Interview with Anna Zakoyan, Founder of PrimeProjekt, Agile Coach
Startup | Founder | Entrepreneurship| Agile
Do you know that the Agile adoption has helped 98% of companies, while 60% of companies experience growth in profits after the adoption of the Agile approach? (Source)
In this episode of HyeTech Minds, I sat down with Anna Zakoyan, Founder of PrimeProjekt that helps companies to transform their product flows, teams, and processes to make maximum efficiency through an Agile approach. During our conversation, Anna showcases the benefits of the Agile approach and explains the entire adoption process. It’s fascinating to hear how they in PrimeProjekt use a psychological toolkit to build better communication with their customers, to understand more their needs, and reshape their mindset to be more adaptive to the new innovative business solutions.
You want also to hear Anna’s startup story and some of the challenges she overcame as a women entrepreneur.
Anna is an Agile Coach, Trainer, and Consultant. Anna brings more than 12 years of experience in Agile, and 16 years in project and team management in total. Anna has managed and helped more than 40 local and foreign projects, coached more than 100 teams, trained more than 1000 individuals. She holds certificates from Scrumalliance.org and Scrum.org (CAL-1, CSM, A-CSM, PSM). She conducts private consultations, training for startups and organizations, as well as offers training for individuals.
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Narine: Hi Anna, I’m so excited to have you today on my show at HyeTech Minds. How are you?
Anna: Narine, thank you very much for having me today. I’m really great and excited about this opportunity.
Narine: You have such an interesting and rich bio. I’ve tried to tell a bit who you’re but I’m sure you can do this better? Can you talk about your background – who you are and what you do?
Anna: Of course. So I’m Anna Zakoyan. I’m an Agile coach and trainer. I’ve been doing project management for 15 years now. For the past 10 years, I’ve been using an Agile approach in helping companies to transform their product flows, teams and processes to make maximum efficiency in what they do. And, all my solutions are value driven. I have helped around 50 companies, maybe even more. I’ve helped more than 100 teams and have coached more than 700 individuals.
I have my small agency, PrimeProjekt. We are a small team. We are a consulting company and we work with different types of companies to help them succeed in what they do.
Narine: So, talking about PrimeProjekt? You’re a founder and CEO of PrimeProjekt that is an agency helping companies to transform their product/service development process to meet maximum efficiency, and cultivate high performing teams. What is the story behind PrimeProjekt? How have you started this company?
Anna: So actually, this was a very smooth transition.
As I said, I was working as a scrum master, initially, and you know, from one company to another company. I got really engaged with what I do. I had this high motivation and I loved working with teams. And then, at some point, I just started to do private consultancy for different types of companies. They were reaching out to me saying, “hey, Anna, you know, could you help us to optimize our processes, or help our teams to restructure, like, unleash their potential, and things like that.”
So I’ve started helping them as separate consultants. I’ve started doing training, at the same time, I was working as a permanent employee in other companies. But then at some point, when my second child was born, and I was on maternity leave, I decided that I have to do this on my own.
So in 2016, I started the company. And, and then, the team was gathered one by one. And, together, we did a lot of projects.
Narine: How many members do you have in your team currently?
Anna: Currently, we are 17 members. Well, not all of them are Agile coaches, and Scrum masters. We have marketing, designer, development. Four members are actually doing the projects together with me.
Narine: What are some of the services you’re offering to your customers?
Anna: Actually, if we take it like on a higher level, there are too many services. First one is training related to Agile and Scrum, lean thinking, lean product development, product ownership, Scrum Master growth path and things like that.
The other, bigger service era is the Agile transformation. So which means, we all do the company’s like in terms of their processes, product and team, and tools, of course, and then we analyze it, we provide solutions, and then we integrate into their teams, as consultants and coaches, and help them to realize the improvement plan.
So that’s in short. It is a tough one, but it is really, really interesting, especially when you see the results.
Narine: So, you’re a team of certified professionals helping out companies to increase their team’s work efficiency and speed up product delivery through Agile solutions. Let’s talk more about Agile solutions. There might be listeners who are not so much familiar with Agile solutions. Can you explain what is an Agile and how it works?
