I’ve Lost It!: How to Get a Project Back on Track Afterwards

It is no lie that even with all of the great minds, great resources, and great intentions that projects can still fall apart. It is frustrating when dealing with missed deadlines, budgets, or worst of all, both. So what can you do if you are off track? Well, obviously you need to change what you’ve been doing.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Add or remove one project person
    • Sometimes you need some fresh blood, or to figuratively spill it. By adding or removing one person you can change the dynamic of the project team. Remember the communication channel equation: N(N-1)/2 ? How people interact with one another whether it is bulldozing decisions or passively agreeing to everything can change if you change the involved parties.
  2. Add a personal touch
    • When you get wrapped up in tasks, agenda items, and meetings project members may begin to coast. Get their attention by doing a kickstart like when you did a kickoff. Do a ice breaker game or another team building activity. For example, take the meeting off-site, bring in lunch for a socialized hour, or tell some personal stories/jokes to get everyone in a collaborative and friendly spirit.
  3. Give them the time of day
    • I know, you are busy. They are too busy tackling all sorts of problems in conjuncture to your project. Sometimes all you need is a break, mental or physical, to get rejuvenated. Take the time to talk to each of your project members and ask them about their vacation time or about anything else that is not project related. They might feel tied down and so give them the benefit of the doubt and a little freedom and then the renewed energy will come back around eventually.
As you can tell, I’m an advocate for positive reinforcement. It is easy to get bogged down by the snowball affect but a little smile and pat on the back can go far. Tell someone today about how their efforts have made all the difference in your project!

Some Wounds Never Heal: 3 Ways Unemployment Still Has Its Affects

Last month I hit my one year anniversary at my new (can I still call it new?) company. Hooray! What I realized though is that emotionally it is more a relief than a celebration. A year ago I was unemployed after being laid off and well, it still stresses me out to think about it. It wasn’t a fun time and having a new company that values me makes me feel like I did come out ahead in the end, but that doesn’t make it worth it. That feeling, that experience, sticks with me and has become a part of me in ways that I wish it wasn’t.

photo credit: Pleister(werk) via photopin (license)
  1. Badge of Honor
    • I mention it to others more than I’d like. I never wanted to be laid off; I wanted to find and stay with a company for a long time like my Dad did. It’s funny how a few words can say so much about your professional life and describe how you got to where you are. I feel like I gain some respect from older generations when I share “the tough times” but I guess I don’t know for sure.
  2. Fear of a Repeat
    • At the end of the 2014, I took my last vacation day to just relax at home; and I will never do that again. Having the house to myself during a weekday felt like being unemployed for a day and it was an unsettling reminder. I don’t like that the memory is so easy to recall and that it affects home and work. I’m in a good place now, why do I hold onto this old burden?!
  3. Still Conservative
    • I’ve always been a conservative spender and now I feel that it has gotten worse! Money doesn’t make you happy but when you don’t have it, now that can make you unhappy. I do a lot of safe investing now “just in case” because I relied upon it for 6 months. I want to be better prepared for what I hope will never happen again. I survived but that doesn’t mean it’d be easier the next time around.
Regardless of my past unfortunate events, I hope that my confidence will improve and that things will be different this time around. Here’s to many more future anniversaries!

How to Manage Project Budgets: 3 Tips from Spending Project Reserves

Money is a tough conversation, no matter who with, how much, or what it is being spent on. I always feel like the moment a dollar figure comes into play, things turn serious. Money puts a value on things and whether that is your time, your effort, or someone else’s effort and sometimes you may be surprised by the answer. This is beyond the usual make vs. buy (to DIY or not DIY) conversation into a whole other realm of is it worth it. Here are some trick questions that might help you get to the bottom of a money question.

  1. Would you pay 10% more for the same thing?
    • Sometimes simply putting the ball in the court of “more” is enough to tip the scale from a “need” to just a “nice to have”. This is a great technique if going from a $0 to a not-$0 amount say in an all-encompassing contract. If the extra cost of quality on something specific is worth an added fee though, go for it.
  2. If all of a sudden it was free (or highly discounted), would the value stay the same?
    • Sometimes the price tag alone can be a status symbol. Take a new 2015 BMW 7 series for example. Would it means the same if everyone could pick one up tomorrow at the cost of a 3 series? Probably not. Even if you still enjoyed the car, the uniqueness would be lost along with the desire for the competitive speed.
  3. Would you still need/want this in 6 months?
    • Does the age of something increase or decrease its importance? A bottle of wine might be worth a few percentage points more but a computer game would be on the discount shelves as old news. Maybe you bought an alternative or the development time has doubled unexpectedly and now the sunk costs make you rethink your original decision. Technology moves quickly so assess the long term implication of the cost… or cost savings.
In any case with money, keep in mind that whomever is on the other sides wants to spend less and make more, just like you. So try to compromise where you can and know the limits in which you aren’t willing to negotiate further. And never offer something and not deliver or flat out retract it. The trust you will lose it just not worth it in any deal.

