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A crash course in project management

Last year, we began developing a new certification management system for the CSIA Certification program. When I was asked to assist, my first thought was, “Great! But how do we start?” Getting this project off the ground took a lot of hard work and focus on the part of everyone involved. Looking back I realize that it was also an opportunity for me to take a crash course in project management. These are some of the most important lessons I learned.

Collaboration was vital. From the beginning, it was clear that this was not a one-person assignment. Successful completion of this project called for a great deal of collaboration. We had a core group of staff and industry members who undertook the day-to-day work and it was incredibly helpful to be able to rely on each other for fresh perspectives as we moved through the assignment. At times, the ability to talk an idea out was the best way to solve a question at hand. We also relied heavily on member/industry input. After all, this was their certification program and so their time and expertise was essential.

Establishing deadlines improved our focus. Before jumping in to the main work of the project we took some time to set up a schedule and set deadlines. We started by determining a target project completion date. With our start and end dates in place we could fill in the rest of the schedule, deciding on target deadlines for different parts of the project, all the time moving toward our completion date. Having this schedule in place provided structure to the work and allowed us to plan ahead. Rather than getting overwhelmed by the project as a whole we were able to focus on meeting each deadline as it approached.

Flexibility was essential. For all of our planning we figured out pretty quickly that this project was going to change as we progressed. We absolutely had to be flexible! We adjusted our schedule a number of times and our collaborative approach to the project meant we experimented with several management structures along the way. Even now, after the system roll out has been completed, we are still making changes to documents and procedures as we learn what works and what doesn’t.
Being part of this project has definitely been a great lesson in project management! It was a challenging assignment, but by working collaboratively, setting deadlines and staying flexible we were able to bring the development of the new certification management system to a successful conclusion. As we move the new system into practice I will continue to learn from these important project management lessons.

What about you? Have you been faced with a big project recently? What tools did you find most helpful?

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For finance and accounting personnel, year-end tasks can be daunting — A checklist to keep you on track

Tasks and deadlines related to payroll

  • Review employee information that can affect W2 reporting such as name, address and social security number. Check for eligibility to your company’s retirement plan. Don’t forget about terminated employees. If they worked during the year, they will also receive a W2.
  • Many employers pay year-end bonuses. Make sure you schedule enough time for this task. Remember to remove discretionary deductions from the employee bonus checks such as health insurance, dental, etc.
  • If your company provides more than $50,000 in life insurance to employees, remember to tax the difference on their final check if you are not already doing this each pay period.
  • Many employers will be required to report the cost of their employer sponsored group health plan coverage on the employee 2013 Form W-2. This reporting is informational only, showing the value of the employee's health care benefits, and does not affect the employee's tax liability. Employers who filed 250 or more Form W-2s for the 2012 calendar year will be subject to the reporting requirement on W-2s for 2013.
  • If your company has disability plans and any employee has used these benefits during the year, you may have third-party sick pay to include on W2s. This also affects employer FICA and Medicare.
  • Print and distribute your W2s to employees no later than Jan. 31 of the following year.
  • 941 reports for the fourth quarter are due Jan. 31 of the new year. Remember tax payments are due before that based on your payment schedule.
  • Unemployment taxes are generally paid quarterly and will be due Jan. 31 of the following year.
  • Remember to file your quarterly unemployment report as well as your annual 940 (Federal unemployment). Both reports are due Jan. 31 of the following year.
  • IRS and state copies of W2s are due no later than Feb. 28 of the following year.
  • Verify your 1099 information for reporting. You should have been requesting W9 forms from your vendors throughout the year so you have their EIN on file. If not, take some time to get in touch with them to provide you with this information. 1099s are due to the vendors no later than Jan. 31 of the following year. State and federal copies are due no later than Feb. 28 of the following year.

New Year planning

  • It is recommended that employees review their W4 withholding and make changes if necessary.
  • Many employers provide pay raises at the beginning of the year. Before processing your first pay of the New Year, make sure you have the updated salaries. This could also include changes in discretionary deductions such as health care, dental, etc.
  • You will have received your new state unemployment rates in November-December. Make sure to update in your payroll system before processing the first payroll.
  • Update your sick and vacation pay prior to processing your first payroll.
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Inboxes and emails and tasks…Oh my!!

Working with several different clients means working with several different inboxes. More inboxes means more emails. More emails means more tasks to keep track of! Over time, I’ve learned how to make my inbox work for me and not against me.

