Embracing Conflict

As a kid, I was very uncomfortable with conflict. I wanted everyone to get along, and when they didn’t, it made me uneasy and anxious. I often tried to solve problems that weren’t really mine, and was eager to build bridges between people in an effort to keep the peace.

Early in my career, as a newly promoted manager in video games, I continued to struggle with conflict, as I interpreted all argument as discord, and I believed it was my responsibility to maintain harmony within the team in order to keep people motivated and moving forward. Once, in a technical team meeting, a discussion about how to approach a challenging new feature turned into a particularly heated argument. As was normal for me, I waded in and tried to diffuse the tension before it got out of hand. A software engineer (who I have since thanked) turned to me and told me that, by trying to make everyone get along, I was in fact blocking creativity and the healthy flow of ideas.

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The Story of The Baker

A story we often tell when we get asked what Project House is all about, is one about a Baker who loves to bake pies.  We’ll call him The Baker.  The Baker made pies all of the time.  His pies were well-loved by his family, who demanded pies for every conceivable occasion.  His pies were delicious and better than anything available in a shop.  Over time,  The Baker started making pies for his kids’ fundraising events, for his friends and their friends, and before he knew it, his pies were in such high demand that he had a business on his hands and he needed to hire some helpers and find a community kitchen space several days a week just to keep up with the orders.

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What Work Life Balance Means to Me

I’ve written about my family a lot over the years and the significance of their role in my goals for setting up our company and creating a flexible workplace for our team and ourselves. A huge part of our dream for Project House has been to create a workplace that allows our team to pursue a balanced life no matter what that means for them. For me, balance means being able to accompany my kids on a class field trip, take my daughter to a ballet recital, hike with my dogs in the forest, and spend time as a family in the evenings and weekends – in combination with work I love doing, clients that appreciate me and my expertise, alongside great team members. Most of the time I can have all these things – and for me, that adds up to my own personal definition of “work-life” balance.

Before starting Project House, I looked around at the employment world and realized there were really very few places I could go where I could get the work-life balance I was craving, despite the fact that I knew I could be highly productive in a shorter work week or work day. I figured if I couldn’t find a job that gave me the flexibility that I needed for myself, then I would have to build one that did. As our little business grew and more and more people wanted to join our team, we realized what an untapped market there was for people just like us, looking for meaningful, flexible opportunities to do great work on their own terms.

Now – I know it’s not a one size fits all – balance means something different to everyone, and the key to success is discovering that unique ratio that gives you peace and happiness…and…let’s be honest, pays the bills. For some people, that might mean 10-15 hours of consulting work per week, for others it could be a full-time job that starts at 6am, and for others it’s something else entirely. I by no means place any judgement on anyone for the work or family choices they make, and I’m certainly not going to pretend or presume that we all can choose to work less. What I do know, however, is that by encouraging businesses to provide their employees with more flexibility for family, exercise, rest, and fun, they can fuel a more dedicated and productive workforce. Let’s face it, when people are happier, healthier, less stressed, and less guilty around free time, they can be way more productive.

The work environment that Heidi and I have created at Project House will hopefully inspire more conversations around how different companies truly can bring elements of flexibility into their culture. We empower our team to be mature, take the time they need to take care of their health and families, and take responsibility for their deadlines and work commitments. Many of our team members only have a few hours a week to dedicate to work – but we know that they are going to be highly productive during that time. We hope that this concept will continue to gain momentum, and we are excited to be nominated for YWCA’s Outstanding Workplace Award this year – maybe our little workplace evolution (revolution??) will gain a little traction!

We Love Being Part of Your Team

Last year, one of our clients went through a significant leadership change. We had enjoyed a great relationship with this client, and we felt trusted and effective, providing strategic and operational support regularly and easily. When our primary senior contact informed us he was leaving the organization, we wondered if our work with this client would continue, or if the new leader would be looking to make their mark by handling these pieces differently. We focused on ensuring a smooth transition from one leader to another, making ourselves available to bridge processes and systems, and support continuity.

After this initial transition period, once the new leader had an opportunity to assess their own goals and priorities and set their own tone with the team, he reached out to us. Happily we were asked to step even further into the organization, to spend more time 1:1 with employees, and to make ourselves known and trusted members of the team.

