Podcast  |  Operations,

1.6: How The Phoenix Project Transformed This MSP’s Business

The Phoenix Project book cover art

Photo: IT Revolution Press

“It changed the way my business ran … and practically changed my life.”

ProdigyTeks was struggling with rapid growth. Work was falling through the cracks in their MSP and the customer experience was suffering. Then they read The Phoenix Project. Hear CEO Paco Lebron and IT Operations Manager John Dubinsky explain:

  • How applying the book’s insights to their PSA helped identify problems
  • The ticket flows ProdigyTeks implemented to turn things around
  • The “click” moment when things started falling into place for the ProdigyTeks team
  • The client, staff, and business wins that rippled out from implementing Phoenix Project philosophies

Who’s on this episode

Host: Jennifer Tribe
Guest: Paco Lebron, CEO, ProdigyTeks

Paco Lebron, ProdigyTeksPaco Lebron is the founder and CEO of ProdigyTeks, where he guides a dedicated team in supporting his mission of providing underserved small businesses with high quality IT service and support. He’s also co-founder of TechCon Unplugged, a multi-day summit for IT industry leaders, and he co-hosts the MSP Unplugged Live podcast. Paco was recently named ChannelPro Network’s Peer of the Year award for 2023.

Guest: John Dubinsky, IT Operations Manager, ProdigyTeks

John Dubinsky, ProdigyTeksJohn Dubinsky is an IT operations manager with a proven track record of success in leading teams and delivering results. He holds a masters degree in strategic management from a top university and has over 30 years of experience in the technology industry. Before his current role at ProdigyTeks, John owned a successful MSP himself. John also served in the United States Marine Corps for several years.

Episode transcript

John: If you’re missing anything family related, if you’re feeling burnt out, if you don’t get to do the things you want to do in your own life

Jennifer: Wow.

John: If you’re not getting 8 hours of sleep. If you think your employees are more trouble than they’re worth, if you don’t like your clients.

Jennifer: I mean it sounds so powerful.

John: If you can’t quit at noon on Friday, if you’re taking more than one call on the weekend, those are all reasons why you need to have The Phoenix Project.

Jennifer: All in one book …. can do that?

Jennifer: I’m Jennifer Tribe and this is Workflow, the podcast about growing a happier, healthier MSP. More profit, less stress.

The Phoenix Project

Today on the show, we’re talking about a book called The Phoenix Project with John Dubinsky—whose voice you just heard—and Paco LeBron. Paco is the owner of a Chicago-based MSP called ProdigyTeks. John is his IT operations manager. Together, Paco and John have spent the last six months implementing the lessons of The Phoenix Project in their MSP, and we’re going to hear all about how they did it and the results they achieved.

As you can probably tell from what John said at the top, they are both big fans of the book and its concepts. Those problems John just rattled off were in response to me asking him how an MSP could assess if The Phoenix Project could help them. I’m sure you recognize yourself in at least one of them.

A bit of background before we dive into it. The Phoenix Project—subtitle A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win—was first published in 2013. And as the subtitle points out, it takes the form of a fictional story about an IT manager named Bill.

The story opens with Bill getting a call one morning from the CEO. The CEO says the company’s latest IT project, codename Phoenix, which is critical to the company’s survival, is way over budget and very, very late. The CEO gives Bill 90 days to turn things around or he and his team are toast.

From there, the story digs into the insights Bill stumbles across and the processes that Bill puts in place to tackle the project. And while no one likes a spoiler, I think you can probably guess that Bill succeeds in the end.

“100 lessons in how to control the chaos of your business”

Jennifer: Summing up what the book is about in John’s words:

John: I would say about 100 lessons in how to control the chaos of your business with concrete examples and real life examples of it happening to an IT manager in real time with lessons about how to learn to manage things by eye, collecting the information that you need, letting go of the information you don’t need, how to release control, how to manage others.

It’s really about the interactions between IT, internal customers and external customers and how that relationship is important to have documented and how you must control the chaos in some ways or your customers or even your internal partners will burn you in the end, create a lot more work, make changes that you’re not aware of.

