soto  23:14  

 I used to live in Beijing in 2018. And I moved to Shenzhen last year. So I definitely like that story continue.


Irina Poddubnaia  23:24  

You live in China or not?


Kenny Soto  23:27  

I am not in China right now. I moved from China in January of this year, and I traveled Southeast Asia and now I’m in South Africa.


Irina Poddubnaia  23:36  

Okay, great. So we’re Coronavirus in China wasn’t? Well, you just slipped right.


Kenny Soto  23:43  

I slipped. I didn’t even know what was going on. I just got really lucky, honestly.


Irina Poddubnaia  23:48  

Yeah, well, that happens. I was really glad when we moved from China at that point as well. But then Corona just became global, like, oh, you can run the virus.


Kenny Soto  23:58  

So So what happened after you move to China? 


Irina Poddubnaia  24:02  

So after we moved to China, we actually we had zero business experience at that point. And before that, when we find the best suppliers with the lowest margins like oh, sorry, with the lowest prices, so that we can put the margin on it. And then we understood at that point, that was like the hard part of learning. 


When the students were business is not grown by suppliers for businesses grown by customers. And we didn’t know about it like any digital marketing. We haven’t had any customers at one point. So we had to adapt. And we had to literally go through a lot of pain, learning how to sell the products. So right at that point, yeah. So can wait.


Kenny Soto  24:51  

Yes. Okay. We’re recording again.


Irina Poddubnaia  24:54  

Okay, great. So it’s not about having a lot of suppliers. It’s about hitting customers. So we had to learn the hard way. So we started with social media direct outreach, and we got a lot of ecommerce sellers on board. Because we were a supplier. In this case, we were China sourcing agent or fulfillment center at that point. So we operated like this. We operated like this for, for the following two years and two years in half. 


And we had our own software developed at that time, which helps with product fulfillment, inventory management, and informing the customer wherever parcels are and what we should expect and when we should expect it. So right now, we, we moved out of China, when in 2016, the economy that we were mostly selling to it collapsed. I mean, like there was a major currency crash. 


So we were left with for three times the cost, and two times less like was revenue. So we our business collapse, just because of one month of not really getting any sales. So the thing is, we were left with that system. And now we’re, we’re offering that system to our businesses. So we have I mean, the most notable thing about our operations in China was that we had 70% customer retention. 


So whenever a person became our customer, we were our customer for life. So that’s when we decided that we can actually scale that system and offer it to our E-commerce sellers. So that they can give, give it to their customers and inform them and keep them in the loop. Because the thing is very like the short beach for Dragon Age. 


So the thing is, so customers check their shipment tracking pages many times when they wait for where order, but most of the time, we’re looking at the pages provided by shipping companies like UPS or DHL. So you’re missing out on this opportunity to upsell them on the page, or for them to interact with the brands and get your customer support involved. And that’s what fixes for E commerce merchants. 


So if you have a like if you have your store on Shopify, or WooCommerce, or some other platform like click funnels, we integrate with a lot of platforms via Zapier. So if your tool is not listed, that doesn’t mean that we don’t integrate, we can integrate with Zapier. So what we provide is a shipment tracking page. 


For any type of store where you can put your branding, you could you could put your customer support chat, you could put your social media links on. And whenever a person is checking where the parcel is, they can see different other products that you offer. And they could buy it just from the page or we can see where the parcel is stuck and reach out to customer support. So when will be just closing them on the spot. 


Because you can always offer them something like a free gift or discount card for the next purchase. In case they are not entirely happy with long shipping time or some other thing that they are encountering. Sometimes parcels get stuck on customs, and they just request from you to send them an invoice in their native language. It’s very easy to do for Google Translate, you know, but if we don’t have that invoice, we might even decline the parcel and say like, Okay, thank you, the parcel goes back and you lose over money, basically. 


So Track My age is that bridge or the hub between you and the customer. Web allows to establish that brand connection. So instead of looking at the UPS or DHL page, where you will be looking at your page, your brand, your shop dot, I don’t know.


Kenny Soto  29:07  

That’s an amazing business model. I really liked the idea. My last question for you is more on an overall high level perspective about not just track mage, but your career. If you can go back 10 years into the past with everything you know now, how would you 10x The speed of your career to get to where you are today? Only faster.


Irina Poddubnaia  29:36  

Alright, so one thing that I can definitely tell everyone out there is that you should start with promoting your offers. So start with talking with people. So start with publishing some kind of blog posts or some kind of lead magnets and growing your email list. It doesn’t matter if you already have your product created or you’re just planning to grow that business at some point. So cheapest way to test your business idea is to actually talk about it. 


So post content about this concept posts like pre launch pages like we are launching in two years from now here is the countdown, sign up to get notified or even create some type of story Yes, so start from asking questions from your customers. Because I mean, very funny phrase become an asshole. Like, always ask, always ask questions. Always ask questions about your existing offers, always ask questions about what else could we create to serve you better? What else could make our service attend? Sometimes you just ask them like from one to 10 range or service that you received. 


And if it’s anything lower than 10, ask them what do we need to do to make it then that’s the easiest way to understand what the customers are currently missing. And what kind of opportunity gaps you have where you could your product could fit. Or you could introduce some additional services to just satisfy that need. Next thing would be, don’t start building your own software, unless this is the thing that you are going to be selling. 


Because I have seen a lot of people make this interesting mistake, we’re trying to I don’t know craft where own pencils, because there was this person who created the course on how to set up your Shopify store. And they were developing a learning management system or have a membership site for just hosting that course, where so many different software’s already on the market. 


So please first check if there is an existing offer, which could be satisfying your need without developing your own software. Because developing your own software is the most costly way how you can do this. And whenever you have a good idea that you could create the software product for the market, that’s then you develop software, then you want to sell that software to the market. 


So yeah, that’s another thing that I could definitely share, because a lot of businesses they get caught is like, Oh, yes, I need to start the store. So now I’m going to develop my own e commerce platform. Oh, my God, no, no, please.


Kenny Soto  32:45  

Perfect, I like that. So just to reiterate, the first part is if you have an idea, you don’t necessarily need to launch with an actual product or service already ready to go to market, you can actually start promoting with the idea itself to see if there is a product market fit before even doing the work, you can ask your potential clients, hey, what do you think about this service or product first? And as you’re doing that, that’s both promotion and lead generation? Correct? That will be the first part of your advice? Of course,


Irina Poddubnaia  33:17  

yes. And if you can sell it, I mean, if you can’t sell it, create something like a lifetime deal or some specific, I mean, specific, I don’t know course, or some kind, of course about the theme. And then you will introduce your product after you already have sold it many, many times. Okay. And there are a lot of platforms that allow you to pre sell the product before it even exists.


Kenny Soto  33:40  

And then the second part would be, if possible, don’t make your own software, because there’s so many people out there providing software, either for free or paid, that will solve your issue.


Irina Poddubnaia  33:51  

Yes, yes. Okay. A lot of businesses, they get stuck with this. And they spend, I don’t know, hundreds of 1000s of dollars, when there is a software that solves that specific need for $15 per month.


Kenny Soto  34:06  

Okay, and then my last question for you is if anyone wants to connect with you online after hearing this podcast, where can they find you?


Irina Poddubnaia  34:13, of course, you can find me on LinkedIn. It’s I read about DUNAIA with a AIA in the end, and on our social media. Like I always say I’m Googoglagle.


Kenny Soto  34:29  

 I will type my name. I will put all the links in the show notes and all the other resources. Thank you Irina for being on the podcast. Thank you to you the listener for listening to another episode of Kenny Soto Digital Marketing podcast. And as always, I hope you have a great week. Bye.

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