Months later, we are still spending regular time in this client’s office, dipping in more often when there’s a big project to deliver.  We are able to support them in a way that is effective and positive for us as well as the team, sharing our expertise and learning from each other.  When a challenge looms, we can head it off at the pass, or lend our extra muscle in the moment, before it gets too big to handle neatly.  We can help support and nurture the team culture as it evolves.

When this client grows to a size where they need to hire full-time employees to take over some of our services, we may shift into a more traditional consulting role where we lend a hand occasionally in areas where we can add value.  It will be great at that stage to already know and understand the business and to have developed trust with the team.  We will be able to provide training and support, and know that we’ve made a positive impact on the business at its various stages.

We love getting calls from clients who have a big challenge that needs tackling.  By giving us an opportunity to work closely with your team early on, we can help you mitigate risk and solve small problems before they escalate.  We can get to know your employees at every level and we can see your culture in action We can share our skills and experience, earn your trust, and become a valuable member of your organization.  All without breaking the bank or working more than you need.

The Point of No Return

Etch-a-sketch day got us thinking about the point of no return when working on a project.

This week was Etch-a Sketch Day…do you remember those?  While we posted that as a fun little “throw back” to the toy, we got to thinking about the idea of working on something really hard and then having to wipe it clean, and how that might actually relate to our business! While much of what we do and the projects we work on certainly have much more permanence than the artwork on an Etch-a-Sketch, the idea of starting something and having the ability to wipe it clean is quite refreshing. How practical is that though? Is there a point of no return? If a project is not going the way you want or isn’t going to result in the desired outcome, is it realistic to “shake things up” and just start fresh?


This question brings to mind a project that we worked on earlier this year, which was a branding and website project for a new company. We went through our discovery phase where we asked all the relevant questions about client needs, target market + demographics, marketing objectives, etc. Once we received approval of our mockups for the client’s new materials and website, we began site development work.  About a week or so into the project, the client had a significant change of heart and asked us to redesign the logo and website again –  the bottom line was that the design we had been working on was not a fit with who they were as a company. The client had always felt a little bit conflicted about their new brand and struggled (as many companies do) to identify their target market, as well as how to best present themselves to potential clients. This had all come bubbling up in a variety of ways.  With the company now “open for business,” there was a pressing need to get the site up and running as quickly as possible, and with new and prospective clients coming through their door, they had realized that the target market they had imagined they were trying to reach no longer made sense. This meant that the edgy, modern vibe we had been going for no longer seemed appropriate.


The project came to a halt, and we went back to the drawing board, presenting a variety of new ideas to our clients to help them really dive into what they were looking for, and we ended up landing on an entirely new brand and web design. While this was a potentially frustrating process for everyone, as hours and hours of work had already gone into the original design and website development… we ended up with a design that is far, far better, meets their true needs and company vision, and represents their brand more harmoniously than the previous version.


Did this restart take more time? Absolutely! Did it cost more money… Yes it did:   double the design time and double the efforts does cost more money. Was it worth it in the end?? Without question! I have no doubt in my mind that pulling the plug and starting over was the right course of action, and our client wholeheartedly agrees.


The question that I’ve been mulling over, however, is this:  at what point would it have been too late…or is there ever such a thing? I suppose if we had launched the website, designed marketing brochures, and printed business cards, that would have probably been too late – pulling the plug at that stage is confusing for clients and customers, can be perceived as a lack of organization and professionalism, and so on.  Once you present your brand to the world it’s pretty hard to go back a month later and launch something altogether different. That being said, if something just doesn’t work, no matter what stage, is it better to just shake the canvas clean and start over?


As with any major decision like this, there are always a multitude of factors that need to be weighed and reviewed, such as:

1. Time of course is an obvious one – sometimes you just have to get the job done and you have a schedule to meet, so “good enough” might just have to be acceptable.

2. Costs are most certainly a factor. If you’ve already budgeted for what you can afford, and have invested a whole bunch of money into a project, sometimes you just don’t have the option to stop and start all over again and incur new fees .

Once you order custom furniture and it’s on its way, you can’t send it back. If there are mistakes, or if the client has a change of heart, it can mean having to get rid of one set of expensive furniture and reordering new pieces, which can be an extraordinary cost.  If you’ve signed a contract for a new piece of software and you are locked in for 2 years, you may not be able to walk away from that investment. In addition to the hard costs initially, if we just run with this software example above, future costs and operating costs also need to be considered. If your current solution will lead to wasted hours and hours of additional resources, then perhaps in the long run it’s better to cut your losses now. It’s good to run the numbers for a few potential scenarios ahead of time, in order to make sure you are making a sound decision.

