Something # 3

Something finished…

Reading by Moonlight – How books saved a life” by Brenda Walker (no link to amazon as I think the book must be out of print. I got a copy on ebay…)

It is not often that a book leaves me a little speechless, but this is one of them. There were so many pockets of beauty throughout the book I would catch my self letting out a big-ole happy sigh before turning the page. The memoir follows the diagnoses, treatment and recovery of Brenda through Breast Cancer and the books she choose to support the journey. It is a wonderful read and the writing is outstanding! Highly recommend this book and must thank Maggie MacKellar for suggesting I check this one out.

Something simple…

I love the vintage look in this video – made for a bit of fun – bicycles.

Something watched…

“My week with Marilyn” is a beautiful film and Michelle Williams killed it~ By the end of the movie I was quiet enamoured by the star.

Something interesting…

I’ve often wondered if the term “vegie-quarium” was real and of course, it is not. I use this term to describe myself. I eat fish, but no read meat and next to no poultry (unless eating out and fish is not on the menu).

I came across these definitions and was pretty interested to know now only do variations of vegetarian diets exist, but they have scientific names.

Ovo-lacto vegetarians: those who do not eat any meat, but do eat dairy and egg products.

Ovo-vegetarians: those who eat meat and eggs, but not dairy.

Pescatarians or aquatarians: those who cut out most meats, except for fish <— this is me!

Flexitarian: those who mostly keep to a vegetarian diet, but will eat meat occasionally.

Vegans: those who do not consume, and sometimes do not use or wear, any kind of animal products.

Read more:

Something helpful…

Concentration – How to stay focused –

Something even more helpful…

How to stay productive after work –

Something achieved….

Read two books this week – yay! So here is the second one 🙂 Maggie McKellar’s “When it Rains” I devoured in two nights. I loved it and at the end of it I sent a message to the author signing off my note with “…and now I want a pony!” Beautiful book.

Remain Calm through the storm

“I don’t know how you do it – you never looked stressed!”

I hear this statement fairly often from colleagues and I would like to point out that I do get stressed on occasion – I’m not a statue – however the difference is that my stress is not often visible. I utilise a few little tricks to insure I remain professional and present in the face of a crisis.

From the outside, a calm colleague negotiating the point of battle during a monumental unexpected crisis is far more valuable than someone walking in circles pulling their hair out screaming “we are finished!”

The latter does nothing for the team morale nor is it a productive use of your time.

Whether beneath the calm exterior you are panicking can be your secret. It is the exterior that is important during crisis management and the words that come from you as the teams fearless leader. Your team/collages need a clear plan of action with defined steps all articulated in a calm voice.

Try not to buy into the drama – this is a most critical time and drama will not serve you.

If you need to rant and rave, that is fine, step outside, go to the bathroom, or wait until after work hours. Do your venting privately.

A panicky leader is not someone I would put my faith in – would you?

Here are three quick tricks to keep up your sleeve when disaster comes a-knocking.

1. Breathe. 

Simple yet effective.

While your colleague outlines the magnitude of the problem, the unfolding disaster or explains that the world as we know will end in 15 seconds unless we pull the rabbit out of the hat, just breathe.

Breathing is an amazing tool for keeping calm under pressure.

Deep breaths keep your pulse low and slow the nervous system which is probably feeling like an Olympic swimmer on the starting block wanting to explode with adrenaline right now.

Remember to breathe.

And then… breathe again.

2. Take a moment.

Whether you are new to your management role, or an old hand at the trade, you may not have the solution immediately in mind.

Sometimes there are different elements and risks to consider.

I suggest you take a moment. And take that moment while incorporating trick number one, breathing.

Once the problem has been outlined to you and you have all the information you require, breathe in, then out, and claim your moment.

If you need longer than a few seconds, great,  ask to have 5 minutes (or 10, 15, however many you need). Go away and return with your ideas.

I have never experienced someone not happy to wait a few minutes.

Your colleague may feel calmer just voicing the problem and will go away to think it through themselves for a short while. When you return with your ideas, you have a calmer team member /colleague to deal with plus you will have a clear head.

