Blog 53

As the newest member of the Degree 53 project team, I was really excited to be going to my first ever Deliver Conference. I had been told a little about what to expect from my colleagues - some of who were attending for their 6th year running - and I couldn’t wait for a day of lightning talks from experienced project managers in the digital and tech community.

Here’s a brief round up of all of the speakers from the day.

Stephen Thomas - Zen & The Art of Project Management

“All project management is suffering” was Stephen’s opening line of the first lightning talk of the day, and judging by all of the nodding heads of the PMs in the audience, there weren’t many who disagreed!

Project managers are constantly having to predict the future, all of the possible outcomes and worst case scenarios. Stephen believes that this ‘gap’ between our expectations and the reality of what we actually get is apparently where the suffering lies.

This, and other aspects of project management, such as managing client expectations and forecasting budget, can lead to stress. It came as no surprise to many that Project Management is ranked up there with the most stressful occupations.

Stephen gave us tips on how to reduce our stress, such as adopting a growth mindset, daily meditation (to stay focused on the present and not live in the anxiety of the unknown future - something I’m really interested in!), and by learning to recognise and accept the things you cannot change, whilst developing the courage to change the things that you can!

Most importantly, he wants us all to recognise that, as a PM, you are NOT your project! The vast majority of project statistics aren’t “perfect”, and so you can have a project that isn’t “perfect” and still be a great PM-what a relief!

Vicky Walsh - Points Make Projects

Next up was Vicky, a senior project manager at CPL Online, who wants us to break free from the “A project is a project is a project” mentality.

Most PMs have probably looked round the office at least once in their careers and wondered how one of their colleagues was able to juggle the same number of projects with ease, while they felt like we were playing catch up every day (or vice versa). Well, Vicky’s “Not all projects are created equal!” mindset may offer one reason as to why. Vicky uses a points system to score projects in different categories in order to calculate the true PM workload of the project, not just judging it by hours sold or length of time.

It really highlights how one project can actually be the equivalent PM workload of two or three other projects, and how you can predict and therefore plan for this upfront. This is so much better than getting stuck into a project and then realising it takes up half of your working day in PM time!

My colleagues and I all agreed that this was a really useful way of looking at things and could be helpful to us in assessing and sharing workload equally amongst the project team. In fact, we’ve already started looking into implementing it into our process!

Andy Tabberer - Things We Talk About When We Talk About Quality

“The cost of quality is the expense of doing things wrong” - Phil Crosby.

We’ve probably all got a story or two about when a company we have worked for has had to pay the price of poor quality.

Andy talked about the challenge of creating a quality mindset within an agency and gave us some tips to creating an environment where people want to be involved and do their best work. It starts with communication; creating open and collaborative discourse where people feel able to share and voice their ideas in a safe environment in order to define what quality is, together. Then, comes setting shared goals; what does quality look like to everyone? Next is Action; what do we need to see and how do we intend to get there? And finally, retrospection; did we do what we set out to do, and how can we improve this going forward?

We are always trying to improve and evolve our processes, so Andy’s talk gave us some good points to think on.

Sophie Brydon - How to Survive a Hybrid Project & Live to Tell the Tale

Managing a 100% agile project might be the ultimate dream to some of us PM-geeks, but for PMs working with vastly different customers who all have vastly different needs, it’s not always realistic.

Sophie Brydon, senior PM at Orangebus, talked us through how to combine all of the things we love about agile with the things clients love about waterfall to create a hybrid project that won’t make us lose sleep at night.

Most of the suggestions Sophie had about improving the way projects are run are the things that we already do here, at Degree 53, on a daily basis, so while it didn’t really teach us anything new, it did a brilliant job at highlighting for me just how effective the processes we have here are. It also reconfirmed how great it is that as a project team, we are encouraged by management to speak up about things we feel could be improved, done differently and given the opportunity to change them.

Laura Lancaster - Using Your EQ to Deliver

Laura began her career as a developer before progressing up the ranks to Senior Delivery Manager for Manchester Airport Online. Having worked  in the tech industry for 20 years, Laura knows the importance of using emotional intelligence to effectively manage a project team consisting of so many different personality types in order to deliver great projects.

