Project Management

DPM:UK 2015 – A Review by our Project Manager, Sarah

Following an early morning train into Manchester and a battle through the completely unexpected snow, Colette and I arrived at the Comedy Store for DPM:UK 2015 (digital project management conference). Attending conferences such as these help us keep in mind the best practice of project management and develop us professionally.

After signing in and collecting our programme, we settled in with some coffee and began mingling; while we waited for the rest of the Magma Digital contingent to arrive.

Feature talks

The first talk of the day was delivered by Sam Barnes. His talk, entitled ‘People are weird’, discussed the differences between introverted and extroverted people. He gave examples of how people decide to wind down and recharge in different ways: an introvert may sit at home reading a book on their own, whereas an extrovert might go out to a bar for a few drinks with friends.

Sam suggested that all people are different and we must learn to acknowledge and address this successfully within projects. Sam told us a quote from Rob Smith (Blueleaf managing director) regarding QA processes: “Testing is a task. Quality is an attitude.” This must have really hit home with many attendees as it was tweeted many times!

Sam also showed us a performance measuring diagram called team radar:

A team performance measuring diagram called team radar.

I feel that this is a visually interesting way to monitor how a team is feeling. Understanding a team of people in this way, links to a quote that Sam mentioned stating how much psychology is involved in the role of a project manager:

“Project management is a profession where it’s important to study people: how they think, act, react and interact. It’s concerned with all aspects of behaviour and the thoughts, feelings and motivations underlying them.”

Allied to this is the field of emotional intelligence and empathy. Project managers need to be able to understand their team and ‘look after them’. However, we must also be able to understand ourselves and utilise our intuition, as more often than not our gut instinct is correct. Our instinct develops as we grow in experience and become more familiar with the team we are working with.

Next up was Rhodri Coleman of Foolproof, with his talk on ‘What makes a good project manager?’ Rhodri used a video of his Mixed Martial Arts fighting as the backdrop to his key message. The videos certainly gained Rhodri some respect, as he explained how a recent fight had made him realise the similarities between the fight for yourself and the fight for ensuring your clients and team are happy.

We heard how project managers need to be flexible and able to constantly embrace change. He spoke about the importance of collaboration between members of the team and the duty of care needed to ensure motivation and productivity are maintained.

Lightning talks

After a brief coffee break, we moved onto the lightning talks: these are rapid-fire style presentations with a maximum duration of fifteen minutes. Suze Haworth from Tribal spoke about the ‘Pitfalls of Project Management’. She explained how all projects should have their own generic contingency response plan. This plan should contain who is involved and how long to define a resolution. She also reminded us that you can not cover all roles and you must learn to delegate when appropriate.

Next up was Stephen Thomas from White October with his talk titled ‘Did we really say we would do that?’ He spoke about the potential complications of general fixed price projects. He explained how these type of projects can lead to stress, which kills creativity, collaboration and quality. He introduced an interesting pricing approach called ‘price per point’, which generated many questions from the floor!

Peta Kennett-Wilson’s talk on ‘Inheriting a problem project’ explained how important it is for developers to critically evaluate a project to allow for a full understanding. This followed on to assessing a project and situation, in order to be smart about escalation and not just loud. Having a single point of escalation can highly benefit projects as quicker decisions can be made. She proposed that it is often best to use a person that is one step removed from the project (but still has full domain knowledge), in order to give an objective decision.

The last lightning talk entitled ‘How to manage projects remotely’ was by Rachel Ball. Rachel outlined the benefits of working outside of the office environment. A quote from her that resonated with a lot of the audience was: “Offices have become interruption factories.”

Feature talks – round 2

After a networking break, which was useful for getting to know some other project managers from around the country, we went into the penultimate talk of the day: ‘Stealing PM lessons from Artificial Intelligence’ by Meri Williams. Her talk examined the importance of retrospectives (project evaluations). She advised us to be honest if it isn’t working and to listen to what people are saying. She put forward some motivational tips for teams to foster:

Tips on project management from Merri Williams

For me, the quote of the day came from Meri’s talk which was: “You can’t hold back the ocean but can learn to surf.”

The last talk by Meghan Wilker and Nancy Lyons, ‘Embracing chaos: An interactive project management survival guide,’ stated that project management is fundamentally a leadership role and “Project management is like air quality – if you can see it, it’s probably killing you”.

Meghan and Nancy reminded us of several tips and maxims such as staying cool under pressure, letting the team have the freedom they need, having a good, working relationship with members of your team and remembering that developers are working with us, not for us.

Concluding thoughts

Overall, the Magma Digital team and I found the conference to be interesting and stimulating; while it gave us a lot of new ideas, it also reinforced important elements that we already knew. Here are three key take-away points that I took from DPM:UK 2015:

  • Ensuring your team have a shared vision of what the goal is
  • Transparency fosters honesty
  • Lack of meetings and communication = lack of focus and desire to push things forward