3. Importance and priority should certainly be a factor in deciding whether to start over again or not. I am inherently a perfectionist, so for me most of the time “good” just doesn’t cut it. That being said, there are projects where you just don’t have the ability (or time, money, staff) to start all over again and you need to see your idea through. You might not think it’s perfect, but how important is this particular item, and how important is the distance between “good” and “great”? Does it warrant the necessary time, energy, or resources that it will take to start again from scratch? Is your current solution good enough and will it get the job done and not cause undue hardship for anyone? If yes, then maybe it’s best to leave it alone.


So in the end, while the idea of just shaking that etch-a-sketch and starting fresh is certainly appealing, and is absolutely warranted in some cases, be sure to “think before you shake”…lol!   Do this by factoring costs, time, and importance into your decision. Talk to your colleagues and get their opinion; maybe you are missing a piece of the puzzle. Run your numbers, look at your business goals, ask your clients or customers.  And trust your gut.  After all is said and done, however, don’t be afraid to start something over. If your gut is telling you that something isn’t right and that in the long run you are going to have to spend more time and energy to dig yourself out after taking the wrong road, then pull the plug, wipe the slate clean, and start a new sketch!

The Story of Project House

Crystal and Heidi Project House

Crystal and I started Project House Business Solutions almost three years ago, after years of being friends and next-door neighbours.

Our purpose when we launched our business was to create a flexible way to do what we love and excel at, and to help women who looking for meaningful and challenging work.  There are so many women who, for a variety of reasons, want fulfilling part-time work.  Perhaps they are striving to return to the workforce after having kids, or they don’t know what they’re good at, and hope to increase their experience and skillset. We want to create opportunities, confidence and a network for these ladies (while some of our talented team members and partners aren’t ladies, most are), and we meet them everywhere we go.

Between us, Crystal and I have 5 kids between the ages of 3 and 15.  We both gave up a lot of time with our families in order to build up our careers, and together we decided we didn’t want to compromise any more – we wanted flexibility, autonomy, joy, and control.  We wanted less ego, less judgment against passion, emotion, and empathy, and less unhealthy bullshit overall.  We want our kids to understand that working, striving, learning, trying your best, and adding value to your community can be an ongoing and joyful endeavour.

When we first started our company, Crystal and I took an assessment that told us how we might be as partners.  One hint it provided was that Crystal would have to give me room to talk through things, and I would have to keep myself from being overly sensitive to Crystal’s straight shooting.  We got a lot of information and insight that has helped guide us as we make decisions and face obstacles.  We have done this type of assessment with some of our team members as well, and this helps us to communicate better with different personalities.

We have since taken more tests and assessments, and each time we are blown away by how opposite and complementary we are. While I have learned to be more cautious, I like people and their challenges, teaching and coaching, thinking out loud, and working with people to solve a problem.  Crystal likes to analyze and synthesize a huge amount of detail quickly and well, diving into a budget and numbers, and she is always in action and accomplishing.

I am a hugger, she is not.  I am all about relationships, optimism and “who’s going to be there” and she is adventurous, fearless and independent.  We both flex in each other’s direction, but we are also getting better and better at articulating what we don’t like doing, or even what we like doing but aren’t great at. I LOVE building a barn and putting on a show.  I don’t really care how big a barn, how many seats, or even what show, which is where Crystal with her significant eye for detail and data becomes invaluable.  Also sometimes I don’t really want to put on a show OR build a barn, I just want to sing in the show and say hi to everyone once it’s built…  I don’t score as high in stress tolerance or independence and she doesn’t score as high as I do in empathy or flexibility.  She’s way more fun and much more likely to take risks, and I’m much braver when she’s in the room.  In combination, we are stronger, smarter and faster, and we are constantly evolving and sharpening our purpose and our message.

Project House clients are diverse, and their needs span all of our services and drive new ones.  In the past months, we have worked on employee policies with Earnest Ice Cream, done space planning and furniture procurement at the head offices for Lush Cosmetics, trained managers in performance and feedback at Capcom Vancouver Game Studios, and designed a brand new logo and website for an architect, a beauty salon, and a family law firm.   Our clients come to us from many different industries, and nearly all of them find us through referrals and recommendations from our network.