Jennifer: So how did Paco and John get started on their Phoenix Project journey? Well, John ran an MSP of his own for 25 years, which he successfully sold in 2020. A little later, he joined Paco at ProdigyTeks, which was struggling with explosive growth. Here’s how Paco describes the situation they were in.

Paco: I had grown very fast, very quick with not a lot of time of onboarding and hoping for efficiencies and things of that nature. So I was a one-man shop back in 2020. And then as unfortunate as COVID had been, that provided some opportunities for us to grow. And because of that growth, we went from one person to four at the time by the end of the summer to seven.

What ended up happening was we realized that not only efficiencies were really a big issue internally where one person didn’t know where something was or how to execute. It was affecting our clientele and the customer experience. And so it got to a point where we were really bad and we had to stop sales because we just could not keep up with the ability of making sure that the impact that we had with our clients was a positive outcome and it was repeatable.

Jennifer: John had already read The Phoenix Project a couple of times and could see where things were falling through the cracks at ProdigyTeks.

John: As we all grow on the MSP platform maybe the hardest step is, when we add our first person. And if we’re burdened with uncontrollable growth or fast growth, a lot of times those employees will actually create more work than solving work if you don’t bring them on appropriately and manage them appropriately and give them the documentation and tools they need.

“It talks about four types of work.”

Jennifer: John recommended Paco read the book. Paco did. And it was like a lightbulb going off.

Paco: It changed the way my business ran and it literally changed the outcome of my business and practically changed my life. We knew we had problems, but we couldn’t categorize them or we didn’t think to categorize them properly. That’s what the book really helped with.

It talks about four types of work. And those four types of work are business projects, which you can apply to your clients. Internal projects, which means anything internal that you’re doing, stack change, stack evaluation, onboarding of internal staff, you name it, anything internal is internal projects. Change requests where someone is asking for some type of change. And then the most important one that we didn’t categorize was the unplanned work.

A phrase I heard earlier today was that we sometimes let the tail wag the dog and sometimes an unplanned work or unplanned issue torpedoes your entire day of productivity, schedule, etc. And so the thought process of, hey, you can actually prevent unplanned work. You think unplanned is unplanned. There’s no way to kind of get around it.

And it started opening up our eyes on, for example, there was a scenario where we set up something at a client’s site that we said we’ll come back. But we didn’t document it. We didn’t put a ticket into place, nowhere notated. We just said, when we come back, we’ll take care of it.

And unfortunately, that issue spawned an unplanned outage slash work because the Wi-Fi went out and that the system wasn’t correctly configured. So it’s those type of things that really helped drive us to say, okay, how do we get ahead of unplanned work, which was really detrimental to our business. It wasn’t until we read The Phoenix Project that we understood that piece.

“We were able to break out exactly where we were wasting our time”

Jennifer: The first thing the guys got to work changing in the business was some labeling in their PSA. They created 4 new ticket types, one for each type of work: business projects, internal work, changes, and unplanned work. Every new ticket went into one of those four buckets. Going even further, they used custom fields in their PSA to create ticket subtypes that were things like printer, software, email, network, and backup.

[Note: For screenshots of these ticket types and sub-types in ProdigyTeks’ PSA, see the companion blog post on Using the 4 Types of Work to Drive Efficiency in Your MSP.]

Paco: That’s kind of what started us on that journey to really help with a lot of the efficiencies and really getting something that’s tangible that you can scale and repeat and help with that workflow.

Jennifer: Suddenly they had a much better picture of where things were going off the rails. And they could also identify how to fix the problems.

John: We were able to break out exactly where we were wasting our time, where we needed to put more resources and how to use those metrics to do that. Since we’ve done this now we can create automation. So we’ve looked at where our highest metrics are in that unplanned work. And let’s say those were password resets.

In that case, we’ve developed either automation or a way for users to reset passwords on their own. How to self-service those items. Or if it’s an unplanned item that came in a lot, we’ve built a couple of scripts that our admin can now run before assigning it to a tech.

