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HRx Radio – Executive Conversations: On Friday mornings, John Sumser interviews key executives from around the industry. The conversation covers what makes the executive tick and what makes their company great.

HRx Radio – Executive Conversations

Guest: Mike Psenka, President and CEO, Moovila
Episode: 355
Air Date: February 28, 2020

 

Transcript

 

Important: Our transcripts at HRExaminer are AI-powered (and fairly accurate) but there are still instances where the robots get confused and make errors. Please expect some inaccuracies as you read through the text of this conversation. Thank you for your understanding.

Full Transcript with timecode

[00:00:01]John Sumser: Good morning and welcome to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations after 300 shows, I still love the soundtrack. Today, we’re going to be talking with Mike Psenka, who is the founder and CEO of Moovila, a Charleston South Carolina based company that focuses on communications built inside of project management.

[00:00:36] I’ll let Mike tell you about it as we go through the conversation. Mike, how are you?

[00:00:41] Mike Psenka: Good morning, John. Thanks very much. Doing well. How are you?

[00:00:44] John Sumser: I am on top of the world. I’m about to have a little wedding. So things are just grooving along fine here. Why don’t you take a moment and introduce yourself?

[00:00:55] Mike Psenka: Well, first of all, congratulations on the wedding.

[00:00:57] That’s exciting. I’m very excited for you and your daughter. That’s the important stuff in life at the end of the day, and I hope you guys have a great weekend with that.

[00:01:06] Thanks!

[00:01:07] John Sumser: Yeah, so who are you and what do you do?

[00:01:09] Mike Psenka: Sure. As you said, I’m Mike Psenka. I’m the CEO and founder of Moovila, and we focus on work process automation, and that’s work management, project management.

[00:01:22] But our big focus is really the concept of bringing automation to work process today to augment kind of the human experience. And so in the same way we think about automated driving, helping us. Emergency breaks, lane alert, all the things that make the driving experience better all the way. We’re trying to do the same thing for the work experience for employees.
So they have a more pleasant, safe and efficient journey towards getting their work done.

[00:01:50] John Sumser: Cool. So how did you end up doing this? Tell me a funny story about your career. I can’t imagine that what you did was, you know, when you were five years old and futzing around with sandbox, you said. Wow. What I want to do is move to Charleston, first of all and start a company that focuses on something that 30 year olds don’t understand, let alone five year olds.

[00:02:13] How did you get, how’d you get from being a normal person to this?

[00:02:16] Mike Psenka: Yeah. Well, I’m definitely not a normal person. I’m definitely a bit of a dork or geek. So I think I, I found my way in my, my degree was in engineering. I didn’t want to go into, into engineering. Um, but loved that process of understanding. Um, kind of the physical universe and people and sort of the underlying way that the world works and machines and people work.

[00:02:42] And I think for me, you know, getting to where we are today was really just trying to understand how. How sort of math and physics and sociology interact in the human condition. You know, that’s the same sort of first order mathematical principles and [00:03:00] process get applied to a lot of things. And humans have applied that to a lot of things as we’ve done and evolved as a species.

[00:03:05] And, and you know, one of the really big painful problems that seem to exist was this idea of, especially in the large enterprise, was this sense of discontent about. Collaboration. Right? When we have focused activities in small groups, even from a nascent setting, all the way to mature setting, it feels good.

[00:03:27] But when we started working with larger groups of people over longer periods of time, just in general, I don’t think you find many human beings go, Oh my God, it’s amazing. We’re totally dialed in and everything works really efficiently. It’s. It’s not that way. It’s marked by a lot of confusion and disappointment and a sense of failed accountability, even though there isn’t, people want to be accountable.

[00:03:51] And so that was sort of, for me, I love puzzles. Uh, you know, my kids will always give me gifts over the holidays, puzzles and [00:04:00] brain teasers. And that was just a really fascinating problem for me. So maybe not super funny, but, um. That’s what led me to it was this is a really fascinating puzzle and problem to solve.

[00:04:09] That sort of seems to matter. And so that sort of drove us towards how can we help facilitate that process for people? How can we help people work more effectively together? And maybe think about it differently than is being thought about today.