3. Detachment

Stress is very emotional and therefore someone who is feeling high levels of stress is feeling a high level of emotion.

Emotion during a business crisis is often a tricky one to manage and probably the least helpful.

Insecurities come out, personal viewpoints and opinions, blame, accusations – all manner of emotionally triggered responses.

My suggestion is to keep detached. Listen to the concerns but listen like you are Switzerland – you are neutral territory. Don’t succumb to the emotions and the drama.

The people involved have a right to feel their emotions, but they are not your emotions.

Keep some detachment from the situation so you can look at it objectively. If you are too heavily involved and cannot step back and view the situation without emotion, ask someone who can – ideally someone not involved directly who can provide an outsiders opinion.

Outline the problem and your thoughts on a solution and ask for their objective viewpoint.

Being able to detach from the problem and view the situation objectively, while breathing and perhaps taking a moment will help create a bubble of calmness around you. You are engaged, you are present, you are poised and solution focused.

You remain calm through the storm.

The Art of Project Management in a creative space

Sonya Madden

Sonya Madden – Senior Creative Project Manager

So you have been given a project brief or scope of work (SOW), the deadline, the budget and your team has been assigned.

The triple constraint (time, money, scope) are locked in.

You schedule your initial project meeting to discuss the SOW with the team… your creative team…. and watch as one by one they articulate their ideas and concerns… you begin to feel your perfect project plan slipping through your fingers like sand.

You begin to think that bringing this project in on time and within budget is an impossible task and that they need to assign the project to someone else, anyone else, just not you!

I’m here to reassure you that it is possible to succeed and that you are the perfect project manager for this job!

Project Management within the creative industry is my area of strength. I have been working in this space for over a decade.

I have managed projects for print (newspaper, reports, branding, etc.) CD-ROM and DVD multimedia, broadcast and web. The core fundamental principles apply as with any project management job but for creative projects, and therefore creative team members, some of the fundamentals need to bend.

Below are my top tips (not all, just some) for insuring your project and your team hit deadline and stay within budget…. and it insure the process is enjoyable for all people involved. The last thing we want is a project manager that no one wants work with again.

Tip # 1. Mutual Respect.

Yes project management is about insuring the budget is tracking and milestones are achieved, but within constraints often emerges the brightest ideas, and those ideas may require a little flex on your part. Creative people think outside the box – or more correctly, outside the spread sheet! In this instance, the box is most likely what you have been commissioned/asked/told to deliver – or what your client is expecting the final outcome to be/look like. You may find that the creative teams solution is not what was originally requested, in fact it could be better (well hopefully it is better!). Be prepared to go in and do battle for your creative team and sell the new idea to your stakeholders. Just as you have your strength as a awesome project manager, your team members each have their own strengths and they should not be ignored or overlooked. Be prepared to support their ideas (providing it can be done with the most critical element, i.e., time or budget) and present them with confidence to the stakeholders. Your team will respect the project manager that respects them. You will find that as the project progresses, having your teams respect will most likely result in team members working those extra few hours on a Friday, or staying that late night to insure a milestone is achieved, and do so without complaint.

Tip # 2. Identify your contingency and mark it “for emergency use only” 

We will assume your project budget is already defined and approved (I will discuss how in another post as I do not want to get side tracked). You have your days and dollars and the break down for what is to go where. At the start of the project it all looks achievable and lines up perfectly.  Your project kicks off. Numbers begin to shuffle around accommodating the creative team’s brilliant idea. People begin to make assumptions rather then check facts. Your client changes the scope. Your spread sheet starts to become redundant. Now if you did NOT set aside your contingency right now, things would be looking pretty ugly. However at the start of the project you identified a contingency budget that was no less than 20%. That 20% was set aside. It was not available for the first half of your project. Your team works within 80% of the original budget. All is going well and you reach the last quarter of the project life cycle and then ‘IT’ happens.