Project House offers a lot of services, and we feel they are very inter-related.  We help companies find their voice and put their best foot forward, whether it’s a well designed and constructed website, handbook or onboarding program, support and training, a kind approach to terminating, an efficient way to manage clients, a beautiful office space, or a gorgeous new logo.  We combine our team’s skills and experience to help companies be better, treat people better, use better systems, present themselves more clearly and beautifully, and add value to their employees, clients, and workspace. 

I have to pinch myself sometimes – Crystal and I are entrepreneurs, business owners, and employers.  We feel both the joy and the weight of responsibility, and we are definitely at our best (in our “flow”) when we are working together with clients who are action-focused, community-minded, and in need of our varying skills and strengths.  This doesn’t always work out, but we getting wiser and more understanding when the relationship comes to an end, either because we’ve done our job to get them to the next level and they don’t need us anymore, or because we recognize we are not the best fit for each other.

Crystal and I love to learn new things and discover a new approach to our work.  Next month is exciting for us, because we are taking a 4-day intensive training program to be certified in Emergenetics, which is a neuro/strength/ preference assessment that we will then be able to offer to our clients, with an eye toward improved communication, understanding, and productivity.

We continue to be supported and inspired by successful, strong, funny, vulnerable, kickass, powerful, kind, generous, smart, and talented women, and we are filled up by providing even a fraction of this to others.

Some of what we need from our “village” we get already: support, ideas, wine, friendship, partnership, services, referrals, and wine.

Our “asks” this year continue to evolve:

  1. We want help getting great clients and exciting work: the juicy stuff! (Like companies who need high quality websites, teams who need training and coaching, clients who are fun to work with and open to our business model);
  2. We want opportunities to share our story – we want to tell people about our company and what are creating for women who want to work in a flexible way, enhance their skills, make money, learn about business, grow their resumes, or meet other professionals – whatever they need to get where they want to go;
  3. We want to hear your stories! We learn by doing, but we also know that many people have already solved some big problems and developed best practices – we’d love to speed things up by getting some advice and by learning from your experience.  We enjoy getting tips and tricks and discovering what you have learned, what mistakes you have made, and what makes you tick;
  4. We want to help you. The speed of trust is amazing – so if there are things you need from us, people we can connect you with, or ways we can cheer you on, please let us know.

And that’s our story – – – so far!  We want to do all of the things – this isn’t so much a balancing act as it is a mad dash while juggling plates – sometimes everything is spinning beautifully and we are dazzled by our own skills and grace, and sometimes it is a f–king disaster with a little bit of crying…  And every day we learn a little bit more about what we want, who we are, and what we’re capable of.


Client Spotlight: Capcom Vancouver

Benjamin Franklin quote

Project House has been designing and facilitating manager training sessions for one of our amazing clients, Capcom Vancouver, in order to provide their employees with an opportunity to brush up on their skills, pick up some new ones, gain a fresh perspective and new ideas, and to feel more prepared and comfortable in their roles.

Our session on Effective Performance Reviews took place earlier this year, and was designed to provide training, tips, and insights on understanding and maximizing the evolving performance process, including how to give great performance feedback and guide effective goals.

More recently we met with managers to deliver training sessions on Communication and Feedback, which included components such as listening, comfort zones, and effective 1:1 meetings. Upcoming sessions will take place over the coming months, and will be tailored to cover a broad spectrum of management and leadership topics.

We are excited to provide this type of training to our clients and their teams, and we always enjoy partnering with employees and getting exposure to their insights, ideas, and best practices firsthand.

leadership training

HR is dead! Long live HR!


I love being in HR.  I love people, their joy, their weirdness, their excitement, their grumpiness, their unpredictability.  I love learning as well as teaching.  I love being in a room the moment someone “gets it,” especially when that someone is me.  I enjoy the effort and reward of creating, coaching, and listening.  I enjoy being surprised, breaking big problems into smaller achievable ones, providing information and guidance.  I like being involved in bringing clarity, reasonable processes, and policies that work. I like rolling up my sleeves in the grey area that is human behaviour. Read more

Managerial Courage

When you work for someone else, sometimes your values match the company’s and those of its leaders, and sometimes they don’t.  Depending on your level of seniority, you might also be impeded by a lack of control over priorities, deadlines, hiring, or projects, and this can make it feel like you don’t get to make the decisions you would make if you were “in charge.”


