A couple of weeks ago, White Lion shipped me off to a project manager support group. Just kidding. Kind of. It was actually the Happy Cog-sponsored Digital PM Summit, which just happened to be in Austin this year. When I say we were lucky, I really mean it (despite the sarcasm of the opening sentence). During those two days I experienced a high-energy, engaging outpouring of support from fellow PMs. They shared their successes, failures, and resulting learned-lessons from a diverse array of backgrounds and industries. I would go back in a heartbeat.
No one is born knowing how to be a good client
The presenters ranged from CEOs of start-ups to digital producers working directly with governmental agencies. I’m not lying when I say that not one talk or panel I attended was unhelpful. To kick things off, the VP of Project Management at Happy Cog, Brett Harned, talked about the “game” of project management – how to move across the board without getting set back to square one. It’s way harder than it sounds, I promise. The speakers continued to impress me with their depth of knowledge and unique, perceptive ideas. One quotable take-away from Mike Monteiro was that, “no one was born knowing how to be a good client.” This really struck me; we have to work together as a team with clients to help them understand our jobs.
Everything is Manageable
Another refrain of the conference was, “everything is manageable.” It’s so easy to get caught up with your long list of deliverables and never-ending stream of emails in your inbox, but one thing this conference helped me realize was that we’re all facing similar challenges and that it is all doable. You’re not going to be buried alive under there. Just take one step at a time and if you’re lucky enough to have a fantastic team behind you (which we’re lucky enough to have at White Lion), you’ll be just fine. Your team is there to support you and help you through the rough patches.
Be a Strong Communication Hub
But being a PM isn’t all email mountains and status calls. We try to have fun sometimes (as evidenced by the photo booth pictures from the opening night party – hats!). One of the panels was actually a skit put on by Rachel Gertz (Louder Than Ten) and Carson Pierce (PM Consultant). In their bloodied scrubs and face masks (a little early for Halloween), they attempted to “save the patient” (read: the project) when things go wrong. Another talk discussed how weird people are and how to work with them, “People are Weird, I’m Weird” by Sam Barnes. Everyone’s different, and it’s up to you as the PM to be a strong communication hub that works well with others to get the job done and get it done the best way possible.
Although I have a ridiculous set of notes (as one hashtagged tweet from Harvey Schaefer read, “perfect posture, dutiful note taking and tightly coiled Apple chargers. This must be a project manager conference”), the real take-away was the feeling of support from the other attendees. I came back to the office refreshed with new ideas, reinforced by the experiences shared by the fantastic speakers and the other project managers I met along the way. We really are pioneers of our fields and it’s important for us to realize that so we can add as much value and innovation to our industry as possible. Sometimes that just takes a little bit of PM therapy to make it happen.