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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Feeling Pinched? 10 Signs It Might Be Time For A New Office Space

You might be feeling the pinch of an overcrowded workspace without even realizing it. Here are 10 reasons it might be time to upgrade your office space:

  1. Getting up from your desk is an agility contest. You can’t get out of your desk area without climbing over and around boxes and mounting piles of paper, supplies and other materials.
  2. You have downsized desk sizes at least twice already. In an attempt to gain more workspace for new hires, you’ve forced everyone to purge their stuff and sold them on the idea of further collaboration by sitting closer together…twice! You are pretty sure your employees will all walk out if you ask them to downsize yet again. Besides, you’re not sure you can actually buy smaller desks than the ones you have now – they need to be at least large enough for a laptop, right??!
  3. You have taken over every meeting room with workstations. This is classic – you need more space and there is a big room over there, just waiting to be filled with more bodies…but wait, how can you hold a team meeting, entertain or meet with clients…in the hallway? No wait…see #6.
  4. Your new hire has to sit in the lunchroom.  The lunchroom is already standing room only…and you have two new hires starting next week and they will likely have to move in there too. You might have to put everyone on a 5 minute rotating lunch schedule! It’s important to have breakout space – somewhere for people to eat away from their desks, collaborate, and have informal conversations.

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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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Taking Time to #Unplug

You may have heard of a day urging everyone to “Unplug” – it’s a simple idea: put away your devices, look up from your phone, laptop, or games, and go outside, spend time with family, unwind.   There’s even a National Day of Unplugging each Spring that was started by Reboot, a nonprofit Jewish community who were inspired by taking a break on the Sabbath.  Good idea you say, and yet you are likely reluctant to hide your phone or tablet for even a few hours!  For many of us, the importance of stepping away from technology grows along with our dependency on it.

At Project House, we feel it’s important to take a regular tech break and smell the flowers/walk the seawall/stare deep into a dog’s eyes.  

Now if you’re like me and the idea of being away from email for 24 hours gives you heart palpitations or if your job is remote or online and you don’t really have the choice to take a whole day off, remember that every small step counts. Meet a friend for coffee and pledge to leave your phones in your bag.  Sign off from social media for an afternoon and take a walk outside. Make a ‘no phones at the table’ rule during meals.  Read a book in one room and leave your phone and computer in another.  Dare yourself to post your blog a day late.  The goal is to disconnect for a period to relish the freedom from the never-ending information overload and focus on your surroundings and yourself.  You’ll be amazed at what might stand out as important and what your brain can dream up when not faced with the constant stream of other people’s ideas and updates.  Problem solving, motivation, and organization – these all stem from a clear mind, and you might just find the inspiration you were looking for inside of you, instead of on Pinterest.

Need some tips on starting small?  Schedule a weekly “unplug” hour or afternoon.  Keep your phone in your bag when you’re with friends.  Keep your phone outside the bedroom when you go to sleep.  Set up a “I’ll get back to you soon!” autoreply for emails, so you’re not a slave to answering right away.  And next Spring, remember to pencil in the National Day of Unplugging. You can take the Unplug pledge at http://nationaldayofunplugging.com (and they’ll even send you a sleeping bag for your phone!)

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.

Brace Yourself, Winter is Coming

Winter Is Coming

The most wonderful time of the year? Not if preparing for parties and presents causes you stress! It is time to get a head start prepping your business for the holidays so that you can get back to the fun stuff – whether that is spending more time on the work you love, or enjoying your free time.

To alleviate some of the effort before the holiday season starts, it is important to make a list of what is important to you. Holiday cards? Employee appreciation? Client gifts? Deciding what your priorities are can make it easier to decide where to allocate your time (and money!).

Too busy, overwhelmed, or distracted to discover or focus on all of your priorities? Don’t know how to get started?  Let us help! We are your one-stop shop for holiday cards, gifts & employee appreciation, and event planning.  Read on for more ideas and inspiration.

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The 4 Apps Keeping Us Productive This Fall

As we head into Fall and move into a new fiscal year, we are shifting, tweaking, and refining our workflow and systems.

September is often synonymous with busy. For many it means back to school or back to work after summer break, and it can feel like the to-dos and tasks are endless. In order to tackle our “new year” on a high, we have made small tweaks to the applications we use to keep our team motivated, organized, and focused.

The Project House team is made up of a blend of in-office employees and sub-contractors. We offer a variety of services and do work across many different industries. Keeping track of all of our work and who’s doing what can be tough. At any given time, one of us could be working with a client in the Kootenays, taking a meeting down the road at the local coffee shop, or working poolside at a kid’s swim lesson.

In order to keep us all in sync, we use a number of applications to refine our workflow. If you ever take a peek at our desktops, iPhones, or Safari tabs you will see these in use the most often:

  • Asana
  • Dropbox
  • Freshbooks
  • Slack

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We use each of these applications for a different purpose: Asana for Project Management, Dropbox for file management, FreshBooks for Time Tracking and Invoicing, and Slack for casual communication.

 

In Asana’s own words, their mission is to ‘help humanity thrive by enabling all teams to work together effortlessly’. While it may not be pushing all of humanity forward, they definitely keep the PH team going. We use the platform to house all of our projects and related tasks. In Asana, we can assign tasks, comment on projects, and set deadlines. When we all work on different tasks, and sometimes even different pieces of tasks,Asana makes it possible to for every team member to keep each other up to date.