Anna: Actually, Agile is an approach and mindset that is really trendy. In the 21st century it reached its boom, and it’s still running. And as it started, like from IT, but right now, it is used in different spheres, like banking, professional services, pharmaceuticals, government education. So and the idea behind it is that it is like, approach to help, like speed up the product delivery and service through working in small iterations, creating kind of a product increment or service incremental, small part of the product, release it into the market, see how your users react to this product, to this piece of the product, and then get feedback and based on data, analyze it, and create, you know, your second batch of the product or second version of the product, and then release it again, and then gather the feedback.
It’s a build, measure, learn loop. And while you are doing this, you are also improving the mindset of your people, the ability to work more efficiently, increase their productivity because whatever they create, that is value driven to your users.
Narine: I’m glad you talked about reshaping managment’s mindset. It’s very important to make leadership, top of the company to understand, to see a value in new technology solutions. What are some of the problems you’re trying to solve with Agile solutions and can you make the company’s management see a value in it?
Anna: Let’s say you have a company. You have different departments or different teams that are not related, not aligned. Each team is doing something on their own, and at the end, you see that actually, you do not have a full product, you cannot link the outcome of each team to each other, because they do not know what they are building. So, alignment is one thing. The other thing is businesses saying something, but the actual execution team understands completely different things. And at the end, you get a product that is not a good market fit for example. There is a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of waste in the processes. You know, so, the cost increases, you know, so, you pay a lot of money, and at the end, you do not get what you want. So, this kind of thing, or you know, you have people who would not want to change, you do not want to be innovative, who do not want to collaborate with their team members.
Narine: How are you dealing with those types of people? Because if the leadership is not ready to embrace changes, I can imagine how hard it would be to make them go for changes? How do you change people’s minds?
Anna: Actually, we have a pretty good toolset, techniques. So most of them are coming from coaching. Kind of a psychological approach to the issue. Because usually you cannot change the agile mindset, right from the beginning. We usually start from the bottom up. First we start with the tools, with the processes, practices, then frameworks, then we try to integrate the Agile values, principles. And then when all of this works, then you get the agile mindset. And of course, there is one important thing is that in all of these changes, you should never lose the big picture. So the context and you know, the common sense.
Narine: So, let’s say I’m a CEO of some company, and I’m one of those people who doesn’t want any innovation in any change in my company. How are you going to make me understand why companies should leverage agile solutions? What makes agile solutions unique that you can tell me and you can make me say, Okay, I’m going to go for ages solutions.
Anna: I would just start with questions: what is your primary purpose? What do you want to achieve through this through your company? And obviously, you will say something, like “I want my product to work for the users to love it. Then I would say, how do you imagine your path to reach this goal? And you would say, I have this roadmap, I have this team, I have this tools and on. And then I would go with something like, how do you see this process to help you to reach your goal? And I’ll ask why you think that, your plan might really work tomorrow for the market, if, you know, the market is changing in days, in weeks or months. Yeah, I know, but, you know, I think that my product is something that everyone would love. And I would go and say, okay, you know, whatever you think that the others might, like, you know, it’s your perception is just like intuition, you have to have data, you know, you have to go and ask you users, you have to collaborate with them. And if you are collaborating with people, then they are going to give you a lot of opinions. So how you are going to deal with these changes, you know, you might, you might be getting so many changes around. And let’s say you have already done your planning of the requirements. So how are you going to deal with the costs that you have spent on the planning and execution, you know, and what do you think your product would look like after this?
So usually, in these kinds of conversations, I would like to ask some powerful questions, you just understand, and you just make the people understand that, you have to deal with the market. And whenever you are really actively working with the market, there will be a lot of changes. So not to waste your time, like your resources. Just in vain. You have to make sure that whatever you are creating right now, is something that the market wants right now. And this is the way to optimize your costs. So that’s something that usually all of the CEOs want, right to earn more money and to reduce their costs. So that’s something that motivates them.
Narine: Can you walk us through the process of Agile adoption? I think it’s critically important for company management to understand the process. How long does it usually take to adopt Agile solutions?
Anna: If we are looking at it in the context, there are a lot of preconditions, which will give us a better understanding how much time it will take? First of all, of course, it’s the product – is it a product, Is it a service, Is it an enterprise, Is it a startup. It is different from company to company, because you cannot have a standard way of approaching each company. Every company has its unique way of doing this.
The second thing is the size of the company. Is it 20 people in a company, 100, 1000 or more. It also depends on the size of the company -mid size, small to mid sized company, it should be something around like six months. And usually the adoption goes through many stages. So it’s kind of this change curve – shock, denial, a lot of people are resistant, they do not want to change.