Mascara and Projects: 3 Ways that this beauty product can inspire success in your next team event

Maybe it is strange finding INspiration in mascara but honestly it can come from anywhere when you aren’t looking! Putting on mascara is the final touch to getting ready for the day and the attention it draws to my blue eyes can be transformational. When working a project, transforming something old into something new requires a bit of flair sometimes too.
  1. Darker than expected
    • Eye lashes as not naturally black on most women. The color varies just as much as our hair colors with various shades of blonde and brown. Mascara is meant to draw attention to the eyes and is darker than normal. How does this related to projects? When a project goes “live”, we need to set expectations that it might require putting in more than 8 hours in a day. It means burning the midnight oil and working long into the dark of night to ensure the live environment matches the staging environment. It doesn’t mean doing this for months leading up to the project end, but timing the few days leading up to go-live to coincide with people’s schedules will help ensure that when you need just one more hour, someone is there to provide that needed fix.
  2. Longer than expected
    • It is a rare but ugly truth that I have seen more deadlines missed than achieved early or on time. Pressure from both sides of the coin will drive you to quote timelines closer than realistic. Don’t give in! Be realistic in setting boundaries and deadlines and add length when needed, just like the mascara. Everyone knows the difference in meeting and exceeding expectations of your manager and your client. Use a little mascara magic to stretch your project longer so that you don’t leave everyone hanging onto every fleeting second.
  3. Fuller than expected
    • Whenever people are involved in projects, there is a lot of unknown risk. People get sick, lack the experience, or flat out leave the project. Mascara brings to life the little hairs that make up a full eyelash, plumping up all of the invisible hairs in a way that makes you realize how many more influential pieces there are. Your project requires a fuller staff than you might expect too. Sometimes you don’t even know about approvals, compatibilities, or extra hands needed until after the project is in full swing. Do your research and apply a little motivation to bring those necessary pieces to light!

All of this is true… in mediation. Don’t use these techniques to exaggerated levels, but do use them to stick to your guns and show the face value of the project for what it is really worth. Every deliverable takes time and energy to make happen so do what you can to ensure its success and apply a little mascara when necessary. You will look good doing it too. 😉

Welcome to Business Travel : 3 Tips from a New Road Warrior

I’ve started traveling to client sites on a regular basis which means simultaneous more face time and less face time, one with clients and the other with family. It is an interesting give and take which makes the “work-life balance” definition even more skewed. I love the traveling honestly and can easily switch between “work hard hotel mode” and “lazy at home mode”. Others may have more difficulty so here are some of my mental tricks that might help you if you too travel frequently for business.
  1. Make home, home only
    • I know the first thing you want to do when you get home is relax, but before you do anything else, you should unpack and put away the suitcase. If you leave out the packed clothes and the suitcase, you and your family will see it and be reminded of how often you are gone. You don’t want to have one foot out the door when you are home.
  2. You are on their time
    • In the airport and on the plane, you do not have control over late passengers, the weather, or mechanically delayed flights. The moment I begin the traveling, I go into a zen state in which I practice believing that no matter what happens I don’t care and will wait until the traveling is done when I can control my own time again. Remember it is always better to have arrived late than not at all.
  3. Savor the alone time
    • Hotel rooms can be awkward and quiet, and planes can be stuffy and cramped, but the uncomfortable time you spend in these places is time you are not somewhere else (like with your family). Splurg on the glass of wine, watch that chick flick, take a nap. Do the “me things” in the small spaces you can so when you are home you can dedicate yourself 100% to the people that miss you.

This blog post? Written on my flight home on Southwest. Sharing my thoughts on this blog with you is how I enjoy spending my personal time. I hope it helps give you some insight into how you can mentally relax a bit more when those business trips call you away.

How to Give Better Feedback That Might Actually Be Implemented Next Time

I was given some of the best feedback on my speaking and presentation skills last week during a training program. The feedback giver was able to put into words how the audience perceived me, my ability to react to participant on the fly, and my manner as the expert in the room. I was happy to learn that the things my intentions were coming across! Apparently I am a compassionate and relatable teacher; I probably got that from my Girl Scout days.