‘It’ is when the developers notice a massive bug in the system which will require hours to resolve. Or your designer spots a typo in the files already sent to the printer that are going to need amendments. Rely on the fact there will be something unexpected and then take a deep breath and know you were prepared. Your 20% contingency can be utilised for an emergency re-print of those flyers, or extra programming time to iron out the kinks. Whatever is needed, in setting aside the time/budget from the beginning – you have it covered! And heh, if you have a dream run with no little surprises towards the end, then that 20% is your profit. Bonus!

Tip #3. When time is not your friend

Not all projects have hard deadlines (and for those new to the world of project management, a hard deadline is a end date that cannot be missed under any circumstances – for pain of death!! kidding). Hard deadlines are fairly common in the creative industry. Entire marketing campaigns or product launches across multiple mediums often run simultaneously – all hinged on a unified launch date, or hard deadline. In these instances a deadline cannot be missed. This is only one example. You may be responsible for a project with no dependencies and therefore your stakeholders are comfortable moving the deadline to insure a better product or end deliverable (heaven!). In either instance do not overlook simple things like team members taking leave, public holidays and or festive seasons when scheduling and managing timeline’s. I cannot tell you how many times I have committed to delivering a milestone over a festive season that was ‘crucial’ to the client only to receive an out of office reply saying they are unavailable for the next 4 weeks. Very frustrating! Your stakeholder’s availability will be as important as your team member’s availability. If you have the rare scenario of a friendly client who takes no leave and a team committed to working through holiday periods, then I envy you, but remember, sometimes unpredictable things just happen. For example, your creative lead is knocked out with the flu. Or your client realises his budget evaporates EOFY (end of financial year) and requires the final deliverable 2 weeks ahead of schedule. Good PM’s are one step ahead of the game and have enough movement in their timeline to accommodate whatever eventuates. Add some padding to time frames while scheduling. Factor in downtime due to holidays and or peak seasons. Check your client’s schedule. Make time your friend and be prepared.

Tip #4. Quality Assurance

Let me first state that efficiency does not excuse sloppiness. Efficiency is just that, being efficient. It does not allow for things to be missed and there is only one way to avoid this… Do not skip testing or QA (quality assurance) process EVER! A helpful tip with testing – have your testing process undertaken by someone who has not worked on the project previously = fresh eyes. Ask a colleague to look over it, or click through the content. Ask them to make note of anything they think is not working correctly, or appears a little off, or perhaps does not work at all. Get your office junior to scan through the text to see if any typos or spelling mistakes have been missed. If you are delivering a digital product that supports both Mac and PC environments, then make sure you test the product on both systems (sounds simple, but so often not done). Do not short cut this phase. This is the last chance for your project deliverable to get a once over before leaving your hands. Nothing is more deflating to an excited client then spotting a spelling mistake in his long awaited new business cards, or a wrong logo in the media presentation your team spent months developing. Taking the time to test, and to have ‘fresh eyes’ test for you will save you a horrid scene in the boardroom that leaves you wishing you could dissolve into a puddle under the table. Quality assurance is just that, assuring your project deliverable is QUALITY! Test and review! Don’t skip it.

Tip #5 Celebrate completions!

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a projects completion/sign-off/delivery can slip by without any recognition very easily but because you are a star creative project manager, this won’t happen on your project! Whether it is a simple “drinks after work”, or a morning tea, or a big blow out dinner and party – the end of every project should be marked. This is an opportunity for people to celebrate their part on completing the project while debriefing informally. You may find team members seek you out to offer insight about things that could be done differently next time, or something they think worked particularly well. By all means have a drink and celebrate too but do not get lashed. Listen and observe and learn. These people worked on the same project as you but all had a very different view point. You may discover something that will help make the next project an easier run or a bigger success. Your team worked hard. Let them have a bit of fun and mark the occasion. It is also a nice way to conclude a project with a high note regardless of what went down during the project’s life cycle.

Project Management is not for everybody and not something everyone is good at. Some people are just naturally inclined to administration and mentally juggling things around – like me! Creative project management is often overlooked because the process from the outside appears quiet organic. Do not be fooled. Project Management fundamentals are there, they have just been adapted.