And it’s not only on management level. Middle management and team levels. And then, you know, so you’re going through these stages, at some point, there is this depression.
Narine: What are some of the key industries you’re working with? Are you working with startups?
Anna: Yes, startups, like, enterprises, any type of company, that have an urgency to speed up their product or service delivery, and those type of companies that are dealing with the market, they have partners, stakeholders, users, and they have this need to speed up.
Narine: Talking about the startups, Startups are fast moving and always evolving entities, what are some of the benefits startups can gain by adopting Agile solutions?
Anna: First of all, they will know how to deal with the market, how to understand their business goals, and how to create business goals correctly, how to create their business canvases, etc, how to do user interviews, for example, and things like that.
Also, they will know how to align the business with the development team, for example, and how to make sure that the whole company is working towards the same goal.
Then they will learn how to how to structure their work processes, and how to increase the predictability of the team, how to deal with their capacity, how to understand how much work they can do, and also, they will be able to help their teams to become more innovative creative, which is really important that as individuals, and these things are really important for startups.
Narine: Definitely those are important steps for startups to facilitate their rapid pace of development, have better sense of customer feedback, product development, team building. I think it’s also important to understand how to expand into the international market. Specifically, if you’re a startup in an emerging market like armenia.
Narine: Are you working with companies located outside of Armenia? Or do you mainly work with local companies?
Anna: We are doing both. We have clients from Europe, from the US, from Armenia.
Narine: If you put together costumes from Armenia, and let say from Europe, Do you see a difference in their demand and behaviour?
Anna: Actually, there is a difference. What they actually need is the sample. The need is the same. But what they ask for is different. That’s why we do audits. Usually, not in all cases, what they ask, actually what they need.
Narine: How are you dealing with those types of companies?
Anna: Actually, the good thing is that we approach this psychologically and understand that people are different. And if you want this to work, then you have to be able to communicate with people. So communication is the key. This is the first thing. To talk , to feel comfortable, to talk more about their needs.
With European and US customers, it’s much easier because they are more aware of agile solutions, and most of them have tried something. And, we are more inclined to work, like in teams. With the armenian market it’s a little bit difficult, because people are more individualistic. So you have to
Narine: Also, you should consider that Agile solutions are something new for the Armenian entrepreneurs, managers. So you need to also educate people about these solutions. Awareness and education is such an important factor to make managers embrace new approaches. You also need to increase awareness about this new thinking mindset.
Anna: Yes, and it’s more known in IT, but outside of IT, it’s not very well-known.
Narine: One thing I’m noticing is you’re talking a lot about the psychological aspect of your business. At the first glance, we would not think that there is any connection between business and psychology. But there is a deep connection between business and psychology. Today’s successful CEOs, and managers, should be psychologists at one point. They need to understand their employees, how to build better teams, they need to understand how to maneuver during let’s say negotiations.
Anna: Definitely. Because you see a lot of constraints that are stopping or blocking people from their success. And those things, they do not see them. But we are observing this from the side, so we are not part of the company. We are not overburdened with tasks on a day to day basis, but we are observing them. And this helps us to see a lot of things that they are not seeing when they are inside of the work. And this is something really, really fascinating.
Narine: I think you are doing a really great job. You’re introducing new solutions into the Armenian business environment. It’s very important. Armenia is an emerging market and entrepreneurs need to meet the needs of the 21st century. You’re really doing great work.
Anna: Well, thank you very much. Unfortunately, there are not many companies like us like doing such work. We have also had hard times, but I think that now, more and more companies are understanding the essence of this work.
Narine: Are you the only company that offers Agile solutions in Armenia?
Anna: I actually I think, yes. There are no companies that are specifically working in this field.
Narine: You are preserving the uniqueness of your company. That’s good.
Anna: Actually, we just think for the quality to say honestly, this is really important.
Narine: So Anna, I want a little bit to go back to our early conversation. You said that you decided to open your company when you had your first child. It’s truly inspiring to see how you are balancing being a mother and being a working woman. Many women apparently quit their dreams, jobs once they get into family life.
How is it for you to be a woman entrepreneur? What are some of the challenges?
Anna: The biggest challenge is constantly to be on track and in shape. Especially with small kids. You want to be a good mom, you want to be a good wife. But also you want to be a good CEO, because people rely on you. And you want to be a good specialist.