If you are like me, you’ve been given good feedback and bad feedback. Some people never want to hurt your feelings and only say “you did great”. Others go into rants because they want you to perform just like them. How can you improve your own feedback giving skills? Here are some ideas:

  1. Stay objective
    • The number one mistake I’ve witnessed in feedback givers is that they are too specific to the situation at hand. They say things like “pause here”, “change this word here”, or “don’t forget to say this on this slide”. These small suggestions are so trivial that they aren’t helpful. Even if I remember those suggestions, it will probably throw off my natural cadence of speaking. Instead, stay objective and suggest “pausing more”, “stay in present tense”, and “go into more detail on this important topic”. These suggestions don’t get caught in the details and allow the individual’s own skills to shine through.
  2. Applicable to all situations
    • Feedback is only as good as its usefulness to apply to your next speech. Just like the specific feedback examples above, poignant improvements are only helpful if you are presenting that exact same speech again with the exact same environment. Instead, keep your feedback related to personality (how you smile, how much you ask the audience for questions, how fast you speak) and poise. These tips can help someone become a better and well-rounded speaker no matter who the audience or what the topic.
  3. Stay positive
    • No one wants a lecture in how they could do better after a stressful experience speaking in front of a crowd. Toastmasters teaches the sandwich method (one good thing, followed by one improvement, followed by a second good thing) but I think this can be taken a step further. If you are recommending someone speaks louder, give an example when the person did project their voice well during the speech. This constructive criticism all of a sudden seems obtainable because it turns a “start doing this” into a “do this more” which doesn’t sound negative at all!
I believe that honesty is always the best policy, especially on feedback. It is the only way you can learn and become better! What do you think? Any feedback on my blog posts? 🙂

3 Tips to Keep Going Past the Scary Parts of Unemployment (My Unemployment Story Part 4)

I hope you enjoyed reading my other posts about my challenges of going through unemployment in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Finally, Part 4 is the logistics of what I did to find that next job.

  1. Schedule your day
    • When you have a job, do you feel tied down to your work with deadlines and meetings? Your calendar and the hour-long blocks of time on it structure your day. If you are your own boss (aka unemployed), stay on track by doing the same thing! Get the most out of Google Calendar and block out time to do important things and silly things. Below is a picture of an example of my weekly to-do list and you can see I even have cleaning the house on there! Every little thing that you do is an accomplishment, so cross it off like you deserve it!
  2. Network everywhere
    • And I mean everywhere. I’m not lying when I say I used 3 of my friends to connect me to the hiring department at a company through their significant other. It may seem weird and like you are “taking advantage” of your friends, family, or acquaintances but really everyone wants to help where they can! Ask if they know anyone! Tell everyone what you are looking for!
  3. Define success for yourself
    • Without a 6-month review cycle and bonuses to work towards, you might feel a wave of “what’s the point” or “where am I going” during your job search. Do some soul searching and make it about you. Set 3-month and 6-month goals that are more than “get a new job”. I began learning a new language, German. I am writing a book so I made goals about how many chapters I’d finish this month. Then, when another month comes and goes you won’t feel so defeated.
Oh, and for heavensakes, get out of the house. Seriously. I loved living in my slippers 24/7 and not doing my hair every morning, but interviews are about your people skills and first impressions. Get out and talk to people and meet new people at least once a week. You don’t want to forget how to hold a conversation during a lull in a phone interview. 🙂 I hope these tips and my experiences helped you understand how unemployment is. Best of luck!
My Week 9 To Do List

The Best and Worst of Recruiters (My Unemployment Story Part 3)

One of the main reasons job seeking when unemployed is so difficult is because it is hard to maintain a positive attitude. Every time a recruiter calls you have to respond in a cheery voice and describe all of the great attributes you have without any self doubt. Many times, the person on the other end, the recruiter, can influence your attitude by testing your patience, forcing you through tough Q&A, or not sharing your enthusiasm. I bet it would be hard to be a recruiter and be verbally excited every day, but that is part of that job; you ARE the first impression a job seeker has of your company. I’ve had some good, interesting, and bad experiences and I think they are worth sharing.

  1. No response
    • After an initial phone screen, sometimes you hear nothing. Seriously, it is the worst. When the same job posting is on a website for 5 months and you thought you were in the running, how often can you repeatedly follow up with a recruiter with no response before it is rude? Once, I got contacted 4 times by 4 different people at a single company about a single position and not one of them followed up a second time. Do I want to work in that disorganization? No. Another time I flat out called asking about the status of the position and finally got the “we decided to pursue other candidates” answer, but the closure was totally worth it. The “we decided to go in another direction” answer is a tough one because you rarely know why but it is better than nothing. Don’t leave us hanging!!
  2. Conversationalist, or not
    • There are many types of recruiters. First are the “formal questions only” type. It is dry and you will get dry responses. I hate doing all of the talking because I want to learn about you as much as you want to learn about me! Two, the tactic of assessing what questions I ask is effective… as long as you have the answers. Third, talking with a recruiter that shows genuine excitement about finding a good fit will turn the interview into a friendly conversation. Thank you! My time and your time is valuable and we both want the same thing so why not talk about things we care about.
  3. Dangling carrot
    • What’s hard is the “we should be opening up a position soon”. Because my unemployment was around the holidays, I got postponed interviews and interesting stories that just dragged out for months. It is frustrating when I could start tomorrow. I know recruiters are trying to be encouraging but unless you get another contact to talk to, you need to move on. Circle back around in another month if you are still unemployed but don’t let them control you with an endless waiting game!

