With digital project management still very much in its infancy, many digital PMs – and the community as a whole – are still trying to find their feet, establish best practice and define, “a simple explanation for the awesomeness that we unleash at work every single day.”

There are many conflicting opinions regarding our profession – namely those surrounding the best methodology to use (are you agile yet?!) – however it’s fair to say that there is a strong common ground in that we all work in a role that tests our character, tenacity and resolve.

Last week a few members of the delivery team here at MadeByPi were fortunate enough to make the journey across the Yorkshire/Lancashire border to visit the Comedy Store in Manchester; not for an evening of beers and laughter, we were attending the third Digital Project Management Conference.

Whilst we’ve not attended either of previous two conferences, we had heard good things from our friends at Delete and we were looking forward to what the day had in store.

 

The Talks

On the day we were treated to a talented line-up of speakers, all of whom shared many great ways in which they deal with the stresses and strains of being a digital PM – here’s our summary of some of the talks that particularly resonated with us.

‘You can do well, or you can do good’ – Sam Barnes

Project management can place you in sticky situations, forcing you to make decisions that may make you feel uneasy. How often have you found yourself stuck between a rock (boss, client, project team) and hard place (boss, client, project team)?

Ultimately, our focus as PMs should be on delivering a quality project (‘Doing Good’), but it is all too easy to disregard this in favour of being drawn into counter-productive activities in the interest of self-preservation and career progression (‘Doing Well’).

Sam, quite boldly, argued that in order to maintain your integrity it is better to ‘do good’ than to ‘do well’ – even if it means risking your job!

He shared some interesting points on not only how, but more importantly why, you should make the decision ‘do good’ and stand up for what you believe in. I’ll be exploring some of these ideas over the coming months – we’ll let you know how we get on (assuming I’ve not lost my job!).

‘Practical prioritisation under pressure’ – Katie Buffalo

We’ve all been there, right? A million things to do and not nearly enough hours in the day to do them: proposals; team briefings; status updates; timing plans; client meetings; the list goes on and on… and on! We’re limited by the number of hours in a day, how do you even start prioritising your task list?

Katie – a former MadeByPi employee – shared a number of strategies that she employs to deal with her ever changing task list. The one tool that resonated with the audience, was a yet-to-be-named ‘urgency matrix’ – a simple tool that helps prioritise tasks based on two simple criteria: urgency and importance.

 

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Whilst this seems obvious – and I’m sure many of you do it on the fly multiple times a day – we can see the value in taking the time to visually map this out, especially as tasks pile up and priorities change – sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees!

‘Technical debt; why it really matters’ – Matt Thornhill

PMs face many decisions each and every day: tea or coffee; Jira or Redmine; waterfall or agile.

Typically, decisions should be made based on what is in the best interest of the project and the project team: creating good UX/design that helps promote a product or increase conversions; developing a solid code base that is well structured, bug free and easily extensible. There are however extenuating circumstances that can lead you into making a decision that may not be in the best interest of the project in the long term.

Let’s say for example that your marketing department has briefed a new sign up journey. Your team has estimated that it will take four weeks to deliver, but if you compromise on code quality and they can deliver in two – what do you do?

Ideally, you would take the time do things the right way, but what if there is a planned media campaign due to run in two weeks’ time and if you miss that date you risk not capturing a wealth of new customer data? Then you should opt to do things the quick way.

By doing this however, you create technical debt. Failing to understand and pay back this debt can be hugely detrimental to a project:

  • Making future changes can be risky
  • Implementing new features becomes much more difficult and time consuming (expensive)
  • Having to deal with sub-standard code can become a major disincentive to work on a project

There will at some point during a project’s life cycle be a tipping point where the cost of managing change whilst the debt still stands far outweighs the cost paying back the debt; and it is at this point – ideally well before – that you need to be having conversations with you customer (client/boss/product owner) about paying back this debt.

‘Army of Awesome’ – Brett Harned

The day concluded with an uplifting keynote by Bret Harned. Bret is on a mission to promote the digital PM community and his talk, ‘Army of Awesome’, was his rally cry.

It’s clear that digital PM is very much in its infancy. When asked, ‘Who holds the title of digital project manager (or something similar)…for more than 5 years,’ the lack of hands raised among the audience was telling.

Ahead of the conference, Bret had asked a number of his nearest and dearest (both in and out of the industry) ‘What do I do?’ Responses varied from the tongue-in-cheek, “As far as I can tell project managers do nothing,” to “Digital project managers are the stage managers of the Internet…”

His mission, with the help of the digital PM community, is to define a set of standards and principles that will, “elevate and strengthen [PMs] individually, and as a community of practitioners.” It’s worth checking out his blog We Are DPM.

Concluding his talk, Bret asked the audience to write down one line about ‘who we are’ – he extended this to the wider community on Twitter. Post your thoughts on the matter by tweeting with the hashtag #weareDPM – now is as good a time as any to start shaping and defining the future of digital PM.