So these one-button push nontechnical solutions where an admin can be on the phone and the user says, Well, I can’t print. Well they have an easy script that they can push that does a lot of items like resetting the printer queue, doing a couple of other things, and gets the job done before creating the ticket and absorbing the time of scheduling a call, bringing in a tech, using resources that aren’t needed to be utilized at that time.

The reactive firefighting, rolling out that fire truck, most MSPs don’t realize how expensive that is. You roll the fire truck and it could have just been a button push. I mean, there’s a big difference in the cost and your utilization for that as well.

“Details matter”

Jennifer: In addition to better categorizing tickets, Paco and John also rolled out some new rules to the team that required them to document a lot more detail on tickets than they’d been including previously.

John: I’d say for the last 90 days probably in every message I sent to anybody or the group, my last statement in all caps and bold is details matter. So when you write a ticket, it’s not necessarily a novel, but it’s a story. I want to know every sort of detail. Let’s say, a spam email as an example, I want to know that you ran that URL through VirusTotal. I want to know what mesh our mail filter provider said about it. I want the mesh’s ID. I want to know if this was properly blocked or not blocked. I want to see your conversation with the client telling them why this was blocked, how we handled that. I want all of those details because those are all trainings for the next tech we bring on.

Those are good information for admin to have if the customer calls and complains again or if the same thing happens. And it’s also great for me as operations that I can go back and how I can troubleshoot this and make sure it doesn’t happen again so we don’t have to spend all this time again. The big time suck is if the details aren’t there and I need to go find them or somebody else needs to go find them.

But the big thing is they were super surprised about how many times that I would post in the ticket, re-open it and say, You’re not done. You’re missing so much stuff here. Go back, fill it out. And then the admins have now learned, if a customer call comes in and they’re passing a ticket to a tech, they’ll actually put sort of the customer’s what I would say, level of frustration in the email, just so the tech knows what they’re walking into. So maybe when you talk to the client, bring a lot of sunshine in that first moment. Hey Bob, I’m here to take care of your problem. Don’t worry about it. We’ll get it done and I’ll get you back to work, that sort of thing.

“The team has taken ownership of it”

Jennifer: The final piece of the ticketing changes was to implement a regular post-mortem review to make sure the system was working and to uncover further improvements.

John: We actually have a small team with three of us that do a 30-day ticket review every month. We go through all the tickets, make sure they’re categorized right. And it’s not just the ticket review. It’s actually a training as well. Meaning we review the tickets, we talk about how this could be done better. And this is a 30-minute meeting. So we obviously don’t get through all tickets, but it’s just 30 minutes. What could’ve been done better here? How could this have been categorized better? Did we miss something? Should there have been a split ticket? Shouldn’t this ticket have been merged somewhere else to reduce this? And then okay, so this happened to the client. How can we make sure this doesn’t happen to the customer again?

Jennifer: Lots of changes including every tech’s favorite thing: documentation. How did the team at ProdigyTeks react to all of these new rules?

John: We had a lot of pain at the beginning during the training, during the initial change of how we did the ticket procedures and SOPs. Not that we did anything wrong, but I would say we dropped the ball, forgot some things, that sort of thing. If we struggled through that I’d say I’d give that a total month until I call it maybe the click moment or the checkmark moment or just something happened. You could just feel it in the organization where everybody had that aha moment and kind of caught on.

Since then it’s become almost this thing where the rope is sliding through my hand so fast I can’t control it because the team has taken ownership of it and now I can do other things while they kind of feed on themselves to try to make it better. I hear all the time in our coordinator meetings, Why can’t we do this to make it better? Do you think this would make it better? So I’m not having to implement these anymore. The team is doing it.

Paco: That’s exactly right. So me and John, we spearheaded the project to figure out, okay, this is going to cause some disruption for sure. And there’s going to be a lot of changes. But for the better.

Everyone was very receptive. I think everyone knew we had a problem and we were just all so committed to solving it that it wasn’t as hard to get some of these things in line, especially for the standardization piece because we understood the more standardization and our jobs being easier will allow our clients’ lives to be easier and better.