[00:04:26] John Sumser: So, so before we dig a little deeper into that, you’re, you, you operate on a Charleston, South Carolina, which.

[00:04:33] I think even though I’ve been in and out of Charleston for many, many years now, I think it still surprises people.
Charleston as a place where there’s a tech center, how’s trusted doing these
[00:04:46] Mike Psenka: days? It’s doing really well in Charleston. Such a wonderful, I’m a, I’m a Chicago native originally, and I’ve thought a lot of family up in Chicago and, uh, unfortunately in the bears fan.

[00:04:57] But, um. The weather down here and the people and the food and the technology are all really wonderful. And, and you know, there are a lot of big industry that, that, that have come in. It’s changed a lot in that 20, gosh, almost 28 years. I’ve been down here, uh, with Boeing coming into town and Volvo. Um, and it’s, it’s become an, as mentioned on a lot of the up and, uh, tech magazines is one of the top 10 tech.

[00:05:25] Incubation places and growth tech industry, uh, in the country. So it’s, it’s been certainly an exciting place to be. And as long as the sea levels rot, don’t rise too much with global warming, um, uh, we might need snorkels in the next 40 or 50 years, but otherwise it’s, it’s wonderful down here. Thanks for it.

[00:05:45] John Sumser: It’ll just be the Venice of the South. That’s

[00:05:48] Mike Psenka: right.

[00:05:51] John Sumser: So. Let’s get specific. You talked about some generalities. What exactly does move it? Do.

[00:05:58] Mike Psenka: Yeah. So when we talk about work process automation, um, you know, I, I think maybe the simple thing to do is to figure out, can you back up a little bit? And, and when we think about work management.

[00:06:12] People manage their work in a lot of different ways. Some people do it on a piece of paper with a pencil because they’ve got their own little personal checklist. Some people will use a wide variety of technologies for project management, and some people are building $300 million factories with hundreds and hundreds of people.

[00:06:29] So our focus is more towards large collaborative enterprise work management. Um, less so towards the, Hey, I’ve got a personal task list because. Managing those work efforts, those projects, connecting those people, automating the communication and automating the accuracy of the work plan so everybody has a clear picture of where things stand becomes a much bigger problem with a large group of people.

[00:07:01] You know, when you’re planning a personal event or you’re planning something that you have to do by yourself, you can manage that task list in those dependencies inside of your head. But when you’re managing a larger scale project, a lot of third party entities, contingent workforce vendors expands months or even potentially years, is simply not possible for a human being to do the discrete math.

[00:07:26] And manage that work in that project. And so, so what we, you know, you can say, Hey, it looks like a traditional project or a work management platform, but we have inside of this a discreet math engine. That really forces referential integrity to ensure that when you’re looking at that plan, you know it’s accurate.

[00:07:43] And I know that sounds simple, John, but that’s really a huge problem today in the marketplace. And that was one of the big things we saw. And that sort of leads more towards this concept of digital transformation. And which is a big, broad concept and the future of work. It’s a big, broad concept. Um, and so people, it’s sort of like blah, blah, blah.

[00:08:03] It’s sorta like saying analytics 10 or 15 years ago, everyone or AI, right? Everyone has to stay those words because you’ve got to say those words because that’s what everyone’s saying. And you’ll sound stupid if you don’t know it. But the reality is. People are starting with bad plans. In the beginning, people aren’t ready for the digital transformation because they’re simply not organizing their work in the first place.

[00:08:23] Certainly not at an enterprise level, personal digital transformation or our work management doesn’t matter because the good Lord’s given us a fairly decent brain and we can manage and process all that stuff inside of our head. Unfortunately, we’re not telepathic. And, uh, we can’t communicate these things instantly over vast distances between people.

[00:08:41] And that’s where the breakdown occurs. And then we start collaborating with other people in the process. We no longer have that source of truth where we can all share and go, yep, I know where we are. I know what needs to be done. I know we’re going to be late. I know why we are going to be late, but just doesn’t exist today.

[00:08:56] And when we think about the future of work and digital transformation, it’s hard to believe that we’re ever going to get there if we don’t start at the beginning and figure out how to get good work plans. And we sort of say smart work starts with a smart plan, but this idea of defining the work the way.