I have to travel a lot, you know, to go to different conferences. I’m gaining my certifications from like the famous Krummel Scrum Alliance, which is the one of the biggest, accredited organizations for giving certifications in Agile and Scrum. This all is taking too much time, and energy bad, you should always smile and especially in our job. We should be the drivers and the motivators. So, even if you feel tired, because you have not slept, sleep for many days because for example, your son is ill.You have to smile and just do the job.
Narine: Be honest with you, I think it takes a lot of courage for a woman to start a business. What is your secret to balance your family and work you do? How do you do that?
Anna: That’s a very good question. I think the secret is in the supporting husband. And, also the secret is I really love my job. It gives me motivation.
Narine: It’s very important to have a supportive husband. I have a supportive husband,s o I know the value of that.
Anna: Exactly. That’s, that’s important.
Narine: I’m so glad we’re having this conversation today. It’s very important to talk about those things. We need to showcase more women who were able to overcome challanges to be a mother, to live in male-dominated society, and still be able to build a business. I would consider my podcast successful, if right now someone who’s listening to our conversation, can be empowered by your example – how you were able to create a healthy balance between your family, kids and the job you love. If someone right now listen to us what would be your piece of advice?
Anna: I would say do not be afraid to go for your dream. And I am more than sure that your family will support you if they see that you are becoming even better, with what you do. So if your job is helping you to become a better person, then they will love it. You know, they will support it because you will feel this love also.
Narine: Plus, you’re going to make money.
Anna: Making money. we’re in our family. We do not have a question like this. I have a working mom. So I had a working grandma. So I’m used to that. We are sharing the responsibilities. We both bring money. So it’s just money.
Narine: So, Anna, what is the best way to learn more about PrimeProjekt? Or if there are listeners who want to reach out to you directly, what is the best way to reach out to you?
Anna: Our website is https://primeprojekt.com They can visit our website. Or they can find me on LinkedIn Anna Zakoyan. I would be pleased to answer any questions or requests, Please write to me.
Narine: Well Anna, thank you for a great interview. I hope listeners were able to learn a lot of important tips on how to use Agile solutions. Hope to have you back with more interesting initiatives. Stay safe
Anna: Thank you very much Narine for having me. You stay healthy and safe. Thank you for having me here today.
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Narine: With all those fancy marketing tactic, that’s awesome to see early-stage startups like you who have been able to use word-of-mouth marketing tactics to generate buzz around your startup.
Agata: Yeah, that was exciting. When we just started we just made a challenge. Like I made my avatar illustrated out or we’ve Dzuk and I challenged like three of my friends to do that.
And they challenged another free, another free so it’s, it’s hard to work like that.
Narine: That’s a good marketing strategy. I might steal that from you.
Agata: Irina is the one who just said let’s do a challenge, so we did it.
Narine: What’s happening in Armenia is astonishing. So many women are deciding to go into the tech industry or launch a startup. Not many know that Armenia is among the leading nations that have the most women working in tech. 30% of the workforce in tech in Armenia are women. And that’s more than the average 20% of the workforce globally.
How it is for you to work in tech in Armenia. Do we know that Armenia is a very male-dominated country? Do you feel any challenges working in tech?
Agata: Tell you the truth, I never felt that it is male dominant. I’ve been working in IT companies and like, always, we’ve got like, 40%, or maybe 15% of female staff.
For my last company, where I’ve been working in my team, we were 50%/50% of females and males.
Narine: I think this is something we need to talk more about. In Armenia today you can have a very diverse and inclusive tech workforce. This is a huge problem worldwide. Women continue to be underrepresented in many industries, including tech. Even this is an issue in the United States.
Agata: Exactly. It’s that it’s really like that because all the girls were in tech positions. Some developers were executives. That’s why I don’t understand this question because I have always been working with females in tech. So it’s really like that. And our startup we’ve got five guys and five girls in a team right now.
Narine: That’s awesome. So as a startup founder what are some of the challenges you have?
Agata: A big responsibility for everything. It’s very hard. It’s not very hard. But it’s very responsible to run a startup, to think about all the challenges, like to think about the product, about the team, about the technology, about fundraising.