In short, recruiters that are honest is refreshing during the interview process. They can read your reaction to a question and understand your thought process when explaining a scenario. These recruiters return your calls within a week (Hitachi Consulting), send company fact sheets before your next interview (DaVita), and tell you whether you will like the hiring manager or not (Charter). (Yes, I just name dropped). Even though they didn’t hire me, these HR departments turned a headache into an enjoyable experience. (P.S. They should get a raise.) Keep reading for more advice about job hunting in Part 4!

    The End of Unemployment: My Story and Tips (My Unemployment Story Part 1)

    It is finally here! I have a job! I start next week and I couldn’t be happier to be contributing to society again. It wasn’t easy and I’m sure I’m not the only person that has (or will have to) go through this. So I want to share my experience and write a few posts about what I went through and how I got through it. Being unemployed is exhausting on many levels: emotionally, professionally, physically, and personally, and the only way to survive it is to believe you are constantly on the cusp of that next great opportunity.

    A few facts:

    • 25 weeks without a job
    • 150 job applications
    • 14 networking events
    • 10 personal contacts
    • 4 career fairs
    • 17 phone interviews
    • 5 in-person interviews
    • 2 emotional breakdowns

    What can you gather from this? Three things:

    1. I have these numbers
      • I know what these numbers are. Period. That means I kept track of what I did for each of those 175 days. Writing down your accomplishments as you go is important! It helps you know when to remind that recruiter again or check that top 3 company career page again. In case you didn’t know, in order to receive unemployment checks you do have to complete the minimum number of job submissions (for me it was 5) each week (and yes, I got audited and had to prove it).
    2. It is not easy
      • The hardest thing without a doubt is staying positive. I did go through tough money conversations, weight gain, avoiding old work friends, and more. Don’t feel guilty for feeling however you do. I felt it was impossible to find energy or fully relax. I even tried to have fun by trying T’ai Chi (bucket list, check!). It is a constant roller coaster with interview invites and rejections. You need to force yourself into some sort of balance in which can reward yourself and manage yourself. Visit family and friends out of town that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Sleep in and cry when you need it. Do whatever you want as long as your want to join the workforce again is the strongest desire and you actively work towards finding a new job all the time.
    3. Finding a job IS a job
      • You can definitely spend 40 hours a week applying to jobs. The truth is that you have nothing to show for it until it is all over. I didn’t laze around “happily living off the government’s dime”. I bet people surf Facebook on the job more than I did the past few months. Because no one has a manager when unemployed, active job seekers actually have 2 jobs to do: strategize as the boss AND do the work like an individual contributor. Oh, and you also need to be your own HR department for benefits and job satisfaction (self motivation).
    For more on my story, check out Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4! I blog about what to do if you know someone unemployed, what I found entertaining about HR, and what I did to earn that next job. And my first post with my reaction that very first week is here. I hope my experience can help you if ever face the trials of unemployment.

    A Book Review of Half the Sky

    Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
    by: Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

    What is the greatest untapped resource? Women. Did you know that the US is 68th in the world for the number of women that hold political seats? Want to know which country is #1? Rwanda – at 56%. This book is filled with personal gut-wrenching stories of the oppression of women and the terrible health and education conditions that these cultures face: gender discrimination, sex trafficking, forced prostitution, honor killings, child marriages, etc. I honestly almost stopped reading after the first chapter, and then again hearing about fistulas, but I found myself mesmerized by the passion these women have. Each story is about how one woman fights for her basic human rights and goes to school, learns to read and write, meets with other village women, starts a business, and begins changing village culture.

    The reason I like this book is because it argues that the number one way to solve poverty in these struggling nations is education, specifically girls’ education. By educating women, they gain the confidence to become acting member of society and they start handling family finances, practicing family planning, putting children’s health first, and increasing the GOP by contributing to the economy. Success comes more from these internal grassroots movements and by getting involved in small ways like funding micro-finance programs, writing your congressman, or get inspired and read (or listen to the audiobook) Half the Sky, or to watch the PBS special including testimonials of Hilary Clinton, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, and more.

    What can you do in the next 10 minutes to help? Click here to see about how you can travel, donate, volunteer, or simply spread the word!

    Oh, and make sure to take advantage of your own rights and VOTE!