If you ever feel like you need a confidence boost and to recharge your project management batteries, then a conference is the way to do it.
At the PMI EMEA Global Congress in London this month I met an IT project manager doing the same project as me but in Lithuania. It was reassuring to hear that he had the same difficulties and the same challenging stakeholder groups as me. Over half an hour at lunch we chatted and commiserated about our projects and I left feeling reassured that my work was on the right track.
I also attended about 10 presentations covering everything from personal development to advanced risk management, leadership to strategy execution. I’ve come back to work with so many ideas about how I can make changes to the work of my teams and improve our project success.
Here are three key themes that stood out:
The secret to successful teams: diversity
The Congress was attended by around 850 people from 72 countries and representing approximately 470 organizations. There was a huge mix of people and a focus on the role that diversity plays in leading successful teams.
Entrepreneur and business writer Margaret Heffernan gave a wide-ranging opening keynote but the messages I took from it were:
- Your brain is wired to be attracted to concepts and people similar to you.
- Surrounding yourself with what’s similar to you edits out the opportunity for challenge, disagreement and debate.
- The more diverse your teams, the more they will identify problems over someone working alone.
Heffernan gave an example. Researchers put people with high IQs into teams to test the theory that the smartest individuals elevate the team’s performance. Each team had the same task to do. The team with the individual with the highest IQ did not come top. The team with the highest collective IQ did not come top. The top performing team had three characteristics:
- They gave roughly equal air time to each member of the team without forcing or planning it.
- They displayed empathy.
- The team had more women.
The lessons for team leaders are that we should be putting as much effort into creating a diverse and supportive team in the first place as in managing the team going forward. And that we should continue to create a positive work environment where everyone can participate and engage.
Delivering value over benefits
For many years, the role of the project manager has been seen as someone who manages the work required to complete an output. There’s nothing wrong with that, and much of what IT teams do is to achieve that goal: code an app, update a product, create a new infrastructure, etc. Another theme from the Congress was that the days of managing output are gone. We are all now responsible for something else: Value.
Todd Williams, president of eCameron, gave a presentation that summed it up: Benefits are what a project manager delivers but value is what the business wants. He explained that we can’t distance ourselves from the outcomes of a project. Instead, projects need to be aligned to strategy, and there needs to be a clear vision that team leaders can share with the people doing the work. He further suggests that people at program, department and corporate level should:
- Read about the project strategy, or write the strategy if it doesn’t exist.
- Make sure that each project contributes to something that’s aligned with the overall strategy, and if it doesn’t, cancel that project (or element of it)
- Focus on the top three initiatives because any more than that becomes too hard to manage.
- Build and maintain a “laser-focused” plan to deliver the top three initiatives.
Todd reminded project leaders to watch out for strategic projects that suffer from scope creep because everyone knows that if they can bundle their wish list into that initiative then it will get done. He was ruthless about stripping out work that doesn’t move the business forward!
The new direction for software tools
The Congress exhibition hall was full of interesting stands from software vendors, universities, PMI divisions, training companies and others. Done up like a circus tent, it was an opportunity to network and browse at the same time, often with a glass of wine or a slice of cake. Exhibitions like this are a good way of learning more about tools with a view to fine-tuning what features are important to you.
The focus on the right tools to help teams boost productivity in the workplace continued through the sessions. While the presentations weren’t about particular products, there was a general view that online project management software could help with both team collaboration and managing work.
One presentation set out a roadmap for selecting the right tool to deliver the best business value. The main takeaway message from the session was that lots of people need to be able to use the software. Project management tools are no longer the realm of the project manager and the system you choose should be suitable for everyone involved in the project.
I took away a notebook filled with scribbled ideas, quotes and contacts. Now that I’m back from Congress my personal challenge is to get them out of the book and into practice. That’s the only way I’ll achieve a longer-term benefit from the investment in the time out of the office to attend the conference. Hopefully these titbits shared here is a start for me—and also for you.
What have you learned recently at an event that you have—or haven’t—put into practice yet? Let us know in the comments!