If you are new to the world of project management, as the saying goes, first know the rules before you break, or in our case, bend them.

I recommend completing Project Management training at either a graduate school or college. You may find that allot of this material is directed towards the construction industry (as I discovered) but that is fine – the core principles are the same – we just have the advantage of less threatening stakes at risk.

If you would like my recommendations on courses, books or examples of project management please leave your comments below.

I am also open to any feedback, insights, ideas or challenges to this material.

But for now, happy managing!

Something… #2

Something good…

I have been donating to KIVA for almost two years. During that time I have had helped almost 10 individuals start their own business, or grow their existing business, in their world countries. Unlike most charities, KIVA asks you to ‘loan’ the business owners funds (from as little as $25) which they will endeavour to pay back to you as their business grows. I give to a number of charities on a regular basis but none make me feel like I am contributing as much as KIVA does.

Something finished…

I finished reading this book last night and loved it! It was a surprise in terms of content. I picked the book up for $2 which was great – I had been hunting for the book and managed to stumble across it at a book sale. I then read half of it during the evenings enjoying the descriptions of the Camino walk and it’s landscape and the people Shirley met on her journey. The second half of the book however blew my mind. Shirley begins to have visions and past life journey’s which are fascinating. I read the entire second half of the book last night. I could not put it down. Great combination of travel adventure and self discovery.

Something to hear….

If you live in Australia it is impossible to escape the television sensation “The Voice” – this is the winner Karise Eden singing one of my favourite songs.

Something watched…

Another surprise for my week – the surprise being I actually really enjoyed this movie! It is a little lengthy, almost two hours, but the only reason I noticed was I didn’t start watching till late in the evening. There is a nice mixture of several stories playing out and then a great ending to bring them together. It’s not an especially light film and has a very dramatic beginning but it is certainly entertaining.

Something fantastic…

I had recently been pondering putting together a list of 100 blogs that would help you lovely people, however thanks to Tom Ewer a fabulous list already exists! Click his logo below to see the second edition of…

The 100 Blogs You Need in Your Life


Elizabeth Gilbert – Just keep showing up!

Just a quick post to share this inspiring video with you. I watched this video twice to make sure I  didn’t miss anything! I would like to thank the lovely Lisa Silverstone for posting it originally on facebook. 

Most of you will recognise “Elizabeth Gilbert” as the author of “Eat Pray Love” which is a great read and one of my favourite movies. I was so excited to be staying in Ubud in 2010 after the movie had been out in the world 6 months prior although most of the locals then just considered me to be yet another “western woman in search of spirit”. My scheduled trip later this year to Bali will be again in this lovely part of the world…. but back to the video!

My favourite quote from Elizabeth’s presentation is thi;

‘Ole!’ to you, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.” (Elizabeth Gilbert) 

Pow! Enjoy the video – courtesy of TED.

Sticking Power

What is sticking power?

Is the power to persevere a weakness or a strength?

How do you decide when to stick and when to cut-and-run?

Many conversations of late with friends and family are circling around a common theme – the power to stick or the option to run.

Whether it be discussing the options of quitting a paying job to go entrepreneur, or weighing the pro’s and con’s of relocating house, we all seem to battle with the dilemna of when to stick it out and when to let something go and move on to greener pastures.

So how do you decide which option applies to you?

(I would like to offer you full disclosure here that I am a mix of both stick and run. I call on each option depending on the circumstances.)

1. Identify the root

Once you identify the root of the issue/problem/challenge/dilemma/decision you can then identify your best response.

Lets use an example. Meet Charlie – my ex-RSPCA Greyhound X Bull Mastif. Charlie is 5 and half years old.

Charlie Forrest


I can tell you with 100% integrity that sometimes I have such an unnatural ability to ‘stick’ it blows even me away – and Charlie is my living, breathing example.

You may look at that photo and see an adorable pooch giving you his “shh… you can’t see me look…” well don’t be fooled!

