Life Hacks: Top Tips from Real Project Managers

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At Guidance, we’re proud to have a team of unflappable project managers who keep the trains running on time. Budgets, schedules, resource allocation – there’s nothing this crew can’t conquer.

That got us thinking: what kinds of systems and processes do these superstars deploy to get the job done at work and at home? To kick off this new series, we talked to Senior Project Manager and Certified Scrum Master Jade La.

How long have you been with Guidance?
Since January of 2012

What is your official title?
Senior Project Manager

What are your secrets for keeping Guidance projects on track?
The planning part is key. You’re always having to plan ahead, whether it’s setting timeline schedules for the team or communicating to the client what the team needs in order to get to a milestone. It prompts you to plan ahead so that they’re working on things that you need after hours. All these things come into play for a project manager. Does it means that we don’t sleep? Sometimes! [LAUGHS]

What kind of tools do you use? Do you have any favorites?
Tools are just tools. It’s the manner in which we use them [that makes the difference].

I’ll give you an example of when a tool was beautifully and perfectly used. It was Basecamp. There was a short timeline and I needed three websites to be designed within a brief amount of time. Having baseline to-do lists and calendar dates and all of that in Basecamp so that each of the design team members knew exactly what their to-do was, when it was due, all that stuff – that was beautifully done. When a tool is being used effectively, that’s when it’s my favorite!

The same is true of Assembla. If it’s used effectively by the developers, by the tech lead, by the PMs and by the client, then it’s great. I don’t have one single perfect tool. It’s whatever tool is being used effectively.

I know you’re an early riser. Tell me about your schedule. How do you structure your time?
My [morning] schedule is pretty consistent: gym, come home, play with my animals (whether I’m feeding them or walking them), and then I’ve got to take care of myself. 4:00 a.m. is usually my wakeup call. By 4:30 I’m in the gym. I get back home between 5:30 and 6 a.m. By 7:00 a.m. my carpool buddy picks me up. We get to the office sometime after 8, then I’m on calls pretty much all morning with my dev team, who might be in a different time zone. Towards the afternoon is when all meetings are done and then you get to [catch up on work].

How do you stay organized at home?
As far as paying the bills and doing the grocery shopping, that’s all me. Because I pay bills online, I’m very anal when it comes to crossing off the to-do list. As soon as a bill comes in, I make the payment just so I can mark “paid” on it. Done! That assures me that I won’t miss anything or get late fees.

For groceries, it’s about making sure the staples are there. What I do is [shop] on Saturday mornings when I get out of the gym. I’m done by 8:00 a.m. I have an hour break before Costco opens, then I head out to get all my grocery shopping done.

How do you handle family get-togethers and holiday shopping? Any good tips?
Family get-togethers are weekly. [We meet] every Saturday evening at my parents’ house because my mom always cooks a big meal. The grandkids come home, everybody comes home. So we see each other on a very regular basis.

For holiday shopping, we have a Google Spreadsheet. There are 11 nieces and nephews. We shop for all of the kids. The youngest is 4 and the oldest is 29. We make sure that they all have gifts.

At Thanksgiving dinner when we get together, the adults draw names so that we don’t have to buy everybody presents. The adults just get one Secret Santa gift each.

What’s the cutoff? Do you tell the kids “no more presents” when they turn 18? 
Not quite. My eldest nephew is 29. We finally switched him over. He’s also married. Technically you’re not a kid anymore if you’re married! J


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