The Project Management team at AYC Media were fortunate to participate in the Digital PM Summit from October 12-13, 2015, here in Philadelphia. This conference is the largest of its kind, targeted specifically at the project management community in the digital space and focuses on connecting the group, talking about daily project challenges we face and sharing in solutions. To no one’s surprise the event (which is planned by PMs) was super organized and consisted of presentations, breakout sessions and workshop talks, all centered around how we manage projects/clients/teams from all perspectives.
While I cannot replicate the euphoria of 300+ (organized) problem solvers convening, I can share the highlights and general wisdom of our industry leaders. It’s rather humorous to observe a group of Project Managers at an organized event with attendees showing up on time, taking notes digitally or traditionally and generally over-attentive with enthusiastic participation. It’s okay. We know. PMs are nerds and we like to learn!
Nancy Lyons, CEO at Clockwork kicked the event off with a talk titled “Own It: Unleash Your Inner Intrapreneur. This was my second time hearing Nancy speak, and she did not disappoint. The perfect opening talk, Nancy motivated the room with honesty, integrity, sarcasm and a little PM gospel. Nancy defined an Intrapreneur as “A person inside an organization who takes risks to solve problems and grow business.” Highlights of her talk included asking the group to challenge themselves to be Intrapreneurs by doing the following:
- Take Initiative with relationships, conversations and ideas.
- Take Ownership. Treat the company, its reputation and its future like it’s your own.
- Let Go of Ego. Don’t hog the spotlight. When we all win, we all win.
- Be Focused. And Open. Have your eyes on your goals, but stay aware of what’s happening around you.
- Don’t Give Up Easily. You won’t win every time and you will definitely fail. That’s okay.
- Always Add Value. Showing up isn’t enough, think about bigger contributions.
- Think Strategically. Moving something through the pipeline requires careful thinking.
- Be Humble. No one wants to follow a jerk.
Rob Harr, Vice President of Sparkbox, captured the room’s attention with a talk titled “Managing a Project from the Last Responsible Moment”. We don’t have unlimited time in a project to be responsible? Yikes, you captured our attention! Rob defined the Last Responsible Moment (LRM) as:
- “A strategy of not making a premature decision but instead delaying commitment and keeping important and irreversible decisions open until the cost of not making a decision becomes greater than the cost of making a decision.”
- Decisions made early in a project are risky. Please note this is NOT a justification for procrastination
- Projects don’t fail for technical or design reasons, they fail because of the people involved
- Embrace the constraints, leverage the constraints and decide as a team what to experiment with on a project
- Communication is the most important part of making any project work
And for one of the best tips of the whole conference, Rob taught us one very important note: It’s ok to punt to the future you. As in, “No I don’t have the answer to your project question but future Natasha, she will absolutely have the answer!”
Paul Boag is a User Experience (UX) consultant who helps companies “adapt to the changing needs of digitally savvy audiences”. He opened Day 2 with an insightful reminder that PMs by nature hold a range of perspectives and this equips us to be prime champions of the user’s experience. He noted we as PMs should account for the gaps between experiences (websites and apps) and design for this gap, ensuring consistent UX. Paul also highlighted that it’s the Project Manager’s job to provide “outstanding digital tools for our users and our business” and argue for proper thinking, timelines, tools and teams. He encouraged us to stop thinking about projects as finite timelines and to observe the user after a project launches. I really enjoyed this quote from him: “UX is like a garden. It improves over time. Keep tending it regularly.”
One of the most engaging talks was by Adam Connor and Adam Irizarry, who spoke about “Discussing Design Without Losing Your Mind”. This talk focused on how to make design feedback more productive and guide team conversations about the product that you are making.
They provided a framework to guide the conversation:
- What was the creator trying to achieve?
- How did they try to achieve that?
- How effective were their choices?
- What is or isn’t what they did effective?
Tips for giving a critique:
- User a filter
- Don’t Assume
- Don’t Invite Yourself
- Lead with Questions
- Talk about Strengths
Tips for receiving a critique:
- Think before responding
- Set the Foundation
And some rules to follow:
- Avoid problem solving, keep it as analysis to gather more information to get you on the right track
- Everyone is equal
- Everyone's a critic, everyone should participate to avoid miscommunication down the road
- The designer is responsible for next steps. Don’t rush to make decisions about what you’re going to change. Allow design team to process feedback and think about next steps.
The conference ended with a talk by Denise Jacobs. Denise has a title I love, referring to herself as a Creativity Evangelist! She did a fantastic job of inspiring and wrapping up the full event, touching on points from all the previous speakers. Denise reminded the audience that “Creativity is not a talent. It’s a way of operating.” She encouraged a growth mindset (learning, willingness to fail, curiosity, expansion) over a fixed mindset (perfect, talent, comparison). How do you change from fixed mindset to growth, you ask? Listen for your fixed mindset voice, recognize that you have a choice and talk back with your growth mindset voice: “I can learn to do this with time and effort...Most successful people have had failure over time.” Denise encouraged us to take Growth Mindset Actions by adopting a beginners mind, rediscovering the familiar or learning something completely new. She preached “Approach everything with openness and eagerness. Continue to increase your knowledge and expand yourself.” Denise shared The Headphone’s Rule which admittedly I used to break all the time to communicate with team members. Her talk was incredibly inspiring and I found myself reflecting on myself, how I interact with team members in our work space and how to grow, both as a PM and an individual.
Thank you to the DPM Summit and attendees for a truly fantastic event. It was the perfect combo of education, reflection and community sharing. It’s incredibly encouraging to meet people in our field and have them generally care about helping you solve challenges. I love to be reminded that the issues we face in the project battlefield are industry wide challenges which we can help each other solve by attending events like this conference.
I’ll end with a quote by Sam Barnes that really resonated with me: “You should be as much of a champion for your clients as you are for your own company.”