My number one rule: I use my inbox as a to-do list and don’t let items pile up. I’ve heard several time management gurus talk about closing your inbox and only checking emails at specific times. I don’t believe in this. Members want answers and they want answers now. This doesn’t mean I constantly have my inbox open reading and responding to emails, it means that I monitor the subject lines as they pop up at the bottom of my screen. If it looks like something that A) I can easily respond to in under two minutes or B) needs immediate attention, I take care of it and then delete it. The remaining emails are on my “to-do” list, whether they are items that I need more time to take care of or those that just didn’t need an immediate response.

Secondly, “Waiting for Response” folders are lifesavers. If I’m sending an email that requires the person to respond as part of an important task, I blind copy myself. When it comes back to me, I drop it into my “Waiting for Response” folder for the appropriate client (to save a step, I could even set up a rule that says, “If I’m blind copied on an email that I send, go to this folder”). This way, I have one folder with everything that I am waiting on people for—much easier than searching through my sent/deleted items or trying to remember it all. It also keeps things out of my inbox/to-do list. When I’ve received a sufficient answer, I delete it from the folder. If something is hanging around in the folder for more than a few days, I know exactly who I need to follow up with.

To ensure that I don’t forget about items in my “Waiting for Response” folders, I change the settings so that it shows how many total messages are in the folder and not just how many are unread.

Lastly, Outlook inboxes have standard columns such as “From,” “Subject,” Received,” and “Categories.” For the items that are left in my actual inbox/to-do list, I add a column for “Notes” to keep track of the status of the task or important things I need to remember. For example, a board member might send me a lengthy email, but there is really only one task I need to complete. I call that task out in my “Notes” column rather than having to re-read the entire email to remember what it was.

These are just some of the tips I use to keep my inbox squeaky clean and manageable. What tricks do you use?

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Interviews and earthquakes: AMPED takes flight for global mission

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“Going global” has become quite the popular phrase and it’s a trend that cannot be ignored. With increasing resources to expand an organization’s reach to countries around the world, globalization is inevitable to stay relevant. But going global is about more than serving members from other countries and hosting international meetings. In order to truly identify as a global organization, you need to tailor your operations to a specific region. What exactly does this mean? It means that in order to really understand the members in a region, you need to fully comprehend the characteristics that define that particular region. Such characteristics include culture, language, law, technology and economics. Without a thorough understanding of these, it would be nearly impossible to serve members in a way that is truly beneficial to them.

As the global coordinator for one of AMPED’s international clients, I can certainly appreciate the various characteristics that define different regions around the world and make them distinctive; however, I’m not qualified to know each and every unique characteristic. What our client, the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), needed in the Latin American region was someone who spoke the language and could provide the expertise that AMPED was not capable of providing as a company based in the United States. With that goal in mind, AMPED President and Owner Lynda Patterson and I were off to Mexico to find our first regional coordinator in Latin America.

At first, traveling to Mexico City to conduct job interviews for what would be a part-time contractor may have seemed excessive. With the invention of Skype, why were we going to such lengths? Actually, we did hold Skype interviews initially; however, after one failed attempt to hire outside of the States based on a Skype meeting, we knew interviewing candidates in person was the right way to go. Not only did the in-person interviews prove our initial impressions wrong (the individuals we liked on Skype were not nearly as impressive in person, and vice versa), we also had the opportunity to see the candidates interact firsthand at an industry expo show held in Mexico City during our stay.

It was at the expo that I was reminded how important it was to be on location in Mexico. It was so exciting to see the responses by attendees and other exhibitors when they were told CSIA was opening an office in Mexico City. This was an important step toward becoming a global organization – to be genuinely perceived as a part of that country/nation/region.

It also gave prospective members confidence in our client’s organization. In fact, our time spent at the show concluded with some encouraging words by a prospective member and fellow exhibitor who said, “It’s unfortunate in Mexico that there are so many brilliant engineers who don’t have the resources they need to run a successful business.” With CSIA’s presence and dedication to providing custom-tailored benefits and resources in the region, these promising companies can take the next step toward improving themselves and increasing their success.

I suppose there could have been easier ways to accomplish this first step toward “going global,” but at AMPED we are committed to going the extra mile (literally) to assure quality and confidence in our team – even if it means traveling across borders or surviving earthquakes. (Yes, you read that right – there was an earthquake when we were there!) The success of this trip definitely gives CSIA encouragement and builds excitement to keep moving forward to become a global force worldwide.

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Sweating is for the gym – not for social media

sweat III

Managing social media is like working out. You know you should be doing it regularly, but it’s so easy to neglect when so many other tasks need our focus.

From day one, we at AMPED have made social media part of our marketing and communications strategy, opening and managing accounts in Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for all of our clients. And while we have seen impressive growth in our audience and impressions, I’ll be the first to admit it hasn’t always been a smooth process.

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