Three Project Managers Walk into a Bar…

Jun 24

It’s been a few weeks since I returned from the Digital Project Management summit in Philly, and despite the fact that I was prodded to write this blog post by Valle Hansen (our regular blogger and wordsmith extraordinaire), I think I’ve reflected on the experience thoroughly.

At previous conferences I’ve attended, it’s been easy to get caught up in the new ideas being shared, climb out of my head, and come back to the office buzzing with optimism. For that reason, the DPM summit was similar to other experiences I’ve had. I returned to Austin feeling invigorated about my career, engaged with a broader network of digital project managers, and more knowledgeable about what Design For Use can do to become an (even more) well-oiled machine.

I am well aware that the enthusiasm you feel at a conference is often fleeting. In the past, I’ve easily slid off my conference high after making a list of takeaways, sharing them with my team, and then filing them away until someone needs an example of how to document conference findings. (See: Christine’s SxSW 2011 Takeaways.)

However, the DPM summit differed from my other conference-going experiences in a significant way: I still refer daily to my “major takeaways” list of action items to see how else I can sharpen my skills and how I can help my team work more efficiently and effectively. I’ve already put into practice several of the methods and tools I learned about in Philly. I have continued to read more (and better) articles and blogs about project management skills. My coworkers have started a tally on the whiteboard for the number of times the phrase “At the PM summit …” leaves my mouth.

I’ve wondered what it is about the DPM summit that has made my interest and enthusiasm extend beyond the typical one-week high I’ve experienced after other conferences before I get sucked back into my old processes and systems. (I’m a creature of habit. What can I say?)

Here’s the thing: While the large group sessions (Sam Barnes!) and breakout sessions (Tonya Price!) were exceptional, I think the major difference was the conference attendees themselves. Prior to the summit, I didn’t look upon my role as a PM with any special pride. I did my job. Some might say I did it well. However, I often felt like scheduling, emailing, prodding, probing, and meeting with my coworkers wasn’t a skill set,

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but more a symptom of my personality type. But that attitude changed the more I spoke to other people about how they perceived their roles as PMs—they consider project management a craft, a skill to be mastered, and a raison d’etre. What I learned from my cohorts is that project management is kick-ass. And we are the ass kickers. Us! The ones with the spreadsheets!

As I said, I have a laundry list of takeaways from the sessions, but my conversations with the other attendees has probably had the most singular effect on why I’m taking more ownership of my role and becoming a more awesome PM.

Conversation Takeaways:

1) “You’re not on Twitter?”

I think Larissa Scordato threw up a little bit when I told her I didn’t have a Twitter account. However, that encouraged (shamed?) me into creating one. Follow me @holcombe5000.


2) “I’m managing 20 projects right now.”

I think I threw up a little bit when a fellow conference-goer told me this. Then she told me how she did it (the right tools, the right people, lots of delegation). I don’t delegate a lot, and I complain to my boss when he takes on small projects that I’m ultimately in charge of. I should delegate more and complain less. (Editor’s note: The unwritten indirect object here is “to Valle Hansen.”)


3) “You don’t know who Jeffrey Zeldman is?”

More throwing up. I didn’t know who he was. But now I do. Now I follow him on Twitter. Now I follow everyone on Twitter. It turns out Twitter is a great resource for staying up on UX and PM resources and trendsetters. Why wasn’t I using this before? Oh. Because I thought it was another platform to let people know about my dog’s birthday and my son’s diaper rash.


4) “Your agency doesn’t do development? Does that scare away clients?”

Nishant and David (the founders of our company) have been debating whether to make the leap from a purely Research + Design shop into a Research + Design + Dev shop. I was on the fence for the better part of the past 6 months. Now I’m pro dev. (Don’t worry. I already told them how I feel…on Twitter)



We’re working on it.

I’m working on pretty much everything.

Posted by: David Richard

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