“It’s just this continuous flow”

Jennifer: And now, on the other side of that “click moment” as John calls it, ProdigyTeks is seeing a huge ripple effect of positive outcomes. For starters, Paco says customer satisfaction is up and they’ve been able to start onboarding new clients again.

Paco: Lead times went down. Customer touches have improved with the customer satisfaction. Our clients now believe and know that we’re on it and they have that visibility that we are on it because of the customer touches, the automations that we put in place from left to right of a ticket being created, information that we’re collecting, concise information on the first try, not multiple times throughout the ticket life.

Closing the loop, quality assurance, all of those things that we put in place really impacted not only our client experience, but we’re raising our rates as well and there was no resistance of our raising our rates to our clients because they now saw the difference of the quality of work and just they had that better experience. So it’s definitely been life changing for sure, but definitely life changing for the business as well.

Jennifer: As the operations manager, John noticed huge efficiency wins.

John: When we can reduce unplanned work, especially the easy stuff that we’re automating, easy to automate or even push that technical work on to an admin via the push of a button by scripting or automation. All of that time we’ve been able to use now for training, which then makes our techs more proficient, which then reduces ticket time on everything else they do. So the more proficient my techs can get on any other resolution, whether that’s Microsoft 365 or some networking or VLAN issue or something like that, because now we spend the time to train them up on that. That’s huge.

So by reducing those tiny unplanned tickets now we’ve been able to reduce the time on other tickets. So it’s just this continuous flow that just kind of keeps building and building and building. And it actually has become kind of fun within our organization because now we see staff members sort of poking each other to say, in a great team way to say, Hey, you could have done this and get it done faster, or now I get poked as the operations manager guy. Why the heck aren’t we doing this? Which I love because I love that technical challenge and that technical debate, especially when the team brings it to me.

So I always encourage everybody, how can we simplify this? We don’t need more spreadsheets for everybody to log in. We don’t need all these little metrics. In fact, my message to everybody is we all want to do as little as possible here as long as the customers are happy. So we don’t want to create more work for us. We don’t want to interrupt our customer’s day. We keep things running from a technical perspective, and then your next mission is to add value to the client. How can we add value? All of us, all MSPs, are fixing things for clients. How can we add value? Can we save them some money somewhere along the line or can we increase their productivity?

“It’s like you just read Captain Obvious telling you a story”

Jennifer: Would Paco and John recommend The Phoenix Project to others? I think you know that answer but I’ll let the guys tell you.

Paco: Ever since I read that book, I’m such a fanboy of it. I’ve raved about its impact. It really helps align what you want to do with those four types of work and really being able to adopt the agileness and really focusing and really simplifying a lot of the complex structures that you probably have right now.

John: It’s almost like you put the book down and it’s like you just read Captain Obvious telling you a story. It makes such common sense. If you’re a business manager, I would read it, put it down for a week and read it again. It really takes any doubt or consideration about how important it is to have documentation. Documentation is life.

If you want to grow your business and make more money, standardization across your client base is the absolute only way to do that. And then, you know, focus. Pick products, stay with them, make great relationships, find vendors that treat you like you want to be treated and like you treat your customers and then focus. Those are all things that are taught in The Phoenix Project. And really that’s how the foundation of a successful MSP is built.

Then comes your knowledge, then comes everything else that you do. Anybody can fix a printer problem. Doing the other things are how you grow your business, both by providing fundamental and good jobs for employees, taking care of clients who your relationship is fantastic, and then having the time to get 8 hours of sleep. Do what you want to do on Friday afternoon, not miss any family events and actually love your job.

Jennifer: That was John Dubinsky and Paco Lebron of ProdigyTeks.

What did you think of today’s episode? Did you like this book review? Maybe we should do more books. If there’s one that made a massive difference in how you run your MSP, send an email to podcast@syncromsp.com and we’ll get you on a future episode.

Oh, and don’t forget to tell your friends about us. Until next time, this is Jennifer Tribe. Thanks for listening.

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Jennifer Tribe

Jennifer Tribe

Syncro’s director of content. Espresso-fueled Canadian nerding out over plain language, productivity, and podcasts.

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