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Lessons learned from the 2020 DPM Summit
Director of Accounts
December 02 2020

The Digital PM Summit is a one-of-a-kind event for DPMs. Project Management is such a broad career that finding a community in which you can learn, empathize, vent and collaborate with people who fully understand your role is hard to do. Somehow, The Bureau of Digital and Brett Harned found and created that exact community and keep it thriving by hosting this glorious event for this digital project managers every year. Culture Foundry just found the Bureau a few years ago, so we attended the summit for the first time last year, but now that we’ve found our professional soulmates, we won’t pass it up ever again. 

When the 2019 Digital PM Summit wrapped, my co-worker and I spent four hours at the bar of our hotel trying to capture all the thoughts that were flying in our heads after three days of stimulating discussions. At that bar, we basically restructured our roles, our team, and our process on the back of a cocktail napkin. You may think I’m overstating the magnitude of that summit but our first summit was so pivotal for our team. I have the notes (scribbles) that eventually became a company-wide presentation about our new team to prove it. I knew then that the impact was too great to miss it ever again. As we tucked away our bar napkin and asked for another glass of wine to celebrate, I knew we’d be back in Orlando in 2020. Well, as we all know COVID had other plans for travel this year. While we weren’t able to go back to that same hotel bar and see our Bureau of Digital community in person, I was extremely thankful when the Bureau announced they’d be doing the DPM summit fully online this year. I was mildly apprehensive that it wouldn’t be as profound, but in a year of disappointments, I was looking forward to something going on as planned. 

I am happy to report that I could not have been more wrong about the impact of the digital digital PM summit. I somehow still felt the feeling I had last year when I sat in the big hotel conference space and looked around and felt like I was amongst people who, for lack of a better phrase, just “got it” (“it” being our roles, our problems, our personalities, and so much more). Even in the zoom chat, those people were there and the lessons were equally as profound, if not more, as the messages we received were motivation and solidarity that our team really needed in this time to get through the end of this hard year. I reached out to my team to get their best lessons learned from this year and felt they were worth sharing. Our three project managers attended the summit this year and below are their key takeaways. Everyone needs some positivity right now. The Bureau did the best job at extending that to their community this year, and I hope this extends some of it to you.

Laura Helms, Project Manager

Best lesson learned: Feedback is a gift, even and especially constructive feedback that challenges us to learn important lessons forcing us to grow and become better at what we do.

Something you’ll do now that you weren’t doing before the summit? Taking care of my personal needs is actually paramount to being successful at my job, especially in a year that is as challenging as this one has been. Sometimes the best way to get a better grip is to let go a little and readjust. This is especially true when that feels like the LAST thing you should do.

Here are some slides from Yoon Chung’s talk Strategic Decision Making in Stressful Situations that illustrate this point:

Favorite speaker and why: Dean Schuster – I had the opportunity to drop/break into Dean’s absolutely packed full breakout session at the Summit last year. I was thoroughly impressed by his ability to acknowledge and build his talks on lessons from projects going absolutely sideways, and how to rise from those ashes. This year his talk Digital Projects Gone Horribly Wrong (And the Project Managers Who Still Save the Day), had that same great touch of inspiration, great advice, and perspective. Any Project Manager has that one project that haunts them a bit, and Dean’s advice for managing a project that might not be going as planned with firmness, creativity, honesty, and proactive communication was good medicine.

On an aside, The DPM summit to me is always like Digital Project Manager therapy. While many of my friends and family can’t quite wrap their heads around the nature of my job or what I do, attending this conference is so normalizing and validating. 

Recommend a book? Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Natalie Semczuk, Project Manager

Best lesson learned: We have more influence than we realize over the culture of our projects, and how we interact with and take care of our project teams. We can be more inclusive, supportive, and diverse in our project approaches when reflecting on and planning our work.

Something you’ll do now that you weren’t doing before the summit? Think about my client experience “mission” and goals at the start of each project, in order to be more intentional with my communication and mindset on projects. 

Favorite speaker and why: Jacob Bodnar’s talk about how our individual biases influence things like project estimating and scoping, as well as Carson Pierce’s talk on how our thinking can influence project decisions and future outcomes. Both talks were really illuminating about implicit biases that can make a huge impact on projects. The exercises we went through were a fascinating insight into how our brains work and opened my eyes to a lot of things I’ve never considered before when estimating and planning projects.

Recommend a book? Burnout by Emily Nagoski & Amelia Nagoski

Jory Goehle, Director of Accounts

Best lesson learned: Community can be found wherever you make it. I was nervous about sitting in front of my computer and listening to presenters for three days and not connecting with them in person and over happy hours. But when you are intentional about creating community and connections, it’ll happen.

Something you’ll do now that you weren’t doing before the summit? Sam Schak’s discussion on diversity & inclusion in project management reinvigorated a conversation we’ve had many times as a company. We “started” our Tech Inclusion Journey intentionally in April of last year and continued discussions in response to the Black Lives Matter movement earlier this year. Those conversations are an important step, but Sam reminded us how the simplest actions can yield a more inclusive space in technology. No one on our accounts team had considered adding pronouns to introductions in meetings or including our preferred pronouns in our email signature. Such a simple step we should have taken a long time ago, but a few small steps lead to change and I’m looking forward to implementing more and leaping into creating a more inclusive space for our team and/or clients. 

Favorite speaker and why: Theresa Ward from The Fiery Feather’s talk on Managing Tough Conversations With Effective and Empathetic Feedback. Her process on start > engage > specific > transition was clear and concise in a way that felt profound. I’m new to managing people and always looking for ways to improve on the ways I give and receive feedback. Growth is important to me in this area so I really appreciated the simplicity that focused on the individual you’re speaking to. I pull this up each time I give feedback, and plan to until it becomes a habit. People first, always.

Recommend a book? Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Culture Foundry is a next-level digital agency that helps you thrive in digital. We build, evolve and support websites and applications for clients who are graduating to the next level of complexity in their digital ventures. Our uncommon strengths are headless CMS architectures, design systems and 24/7 support. If you're not thriving in digital, you can be: Contact us to learn more.

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