Charlie is what most people call ‘unlovable’ and I have been asked/told/demanded many times to put him down. (I can assure you there is no chance of that happening.)

I have persevered with this dog fully aware I kept going long after many would have called it quits. Charlie is a great dog…now… but during his first 3 years he almost broke me… although for me it was ‘almost’ he did successfully break or destroy quiet a large number of furniture items, other animals, yards, clothes, anything that he could see was fair game. Charlie has had three trainers, 6 relocations, and many trips to the vet with self inflicted injuries. He is nothing short of HARD WORK.

He cannot be left alone longer then 12 hours nor can he be kennelled. (Think “Marley and Me” instant separation anxiety)

Even after all that though, I knew that in adopting Charlie I chose to give him love and shelter for his life time however long that was. I don’t do halves. It was all or nothing and I went all in. At the time this was no light decision on my end and as such I have stuck it out. Why?

Because at the end of the day the love I have for Charlie is unconditional. I love Charlie. That is the root of my power to stick…. and my power to forgive him his nature allot of the time *giggle*

2. Look at the ‘easy’ option and then REALLY look at the easy option.

We’ll stick with above example of Charlie for now. Would not having Charlie in my life be easier? Initially, Hell yes!

Now lets look deeper…Would giving up Charlie voluntarily, or putting him down be easier? Absolutely not!


Because I could not live with the guilt of knowing I destroyed a life purely because of convenience PLUS I know I would only seek another dog in time. I am a animal lover. It is my nature.

In relation to your situation, look at what appears to be your easy option (to stay, to go, to do, to not-do). See it sitting there tempting you, whispering sweet nothings into your ear….

Now really look at it!

It may only be a short term fix and may trigger it’s own problems in the long term which may or may not be worse then the original problem.

If the decision is enough to worry you, it is worth looking at all your options and looking as hard as you can. Of course we cannot predict the future but knowing the possible outcomes will not only help inform your choice, but help you stick to it.

Sonya Madden and Charlie

3. Look at the hard option – identify why is it hard?

Are you classifying this option as hard because there is fear behind the decision? Could this small hurdle in-fact be opening the door to some opportunities for real growth and or development? Is the short term discomfort worth more or less then the long term gain?

Often we are too quick to classifying options as “too hard” without really looking into whether that is true or not. Is hard in fact just different?

An example of a decision I made recently around whether to do a MBA and which one was quiet easy to separate into “easy” and “hard” options. Hard was to do the MBA. Easy was to not do it. Hard was to go for the college that offered the best learning experience but the most time intensive screening process.  When I looked at the benefits of the ‘hard’ option against the easy option, it made the decision to go the hard route, or more correctly, the different route, much easier. I dove in confident that I was making the best choice for me – and I chose to grow and progress because in this example, easy was to remain unchanged.

4. Is it currently serving you?

Once again drawing on my experience with satan-pooch (ha! ha!), does keeping Charlie serve me? Absolutely. I don’t need to go into the details as to why – anyone who has owned a pet knows their love is unconditional and hard to beat..sometimes even by people (ssssh!). And Charlie has seen me through many large life changes (the biggest ones!) . I have shed tears into his neck countless times. I have lay next to him in emotional despair and woken to find myself rebalanced. He is grounding. But lets flip the question around.

Would not having Charlie serve me? Well not having him would most likely be not having a dog. Yes it is possible that would be beneficial (easier to plan holidays would be one HUGE benefit) but I have been without pets in the past. I last a few months and then I’m seeking their comfort and support again. I have also been without Charlie for 6 months due to relocation issues and the entire time my heart ached. I counted down the days until he and I were reunited. So for me, I believe even after all the drama and hard work, keeping Charlie serves me more then not keeping him.

4. So, stick or cut?

So you have located the root of your issue/dilema/decision crisis and therefore know the easy option and the different (not using the word hard) option.

Which one will serve you the most?

You know the answer… just let go of all the “what if’s” and go for it!

And a small tip for your journey: At the end of the day, there is no such thing as a wrong decision. Its just a new path.

Sonya Madden & Charlie