It’s tough, sometimes, but, I love it because it’s like raising a child, you have to be responsible for everything, and you have to raise it, and you have to do all the work in 24 hours. And I like it. After working so many years in companies, I like that, too. But now it’s a different feeling. And it’s hard. But it’s sweet.
Narine: Tell you the truth, it’s a very good feeling to see the fruits of your hard work. Today you are the cofounder of a very successful startup that might make a deal with a top social media platform.
Agata: Yes, sometimes. All of us all the founders are just forgetting about what is done. And we’re just focusing on the problems. But yes, sometimes we have just to stop and see what we have already done.
And just say, okay, it’s good we need to move forward.
Narine: 2020 has one specific – not only war in Armenia but the global pandemic. And I talk to many startup founders. They have concerns that VCs and investors backing down from their investment deals. Has pandemic in any way impacted Dzuk? Did you have any issues with fundraising?
Agata: Actually, we have our first fundraising, right at the start of a pandemic in Armenia, it’s like, middle of March. So we quit our jobs, and we have fully started to work on this startup. And we have or we have repaired our small office, but we didn’t work a single day in it because the pandemic started and we started to work from home. So, but that was not bad for us because people were just staying at home and they wanted to entertain themselves somehow and took was a good possibility to do that.
And we have many feedbacks from people like we cannot stop creating some portraits of their relatives, or stars. Some celebrities. And it’s very sticky and we have a lot of fun during the pandemic period.
Narine: So you combine 2 different businesses in one – animation and gifts?
Agata: It’s separate things started to be separate things because now we are focusing on applications. And gifting businesses became secondary. And also it became like for us, but in the future, we want to connect it. Because we saw that people love to own some physical products. And they love to have something that they will carry with them all day long, for example, like a phone case, or some Thermo mug with hot coffee.
Narine: Can you ship also outside of Armenia?
Agata: Yes, we are shipping worldwide.
Narine: Why I’m asking because we have a huge Armenian-American community here in the USA. I think this is a potential market for you.
Agata: Yes, please. Yeah, we’ve been working with HR teams, very closely, in Armenia. And we noticed that people love to receive this kind of gift because it’s really warm. After all, they saw that someone cared, someone drew them and then printed them. It’s very personalized and very touchy, we have received many testimonials about that. So this is why we just wanted to do that. And this is why we just started all of this because we saw that people are getting happy with getting some personalized portraits of them. You know, it’s very important, because I think you also have a mission to make people smile.
Yes, this is why we started all of this because we saw that people are getting happy. And we’ve got a lot of pictures. And a lot of that people are just sending us and saying thank you so much. And they gave this presentation to my friend, and it was so super exciting. And we’ve got some pictures that people just received so celebrating some birthday in the office and receiving a T-shirt with their face, and they’re super excited and happy. So if we can make people happy for one day, we will do that.
Narine: That’s very important to have a social mission behind your startup. And I like your mission to make people smile, feel happy.
Agata: Yes. This is why we started. We saw that people are getting happy. And we got a lot of pictures, people were thanking us for their portraits.
If we can make people happy at least one day, we will do it.
Narine: I ask this question to all my guests on HyeTech Minds. This is my survey I use to understand what else we can do to help Armenia in expanding its tech ecosystem and bring more investments to the country.
What is this one thing if we need to change in Armenia that can have a positive impact on tech?
Agata: Networking, for example, we are here in the Armenian tech community. Many people know each other, like not many I think everyone knows each other. You’re in Armenia. And many people know people in Diaspora so I think connections here connections and networking.
Narine: In today’s interconnected world, it’s important to have value-driven networking. Just the fact that we are Armenians can be an important asset to leverage.
Narine: Agat, can you remind us how our listeners can find out more about Dzuk, or try to use the Dzuk app to create animation videos?
Agata: Sure, they can go to https://3dzuk.com/ . And they can download our applications for the App Store and from the play market, they just can search Dzuk. And they can try it. It’s free and we will be happy they can share their experience if they can give us feedback, which is very important for us because we are listening and we are trying to improve technology and application. So it will be very great to listen to some feedback from you users.
Narine: Customer feedback is the most powerful tool to understand how exactly your product works?
Narine: Thank you so much, Agata, it was such a pleasure talking to you. I think Dzuk is a great app and has huge potential. Looking forward to having you back with more interesting projects. Again, Happy New Year and Stay safe
Agata: Thank you so much for having me. I hope that it was useful for our listeners and Happy New Year.
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