Blog 53

Simon Carter

January 29th saw the second ever DPM UK conference which took place at the Comedy Store on Deansgate Locks. A DPM, for the uninitiated, is a digital project manager; these are people who manage projects that focus predominantly on the web, the mobile web and any devices that access the web. *phew*

Overall it was an insightful day and great to network and mingle with other project managers from around the UK. So, where on earth to start? Do I start with the presenters? Do I talk about the people I met? Do I talk about the things I learned?...Maybe I should start with the basics.

What it really boils down to is a software development project manager who also covers areas like content generation, design, and marketing to name but a few . To an old hand like myself though, it still looks very much like project management - we think about deadlines and milestones and making sure that our teams have everything they need in order to meet those deadlines. Did I mention the deadlines?

Enough of that though, so what was involved?

A day chock-full of talks by a variety of DPM's from all over the globe. The first talk was by Sam Barnes and really struck a chord, the title being "People are Weird, I’m Weird". Sam's talk got right to the point about accepting that everyone is different, and only by embracing and recognising those differences can we get some truly great work done. Sam also confessed to the crowd that he was an introvert and got some (quiet) cheers of support, myself included. Sam's point being that by recognising facts like these and embracing them leads to great things.

The next talk revolved around how MMA (mixed martial arts) led Rhodri Coleman to being a better project manager. The key points to take away that good project managers need to be tough, flexible and embrace change. I am not sure I would follow in Rhodri's footsteps in taking up MMA in order to refine my project management skills though! You will have to pardon me if I take a path that's gentler.

After lunch and a chance to meet up with other DPMs, we were straight back into the lightning talks. The lightning being that the talks were 10 minutes long rather than longer slots the keynote speakers had. Amongst the talks, Stephen Thomas introduced the audience to the fascinating suggestion of asking clients to pay per point of user story developed. This intrigued me as the models we are familiar with being fixed cost or time and materials. This merging of the two strikes me as an interesting combination and I shall be looking into this some more.

Following quickly on from this new idea was Rachael Ball's talk on working remotely as a DPM. Rachael works in an agency with offices around the world and manages teams in all four corners of the earth. She strongly advocated the 37 signals model of allowing remote work. With the tools at her disposal, as long as she is armed with a laptop and an internet connection, Rachael argued that any DPM is ready to take on the world! Rachael expanded the remote working point to those of us without such a global remit. A fascinating talk and more food for thought on challenging the status quo.

Once the lightning talks had finished we were in for a real treat: Meri Williams gave a fascinating talk on what her studies in artificial intelligence has taught her about project management. To try and summarise her talk into a few sentences wouldn't do it justice. The short version is that the gap between machine intelligence, learning, and project managing teams is not as wide as you think. I would like to take this opportunity to say that I for one welcome our new AI overlords.

In the best tradition, the conference saved the best until last. A talk on embracing chaos by Meghan Wilker and Nancy Lyons. I wish someone had recorded a video of this talk. The pair talked animatedly about what they call interactive project management. It would seem in the US what we refer to as digital they refer to as interactive, it put an interesting spin on the talk by challenging the language we use and the terms we take for granted. Their talk was informative and entertaining and they echoed the themes of the day. What they highlighted also was the importance of emotional intelligence as a project manager, that for all the technology and digital tools you may have access to, nothing beats having a strong sense of empathy and intuition for your team.

The day was over too quickly and left us all enthusiastic and with heads full of new ideas to talk about and try. I'm looking forward to next year's event already and who knows, perhaps present a keynote myself!

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