Learning new things!

One of the perks of working at Carbon is that we are encouraged and supported to go out into the real world and learn new things!

I think I have always thought of myself as an ‘organiser’ but never really been able to say much more than that. I like making, creating and crafting things as well as being part of a larger making progress. So in my six months as digital account executive I have been a part of many great projects, and have been lucky enough to explore the creative process.

So it made sense to check out the upcoming DPM:UK after Dave recommended the event he had attended earlier in the year. Hosted at the Comedy store for the 3rd year running, this was a great opportunity to see how other creative organisers deal with long and short term projects, clients, suppliers and colleagues. So here is a roundup of some of the talks from the event.

Digital project managers put on really great events!

Of course I had to start with a shout out to the organisers. Hosted at a great venue, the comedy store, being there instantly puts you at ease.It says “we are serious about what we do, but we do not take ourselves too seriously”.

The speaker line-up included talks on technical issues, creative roadblocks, management mistakes to leadership triumphs.

You can do well or do good

This was the first talk of the day by Sam Barnes. What he meant by that was that you can be a digital project manager that can do well at their job, or do good at the job. For example, cutting corners to impress the boss may mean you do well at your job, but that is not good for the project or the client. That is a choice that a DPM needs to make in the face of a looming deadline or limited budget. Do you promise everything and deliver nothing or, be true to the project and the client. Maybe telling some hard truths about what is possible but doing the project justice as it should. With some candid examples, the room seemed to appreciate Sam’s honest accounts of some of his mistakes when trying to do well and not good.

Know what comes next

As a DPM you need to know what is on the horizon and be prepared. Katie Buffalo talked about the importance of having not only a risk register, but a back up plan. Being a creative crowd, her slide about prioritising what is urgent and important was met with agreeing nods. Katie went on to say once you know what needs to be done, do the biggest / most challenging / most fear inducing task first. Once this out of the way everything else becomes manageable and I suppose we all know that. The feeling of putting something of right up until the last minute is not going to make for a pleasant day at work, have some perspective and act on it. I think this is probably good life advice to!

Address technical debt today

Like with any industry, there is always more to learn, more to discover and more to do. The same with code. Mat Thornhill talk about the technical debt in long term projects, which in many cases is unavoidable but how it is dealt with is important. Websites, apps, browsers and devices have developed rapidly over the last 10 years and that in some cases has left a legacy of old, almost unusable ‘spaghetti’ code. I think most agencies will have similar experiences and I only learnt what it was called during this talk. Almost a eureka moment! When coding a little in Uni, I always thought, similar to when cross stitching or embroidering, the back of the fabric should look just as neat as the front. And when those loops and knots get out of control it can take an age to undo. This is the same for code! I love a craft-based analogy!

Matt advised that to tackle technical debt, patches should be identified and worked on, being transparent with the client about what exactly is being billed and why it is important and finally creating a culture of quality within you organisation.

Managing the organisers

From Ian Mays position as Programme Director, he manages managers all day everyday! But how? He advised that prioritising your own work, making sure the team is ok and then checking the health of the project is a good method to follow.

  • Managing a team of people managing teams seem could potentially be seen as overwhelming, he manages this by asking his teams:
  • What is their biggest accomplishments?
  • What is the biggest challenges they face?
  • What would they do differently next time?
  • What resources they may need?
  • and if he can help them with anything.

The power of project leadership

I really enjoyed this talk by Susan Madsen, she reminded the room that we are all human and that we can all help each other be better. As a digital project manager, not only is the team of designers and developers relying on you but also, the client, and this can mean several people within an organisation all wanting answers to questions and speedy deadlines. She says working together to co-deliver a project will instill much more confidence to the team as well as the client. Being transparent, drawing people into the story and engaging them will help overcome the resistance to change within and project and an organisation as a whole.

Army of Awesome

Brett Harned introduced his army of awesome by introducing these five digital project management principles:

  1. Digital project managers are chaos junkies. What he meant by this is there is a love of problem solving, either solving themselves or solving by asking the right people.
  2. DPMs are multilingual communicators. As an analogy lover, this one resonated with me. Going between clients, project owners, internal bosses, creative thinkers, designers, user experience leaders and developers can take quite a bit of translating to make sure all the messages and project directives are heard
  3. Be a lovable hardass. By being honest, reliable, communicating and admitting fault.
  4. DPMs should be active members of the team by being a consummate learner and teacher. I think the great thing about being a DPM is that they constantly go from one person to another, learning from team members about industry skills and relaying them to clients as well soaking up the knowledge themselves
  5. It is the duty of a DPM to be a pathfinder. Through timelines and budget, a strategic path must be carved for the success of the project.

So after a brilliant day with lots of like minded, passionate and creative people I came away with pages and pages of notes of recommendations, from books, articles, twitter accounts, ted talks to even more exciting events coming up over the year… if you need me, i’ll be looking at those!