No matter how much control you have over your surroundings, you still choose how to behave.  You can always make the decision to stand up for what’s right, carry yourself with grace, and be honest and transparent.  I know this is hard work, especially if you need the job (and who doesn’t), and trust me, I am constantly working towards a level of managerial courage in my work:  I am a diligent, ever self-aware work in progress.  My goal every day is to behave in a way that I can be proud of, and for me that is reflected in how I partner and communicate, not just in what I accomplish.


When I started using the term “managerial courage” it was really to describe my need for a leader’s bravery:  their willingness to stand up for what’s right, have their team’s back, refuse to sign up for an impossible deadline, or admit they don’t have all of the answers. Managerial courage means being willing to risk being unpopular, for the right reasons.  It means being straightforward with employees about their behaviour and other people’s perceptions of them, and letting them make choices about whether to change, leave, or tough it out.


When I was in the thick of my management career in video games, I sometimes struggled to do the right thing. I often felt pulled between conflicting priorities and duties:  meet the deadline, stay within budget, get more out of people, add features, change things on the fly, create fewer bugs, mitigate risk… and do it faster… and don’t forget to innovate and improve quality!  And, through it all, my team needed strong and clear direction, vision, and goals.  They wanted a healthy workplace, opportunities to do their best work, time to learn and grow their skills, hone their craft, and make a great game.  Knowing which priority to follow and which to ignore, and how to lead through this chaos, was always a huge challenge.  The more senior I became, the clearer it was to me that the need for bravery and honesty was paramount.


My failures in courage have taught me some big lessons.  Once, I was asked to terminate an employee who didn’t report to me and whose performance was unknown to me directly.  My job was to walk him to the HR manager and sit with him while she delivered the message.  I was uneasy about this, as it was a long walk to the HR manager’s office, and the employee didn’t know where we were going at first, or why.  It felt terrible and wrong to bring him to a meeting in that way, and to watch it dawn on him as we approached the HR department that he was probably being fired.  To make matters much worse, the HR manager was late to the meeting, so the employee and I shared a very painful ten minutes, with him asking me what was going on, and me (obedient junior manager) telling him that I wasn’t allowed to say, but that HR would be there soon.  By the time the HR manager finally arrived, he was in tears, and I wasn’t far behind. I will never forget the feeling of choosing to not tell him what was going on, because I was afraid of getting into trouble. I have held countless termination meetings since then, and each time I think of that experience, and I strive to be kind and respectful, honest and clear, and on time.


It is difficult to be courageous when the pressure’s on and you’re feeling the squeeze between what the company is asking for and what your employees need. Every so often, you have to say no and stick up for something – a person, a project, an idea – that deserves to be protected or celebrated, even when no one else will speak up.  Be clear about the costs to quality with a deadline your team can’t hit.  Refuse to hire a candidate who looks great on paper but who you know will be a bad fit.  Be willing to let someone go if they have no place on your team, even if you like them.  I was lucky to have a few great managers who modeled this behaviour, and while they occasionally got in trouble for it, it was clear that they always felt the risk was worthwhile.


This isn’t about digging in your heels when you don’t get what you want, or when the going gets tough.  It’s about doing the right thing, striving to make your environment better, speaking up for the greater good.  It’s about integrity, celebrating other people, fighting for the best interests of your team, trusting and being trusted.  It’s about not holding on to information just because it makes you look important. About not treating employees like children and then being upset when they act childishly. It’s about being vulnerable and kind.  Finally, it’s about believing that professionalism and compassion can co-exist, and striving to prove it every day.


For another blog about leadership choices and the environment they create, please see Your Company’s Culture is You.

The Advantages of Opposites in Partnership


When Crystal and I decided to start Project House, we knew we had a lot of the critical core pieces in place:  a shared vision for our company, a common set of values, the desire for a flexible workplace that maximized our skills and experiences, a passion for getting sh*t done, and a strong desire to create valuable connections and opportunities within our community.  What we didn’t know was if our “hey I really love talking with you and sharing a bottle of wine” friendship would translate into a strong Business Partnership.