[00:09:14] A computer would. So when you think about automation and you think about process automation, programs have to be programmed and they have to be debugged and they have to be compiled and they have to work and execute in a certain order. But that’s not how we plan work, right? That’s not what people will do.

[00:09:28] A big spreadsheet or a Microsoft project plan. Then they ship it out to everybody and no one really looks at it because, Oh my God, that’s horribly boring to do. Just tell me what I have to do. No one goes through to understand, wow, is this actually accurate? Do we know what this means? Is the, are the due dates?

[00:09:44] There are these, has this been built in a reasonable way? And the answer is almost always, no, no, no, no, no. And then we get super surprised when we find out the project is due on June 1st and come, may we go, Oh my God, we’re going to be three months late. Well, couldn’t we have known that before? Yeah. Just didn’t care to have a process in place to plan and manage that work.

[00:10:04] So, um, our focus, I know that’s sort of a mouthful, but, but at the end, our platform, we talk about this work management automation. You could say, Oh, it’s a project management platform, but the framework that we have sort of forces it to be accurate, to say, Hey. Don’t put a garbage plan in, make sure, and we’re going to end the platform.

[00:10:27] Sort of lets you know, Hey, this is a garbage plan. You know, you don’t have, like if you really have 426 tasks, there probably aren’t 32 independent work streams. These things can’t go backwards. You can’t say it’s going to be done in June when really mathematically this isn’t going to be done until October, right?

[00:10:44] We force you to be realistic about those questions now. Now the big question John, is. Do people really care. They want accuracy, you know? And, and I, and I gotta be honest with you, I don’t know the answer to that. I mean, we see a lot of forward thinking businesses saying, yes, this is important to us. We want accurate answers.

[00:11:01] But to be honest, we’ve also seen some very, very big companies stick their heads in the sand on this, which is amazing to me. I’d love your opinion on why you think that might occur.

[00:11:13] John Sumser: So a couple of things. The first one is, I just want to. Tease out a term that you used. You said referential integrity. That sort of went over my head, but I had to think about it while you were talking.

[00:11:27] Mike Psenka: What you mean

[00:11:28] John Sumser: by referential integrity, I think is before you start, you need to know that the plan is actually accomplishable. The way you thought of it. Referential integrity is a way of testing to see if you can actually do what you think you’re going to do. Right? Yes,

[00:11:49] Mike Psenka: that’s right. That’s right. And, and you know, sort of a crude, simple example would be if you had a plan for building a house that you’re not saying, okay, first we put the roof on, and then we dig the foundation.

[00:12:03] And it’s silly. And as stupid as that sounds. We’ve seen project plans when we do our forensics process all the time, where examples that ridiculous exist and they go out while we know that, but we were going to fix that, or I know that, and the project manager says that. I said, well, yeah, but the a hundred people looking at this land don’t know that and not even know what that means.

[00:12:23] So yes, you’re right. Referential integrity is that the math adds up then it’s a mathematically accurate plan and you’d want that. Um, you were ready for the delivery and you had to tell your board or your boss, Hey, we spent $2 million on this. I know that to get the value of this, it was supposed to be up on July one and we’re on target.

[00:12:48] Or Hey, it’s January. We’re not going to get it done until September. Better for you to know that now, better for you to know that early.

[00:12:57] John Sumser: So, so part of what you’re saying is that. Successful projects depend on there being a plan that everybody believes is real, right? Because if the core plan isn’t real and the project team is running around claiming that they are going to be able to do all this stuff that nobody knows, everybody knows the cat.

[00:13:19] Do you get sort of a a a. Uh, a reaffirmation of people’s tendency to ignore this stuff in the first place. And so getting the plan right is central to your value proposition. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in any, um. Project management kind of tool, the very idea that you would have this sort of fork.

[00:13:46] Mike Psenka: Yeah, it is. It is funny. I will tell you that the project managers are smart people to do really hard work. They’re put in really difficult situations. Um, um, they’re afraid to sort of surface the fact that maybe they’ve been given [00:14:00] unrealistic goals and that there are, there’s a lack of capacity. You know, we had the privilege of working with.
[00:14:08] You know, cultures all over the world with our technology and we see different internal cultures about conflict avoidance and consensus building. But I would say universally, globally, in general, project managers don’t like to deliver bad news to the project sponsors that they’ve not been given enough money.