 

For time tracking, estimates, and invoices, we use a software called FreshBooks. FreshBooks allows us to assign team members to specific projects, easily track hours, pull together estimates, and invoice our clients – all from one simple dashboard. FreshBooks makes it easier to keep track of project hours and pull together helpful reports.

 

At Project House, we use Dropbox to store and share files and documents across our entire team and with our clients. Being able to access everything ‘in the cloud’ makes it possible to work remotely, which is the foundation of our business! Not having to worry about having a certain file uploaded is perfect if you are working on the weekend, late at night, or from another location.

 

Slack is a newer addition to our workflow but it has been useful. Slack is a team communication app that helps to reduce email and condense conversation. It is easy to use, fun, and was founded in Vancouver in 2009. At Project House, we use Slack for simple messages, internal team updates, and quick one-on-one conversations. Slack has reduced the number of two-line emails we send to each other (“Hey! Check out this link!”) and has made team updates easy. Being able to split conversations into different channels enables us to keep discussion on topic (ie. web design, marketing) and only available to those who need it.

 

Being able to work together online has made our team more connected and more collaborative. We are able to reduce our carbon footprint by keeping the majority of our work paperless, and we can be more flexible with the work we do and the hours we do it.

Do you have any favourite tools? Does your team need help moving online or to a better system and workflow? Let us know at hello@projecthouse.ca!

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!

Learning To Say No

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What is it with my constant need to say yes to everything that comes my way? Volunteering at the school when I know I have no time…. Taking every project that comes my way even though I am stretched to the max…. Saying yes to coffee with someone that I simply cannot fit into my schedule right now. Are there others like me out there?  I seem to have a need for busyness and stress.  I know this to be true about myself and have had assessment test results tell me just as much.  So perhaps I come by this need for speed naturally…?  I recently participated in an EQi (Emotional Intelligence) assessment and one of my top 3 skills as a leader is “Stress Tolerance”.  Who knew that was even a leadership quality to strive for.  I hadn’t really thought about it that much, but when I ponder the size and scope of my to-do list, I see that it’s true.

The thing is…I totally burn myself out some days and truly end up shitting the bed as a business owner, mother and co-worker.  I realize that, in order to do a good job, I need to learn to say no.  It just feels wrong…  So how do we find a way to say no and still feel good about ourselves?

The reality is that I actually work much more efficiently when I have a zillion things to do or when I’m under a tight deadline.  It’s when I don’t have enough to do or don’t have the detail I need that I don’t work as well.  Knowing this about myself, and understanding that I crave a heavy workload, I tend to seek it out.  The catch I think is knowing when you’ve gone too far; there is a tipping point and it’s often very hard to see ahead of time.  Everything will be going along smoothly…and then one small detail goes off the rails and my seemingly perfect façade crumbles in a matter of seconds. I become a raging woman over the teensiest thing that, in the grand scheme of things, is truly no big deal…but you know how the saying goes…it’s the straw that broke the camels’ back.

This might be a blog without any solutions, because I have not yet found a way to catch myself before it’s too late.  I automatically react to opportunities by stepping forward, putting my hand up, saying yes, and agreeing that it can be done within the deadline that has been set.  There might sometimes be a little voice in the back of my head saying, “hang on a sec”…but I normally just brush off that little guy and plow ahead.  How do I learn to listen to that little voice? I have not found a way yet, but I think awareness is definitely a first step.

What’s more, I know what the ramifications are when I say yes to too many things: I end up failing.  I either don’t finish the project on time, do a poor job of it, or worse, I end up failing my children by taking my stress out on them or not being there for them because I’m having to scramble to deliver work.  I hate myself when that happens.

One of my daughters went through a really hard time when we came back from our summer trip this year.  This normally very outgoing child was withdrawn, shy and extremely anxious about us leaving her for the day.  I wanted to take her to camps so that I could get to work, and she would have none of it.  She would scream and cling to me, and my initial reaction was that I just needed for her to stop acting up and go to camp for Pete’s sake! The trouble was, my reaction made it worse.  What she needed was my love and compassion and time, and I couldn’t give those to her because I had to get to work and deal with all of the backlog from being away.  The end result of course was just a mess on all fronts.  Her anxiety was not decreasing, mine was increasing because she wasn’t letting me leave her, and I was torn between taking her home with me and leaving her behind screaming so that I could go handle some client issues we were facing. End result:  She was unhappy, I was unhappy and our client was unhappy, and nobody won.

We have come through okay in the end.  My daughter is now happily going to preschool.  By the end of the summer I had pulled together a solution that kept her closer to home so she didn’t feel as anxious and that still allowed me to get some work done.  In retrospect, perhaps I should have handled the whole thing differently…but hindsight is 20/20 right? It’s a constant juggling act (and sometimes battle) as a parent between work and our children.

Many of us place a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform at a high level and to give as much of ourselves as we can to everything we do.  I guess the trick is to spot the warning signs, recognize our full plates, and learn to course-correct when we might be heading towards disaster.   I’m trying hard to learn to say no to certain things.  Learning to say no to meetings with people that really can wait, learning to schedule work for upcoming slower periods rather than saying yes right away and jamming it in, and learning to not volunteer for every position that the school needs filled (that one is a fail for this month! I’ve signed up to co-chair the games for our Halloween Haunt as well as our school brick fundraising initiatives…sheesh!).

Of course this is a work in progress and I hope that my family, friends, clients and co-workers can all understand that I’m doing my best and that I am only human, so I won’t get it right every time.

 

I’d love to hear from you about how you say no.  Get in touch with me if you’d like to share your comments or wisdom!