On the surface, it’s easy to see our differences.  I like people and presentations, face-to-face meetings, thinking out loud, and working with people to learn or solve a problem.  Crystal likes to analyse and synthesize a huge amount of detail quickly and well, she enjoys diving into the budget and numbers, and she is always in action and accomplishing.  We share a curiosity and excitement to learn new things, we like big ideas and making things happen, and we love helping people achieve their goals and gain new opportunities.

Crystal and I have had an opportunity to take part in a number of leadership assessments, and in nearly each area of testing, we score as opposites.  She is analytical, dominant, action-oriented, adept at pulling apart facts, details, and data.  She is confident and assertive, she learns by doing, and she has a high stress tolerance.  I am optimistic, intuitive about ideas and people, social, conceptual, and emotionally self-aware.  I enjoy the unusual, and I learn by experience and through others.  I don’t score as high in stress tolerance or independence as Crystal, whereas she doesn’t score as high as I do in empathy or flexibility.

While individually we are very different leaders, Crystal and I often joke that in combination we are a Whole Brain.   Because our values and our desires for Project House and our team are so aligned, we are able to tackle projects together, often better than we would separately.  Even if we don’t always agree, we have a healthy respect for each other’s strengths and approaches, and our styles generally complement one another very well.  In business, we are stronger together than we are apart.

Chris Klundt said, in his article for Entrepreneur about choosing your startup partner, “in the startup world, opposites truly do attract — by choosing someone completely different from yourself, you can form a force of nature within your company that is strong enough to withstand challenges from any angle.”

Like with any great partnership, we work to make it work.  Here are some of the ways we do this:

  1. Respect and trust. Crystal and I respect each other’s space, skills, talents, styles, strengths, weaknesses, areas of non-interest, and methods.  We learn from each other, we brainstorm together, we discuss and pull things apart and we even disagree, but we always do this respectfully and with an eye on the bigger picture.  We trust that the other always has the best interest of the business, our clients, and our team’s interests at heart.
  2. Independence. We have our own “wheelhouses” within the various areas of the business and in the services we offer, and we share the internal tasks that move Project House forward.  I reach out to new people and attend more networking events, and my focus is on communication, workflow, and onboarding (client and team).  Crystal drives our systems, budgets, tools, technology, and vendors.  I concentrate on our HR services, and Crystal leads pretty much everything else.  We own our own projects, and we have the amount of autonomy we need.
  3. Kindness. We provide each other with true partnership, encouragement, and support.  We recognize that as busy parents, business owners, and wives, there is always an ebb and flow of energy and mood, and we understand what motivates each other.  We check in with each other if something feels “off.”  We know when to be nicer, talk more, or shut up.  We know when a cupcake or a shout-out is required.  Or a hug, once in awhile, if Crystal is willing… 🙂  We know when the other is overwhelmed, and there is no judgment. We have each other’s back.
  4. Laughter. We laugh a lot – at ourselves, mostly, but also at life.  When our backs are up against a wall (deadline, tough project, having to admit a mistake, feeling overwhelmed), nothing helps more than laughing at something together.  We also believe that a sense of humour is an important part of our culture and our brand.
  5. Time together. We set aside time to talk about our company goals, dreams, and plans.  We meet to talk about big stuff and small stuff.  We flex into each other’s areas to gain understanding and generate ideas.  We talk about how we want our business to grow, what we want our clients’ experience to be, how we want our team to feel, and how to get there.
  6. Humility and help. We have an incredible network of great friends and allies, and we reach out to them to ask for support and answers outside of our areas of expertise and experience.  We are open about things we don’t know, and we chase after new ideas and best practices.  We know we’re a young company and we know that we have a lot to learn.  We’re also very happy to share our successes and mistakes so that others can leapfrog on what we’ve done so far.

From one of our assessment reports, which combined our individual results to comment on our compatibility as business partners: “It can be seen from the foregoing that their needs and approach to the workplace are very different.  It is equally obvious that if they can combine their talents they will make a very effective team” “the compatible strengths of this pairing are assertiveness, energy, and a willingness to take risks and act independently.”

Want to understand how to make the most of all of the personalities on your team?  Crystal and I will be posting more about assessments and training in the coming weeks; in the meantime, please reach out to us if you want to know more!