[00:14:27] There aren’t enough resources. This is unrealistic. They’re just told to fix it and make it happen, and they just sort of hope that it will work. It’s rare that those things in this day and age are resourced appropriately. And so part of the benefit that we’ve heard that we’ve provided is, Hey, this is a mechanism for me to deliver some honesty.

[00:14:45] In an objective way to the organization. So I don’t feel like I’m saying we can’t or there isn’t enough. It’s just, Hey, this is the mathematical truth. This is what we said we want to do, and these are the facts. Now let’s observe these facts and react to them as opposed to, you know, having to deliver generalized anxiety that we think it’s not workable or not viable.

[00:15:05] So, um. That’s one of the hopes that we can do for these folks too, is to automate a lot of the painful process for them, but also to provide a vehicle of truth to the organization so they can prioritize appropriately. And that the contributors don’t get kicked in the head for not delivering something that just isn’t deliverable in some cases.

[00:15:24] Or you know, recognizing, Hey, we’ve got to reallocate resources. Cause that’s a big, we’re noticing that that’s a big problem in sort of the employee wellness world is. People because people can’t say no, or they’re being asked to do more and more. And because nobody’s doing the math across the portfolio of work, they don’t understand, and just some cases how unreasonable those expectations are.

[00:15:47] So once again, I don’t, I don’t think senior leadership is being nefarious in their intent on this. I think it’s simply, Hey, they don’t know either. So they’re going to push the team and say, let’s do more. Does that make sense?

[00:16:00] John Sumser: Yeah, I think that’s right. But there’s, there’s another dynamic here, which is, which is often great program
[00:16:06] Mike Psenka: managers

[00:16:08] John Sumser: love being heroes, right?
[00:16:10] And a, a great program manager and great project manager who is always able to pull it out of the fire at the last minute before everything disintegrates. It’s more likely to get visibility with the boss of attention. And so it seems to me that if you, if you promise, um, organized project management, you take away the opportunity to be a hero.

[00:16:36] Uh, and maybe that’s some of what you’re seeing in the marketplace.

[00:16:40] Mike Psenka: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a really, really interesting point. I mean, at the end of the day, I guess the question is, do people want to operate in an opaque or transparent environment? Certainly the people that we’re engaging with have more of a tendency to say, I want the no surprise rule.

[00:16:55] Um, I want to understand, I understand they’re going to be challenges and problems. I’d rather know about those sooner rather than later because. I don’t want the fire drill and maybe, you know, maybe there’s sort of a natural selection process, John, for people who gravitate towards what we’re doing to say, Hey, I kind of rather have a clearer picture of the universe upfront.

[00:17:15] And like you said, those people who want to throw a Cape on. And, and Ren, something out of the void are, would be less prone towards that.

[00:17:25] John Sumser: So there’s
[00:17:26] Mike Psenka: everywhere
[00:17:27] John Sumser: I look right here, people talking about the future of work,
[00:17:30] Mike Psenka: not
[00:17:30] very

[00:17:30] John Sumser: much of a big sense to me. It mostly seems like it’s a question about furniture and where people are going to sit,
[00:17:38] Mike Psenka: right?

[00:17:38] John Sumser: How does, how does what you’re talking about relate to the future of work.

[00:17:45] Mike Psenka: Yeah. So there are some interesting studies that are going to be coming out soon by some of the larger analyst and consulting firms around sort of the future work and the readiness of the digital transformation. And the truth is that organizations in the global 2000 just aren’t really ready for it.

[00:18:00] Um, because it’s such an enormous task. These organizations are digitally transforming how they work with their customers, but the digital transformation inside of their four virtual or extended walls aren’t moving forward because they’re authors of the chaos of their own making. And because of the disconnected, unstructured work that they manage inside of their four walls, it becomes more and more difficult.

[00:18:27] For them to begin to automate and realize those efficiencies in the future of working and once again, thinking of future work, as you said, John is a really, really broad umbrella. The area that we’re focusing on around the future of work is to say, Hey, there’s a digital transformation of work that’s going to occur, and that.

