Blueleaf Project Manager Verity Maybury attended the second Digital Project Manager Conference, which took place in a very snowy Manchester on 28th and 29th January. Over 300 people attended across the two days, with attendees from as far afield as Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands. In this article, Verity shares the insights that inspired her and have stuck with her three months on.
Over to Verity...
This being my first PM Conference, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but was hoping to glean even just a few nuggets that we can implement at Blueleaf to improve what we do and the service we give to our clients. Small changes can make big differences!
Speaker 1, Sam Barnes
The first speaker, Sam Barnes, didn’t disappoint and quickly warmed the audience with his take on managing people in his entertaining and very accurate talk entitled ‘People are Weird, I’m Weird’. This was for me, the highlight of the day and not just because our very own MD and Petrolhead Rob Smith was directly quoted, but because I agreed a lot with Sam’s observations and think that although a simple theory, it’s rarely done right.
Sam articulated that blanket rules should not be applied when it comes to managing people; everyone is individual and a good manager takes time to get to know and build relationships with their team in order to understand what makes them tick and more importantly what help to make them deliver. Sam stressed that we should increase our awareness of the specific differences in people and adjust our views and behaviours accordingly when it comes to managing and working with other human beings. The team should be seen as a group of individuals who all have different needs and failure to recognise and adapt to individuality can only result in pain for the PM, the Team and the Project.
I particularly enjoyed the slides on hiring mistakes and wholeheartedly agreed with his thoughts on the 2 main mistakes (I have carefully re-worded to avoid causing offence here, I’m not quite as brave with language as Sam):
1. Stretching the truth regarding the role to win over a candidate (aka Bullshitting Candidates)
2. Hiring the wrong type of candidate (aka Hiring Douchebags)
I couldn’t agree more with this observation; the impact getting this wrong has on the business can be a nightmare. You get stuck with the right person in the wrong job for them or you have the wrong person in the business and….either way, this will likely end in pain, for EVERYONE!
Sam pushed the new age idea that we should be honest when recruiting; tell the candidate what is good and tell them what isn’t good. This rang true to my entrance to the world of Blueleaf. I was given a very honest and clear picture of where Blueleaf was at in my interview - it was very frank and massively refreshing. I was impressed and the sentiment here at Blueleaf was echoed by Sam which made me feel a bit proud.
The message from Sam can be summed up pretty easily - get the right people, people who are like you and the rest of your team, into the right job by being honest about what you need and what they will get in return. Once they are in, treat people as you would want to be treated yourself - be honest, think about their needs as well as your own and take a step back considering how they may be feeling. Your day, even your week may have been rubbish, but they may have had a far worse time in or outside of work than you, so just bear that in mind before you act. If they aren’t the right person or are in the wrong role, don’t mess about, get it sorted before it hurts the team and your sanity. It's really not rocket science, but for me, not many businesses get this right.
Speaker 2, Meri Williams
Another speaker who kept me thinking well after she had left the stage, was Meri Williams. She theorised that a good PM should be a cheerleader and bulldozer noting that Project Managers are too often considered primarily as coordinators but that this is too simplistic. Aside from coordinating large projects, Project Managers play a vital role in encouraging and accommodating team members. In a nutshell, they need to draw out the best in each team member and provide them with the liberty and flexibility they need to get the job done.
Being a cheerleader and a bulldozer is now my mantra. I’m putting a focus on getting this right by fiercely guarding my team (when I think they need it) from anyone who may bring down their cheer! I’m working on raising morale, making sure they enjoy even the most painful of projects and smashing through anything that gets in their way or slows them down. I’m reinforcing this with the team too by telling them that this is why I am here and they need to work as a team and use me to their advantage to get stuff done. This might again seem like something simple, but I think by achieving this, I can make things better.
In retrospect, I gained from the conference exactly what I was expecting. Little things that can go a long way. There was also the comfort of hearing that all the challenges we have here aren’t exclusive to Blueleaf. All Digital Agencies go through the same pain, the same mountains to climb and the same balancing act for the needs of the client, the business, the team and the project…but it can be made better by the people you have on board.