Laura defines emotional intelligence as the ability to identify, use, understand and manage emotions, and said in order to cultivate your emotional intelligence, you must work on your self-awareness, empathy, motivation, self regulation and social skills. Some ways that we can actively engage our EQ in managing a team are by actively listening to people, helping and guiding people to come to their own conclusions and solve their own problems (instead of jumping straight and telling them how to fix it), keeping a positive attitude as you set the tone for your project team, saying sorry when wrong and by remembering to give feedback to team members - both positive and negative!

Laura was also a big advocate of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in order to continually grow as a person and as a PM.

Natasha Sayce-Zelem - Anything But Fluffy

Natasha’s talk was definitely the highlight of the day for me. I was hooked on what she was saying from the moment she started speaking, and looking round the room it was clear that she had really encaptured the whole audience.

Natasha is the Head of Tech at Sky, and also the founder of ‘Empowering Women with Tech’ - who aim to educate and empower people working in Digital, Technology & Science, and to create a support network for women wanting to get into the industry. From the way she delivered her talk, it was clear to see just how passionate she was about what she does, and about affecting change within the industry.

Natasha talked us through the importance of “soft skills” within the industry, which are so often overlooked and ignored for “hard skills” when hiring, and how this has such a negative effect on the industry as a whole. Soft skills - or as Natasha likes to call them, “Human Skills”- are the personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people, and are critical skills to have in order to get the best out of your team.

According to Natasha, communication is the number one skills gap in the tech industry. To fix this, the tech industry should focus on hiring people with more emphasis on soft skills, and companies should work to nurture and develop these skills in people. Natasha believes the industry as a whole does not focus enough on getting people from other industries, and doesn’t place enough value on transferable skills.

What Natasha was saying felt really relevant for me, as I am not only new to Degree 53, but a newcomer to the digital and tech industry entirely. It made me feel very lucky that I’ve joined a company that values transferrable skills and is willing to develop people from other industries.

Paul Harding - From Disengagement to Practical Value

Paul Harding, an Agile Coach at BookingGo was next up, talking to us about the frequently overlooked project retrospective, and just how valuable it is to growth and development. No retrospective means no opportunity to improve and that is no good! Paul’s talk didn’t really teach us anything new, as here at Degree 53, we are all about the project retrospective, but it did serve as a bit of a reminder that it might be time to review our retrospective process in order to keep it fresh and to keep the whole team engaged. We’ve actually updated our retrospective in the week since the conference, so that’s another big positive to come out of the day.

Sharon Steed - Creating Cultures of Empathy

Sharon developed a stutter in childhood, and for a long time, the fear of not being able to communicate what she wanted to and the judgement from others stopped her from talking entirely. She decided that in order to break free from this fear, she had to face it head on, and so she started public speaking and has since then given presentations at events all over the world.

Sharon talked about creating cultures of empathy in workplaces and believes that empathy drives every company’s bottom line. According to research, 92% of employees believe empathy is undervalued and 90% of employees are more likely to stay with a company that emphathises with their needs. Part of creating a culture of empathy in an organisation means choosing the ‘little things’ that make a workplace a nicer place. Three key ways to develop a culture of empathy are by exercising Patience - really focusing on what other people are saying and feeling; Perspective - attempting to understand where they are coming from, and Connection - speaking to others with intention and authenticity.

As with Natasha’s talk earlier in the day, Sharon’s talk made me super proud to be a part of Degree 53 as there is definitely a strong culture of empathy here, and the management team really put a lot of work into cultivating the “little things” that make Degree 53 a great place to work.

All in all, I found the whole day really valuable. It taught me a few things, it reminded me of a few things, and it was also just really exciting and empowering being around so many people who are not only passionate about tech, but passionate about delivering great projects. It also inspired myself and my colleagues to start thinking about the future and the things we could do down the line to contribute to the digital and tech community. Watch this space!

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