[00:18:47] Digital transformation. Just the way the assembly line transformed the way things were manufactured. It introduced the process, repeatable, understandable, measurable process into an existing system for efficiency and product quality and measurement, and that same process for how we do work, how we communicate, how we measure those outputs, and the performance of that is part of the digital transformation.

[00:19:12] Then. And future work that we’re interested in. And as we looked at this, we said, Hey, it’s going to be really, really important for us to step back and understand how are people going to be able to engage on this. And for us, it is the very first thing that you need to do is understand how you are recording the work to be done.

[00:19:34] Start at the beginning. Don’t, it’s too overwhelming to try to think about the future of work and a fully autonomous communication and structured process. Start with understanding, Hey, we’re tracking and, and you know, I use the term discrete math and graph theory, but it’s really just structuring this work efforts so you understand the people, the responsibilities, the durations, and the relationships or dependencies, and analyzing that discrete math, analyzing probabilities.

[00:20:03] Understanding that, and then understanding the efficiency and how you can improve that and how that gets communicated. So, you know, like I said, that that catch phrase of smart work starts with the smart plan for the future of work that we think is essential. It has to be begin with the digitization of that work plan in a way that’s communicated to everybody where all the stakeholders go.

[00:20:25] Yep, I agree with that. I agree with those relationships. I can see those relationships and. As that work plan gets updated, I’m informed with the near or real time. Um, that baseline has to occur before we begin to start to intersect and begin to start to plug in other components and the human work mechanisms, at least for the section of work we’re interested in.

[00:20:54] John Sumser: So you’re talking about. A new way of operating a business. You’re talking about a fundamentally different way of operating a business. Who’s ready to do this and how do you tell you have to build your business on the people who are ready to go here rather than the people you hope will catch up down the road sometimes.

[00:21:14] So, so who is writing and how do you tell?

[00:21:17] Mike Psenka: Great point. So we’re seeing customers actually cross the spectrum and they’re approaching it differently, right? So for SMB, for small and medium sized businesses, um, they are, you know, up to a couple of hundred employees. They’re willing to say, Hey, this is how we want to run our business.

[00:21:34] Now we have distributed workforce. We have multiple sides, multiple locations working with vendors and contingent workforce. We can no longer deal with the chaos of email and Slack and unstructured communication because we’re getting punished by our customers. We’re losing money and it’s creating a risk for us.

[00:21:50] So it’s very easy for them to make a top down decision and say, Hey guys, we have to do this. We have to make this change. This is, we all agree this is no longer viable. We’re all in the same meetings. For larger organizations. For one customer in particular is a very large in the, um, uh, in the gaming industry.

[00:22:09] Um, they’re looking to automate and provide capability. For work and project management, the self-driving project managers, so to speak, or a project manager in a box initiative where they’re going to provide that capability throughout the organization. It’s less easy for a large organization to force a, certainly not in consensus building cultures.

[00:22:30] Um, like North America and Europe. You can’t sort of jam software down people’s throats. You have to say, look, we’re gonna provide this capability to you. And you have to make the decision as to whether or not this is important to you and your team. And there’s the uptake rates vary depending on the criticality in the project.

[00:22:46] For people who are told this absolutely has to be done on time. You have no choice where there’s huge risks. There’s a greater tendency to begin to adopt this process because once again, they sort of understand, is the train going to come in on time? Is the plane going to land on time when it’s more ad hoc work or it’s open process?

[00:23:06] I think the unstructured work processes are going to continue for awhile because they’re easier, they’re unstructured. There is no pressing deadline. It doesn’t matter as much. So you know, once again, the engagement model. For small businesses, it’s easier to say, Hey. We all need to do this together cause this is important for our business.

[00:23:24] For larger organizations, it’s about providing capabilities and having those capabilities get adopted in the organization as it rolls forward.

[00:23:32] John Sumser: So, so you are evolved with people that I know you are the most interesting to watch because you follow your curiosity, follow it really, really deeply. And so you’ve discovered this new Ireland, then you’re striving to map it out.

[00:23:48] That’s exciting. Where are you going next? What are the questions that have your attention and what are you focused
[00:23:54] Mike Psenka: on? You know, for us it is about autonomous collection of data in a way that people have the opportunity to opt in or opt out of, and the organization does. So we’ve got, there are some key areas where this work process automation matter more right now in other places, less so.

[00:24:14] And the construction industry. We’ve got a very big partnership with Komatsu, um, limited, uh, the second largest global manufacturer of heavy equipment machinery, and they’re looking to build the autonomous construction site of the future and on our platform. Has, um, mobile and remote autonomous data collection, uh, with telematics and Bluetooth low energy, uh, geo fencing.
[00:24:38] The ability to really automatically collect that data to inform execution in critical path because collecting data is a really painful thing. So we’ll focus a lot on that. And working with, uh, Komatsu has got partnerships with some other really very impressive advanced technologies around. The future of work in construction.

[00:24:57] So we’re really excited to be a part of that team. In addition, partner and customer process automation is an area where there’s a lot of pain that are important to businesses. And because when you think about partner and customer process automation, onboarding and management of those customers, you know, sometimes that’s forgotten after the, after the CRM, after the deal has been closed.

[00:25:23] Um. Onboarding those partners and communicating with those partners and understanding that, Hey, that’s not just an us thing. That’s an us and a dam and some third party consultants and vendors and process. There’s a lot of collaboration, execution, and that the longer that gets delayed, the more revenue you’re losing as a business.

[00:25:43] But this is is important. Analyze and improve that process and shorten that time frame because there’s a real time to value and we see there’s a lot of pain. Out there in the market right now in this partner landscape and in the customer landscape of saying, Hey, we know how to find the customers. We’re not a manage it, but you know, there’s still a struggle with that time to go live from contract to go live, whether it’s a partner or a customer.

[00:26:09] So much of that is managed via unstructured communication. The accountability and responsibility in that ecosystem is so poorly managed. So we’re leaning heavily into those areas because we know that it matters to businesses and there’s a lot of pain there.

[00:26:24] John Sumser: You know, sometimes the next couple of months I’d like to, I’d like to follow up on that and to, and the entire conversation about how do you build an ecosystem and, um, what do you need to do to onboard people inside of the ecosystem?
[00:26:39] Seems like you’ve dug deep into that question.

[00:26:42] Mike Psenka: Yeah, it’s, it’s, it is a fascinating, and John, we’re getting, as the economy expands, we’re not getting, you know, I will leave any political sort of nationalism commentary out of it right now. But for the rest of the businesses, we are becoming more global. Um, there is more intersection between more disparate entities, and that’s becoming more and more important.
[00:27:03] But we’re doing that into the context of requiring greater security, right? So there are some competing forces in this world of. Hey, we now have to work with more people in different entities and different organizations. We’re a gig economy. There are third party vendors, but my God, we have to be hyper secure and hypervigilant.

[00:27:21] You know, at its very core, those are competing issues and we’ve got to solve those problems if we’re going to be efficient and work together effectively. Otherwise, we’re just, we’re just adding entropy, uh, and, and pain into that equation. So, um, that’ll be an interesting problem to see unfolding and solved in the coming decade.

[00:27:41] John Sumser: Well, let’s set up the conversation. Listen, we’re, we’re, we run through the time. Would you take a moment and reintroduce yourself and tell people how to get hold of me?

[00:27:50] Mike Psenka: Yeah. I’m Mike Psenka, the CEO and Founder of Moovila. We’re a work process and management automation platform and we’re in lovely Charleston South Carolina.

[00:28:01] You can come learn more about us at www dot Moovila dot com and that’s spelled M as in Mary, O-O V as in Victor, I L A.
[00:28:10] John Sumser: Thanks Mike. What a great conversation. And you have been listening to HR Examiner’s Executive Conversations. We’ve been talking with Mike Psenka, if you want to look him up, he carries around a silent p.

[00:28:21] So that’s P. S. E. N. K. A. Mike Psenka, who is the CEO and founder of Moovila . Thanks so much for doing this Mike, and thanks everybody for tuning in. We will see you here next week.
[00:28:33] Bye bye now.



 
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