Lessons from the 2013 Digital Project Management Summit


A few of our project managers recently attended the Digital Project Management Summit located in Philadelphia, PA. The event was two days long and full of great strategies, advice, and a wealth of experience from like-minded digital project managers. With attendance capped at 150 people, the atmosphere was more intimate than most other conferences, and allowed plenty of small group conversations. While there were too many amazing sessions to recount, a few themes ran true throughout the two days.


Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Zeldman

Being a client is difficult

A project manager would make the ideal client, right? Wrong. Many clients do not have adequate time to devote to a project, and are busy with many other responsibilities. The expectation is that since an outside agency is being hired, they can and will do all of the work. Which brings us to the next point...

Clients and agencies form an ongoing relationship where both sides must be fully committed.

Expecting one side to fulfill all aspects of a project plan is asking for trouble. Project teams and clients share a host of responsibilities, and it is not up to one or the other to deliver single-handedly. Establishing firm but fair expectations for both parties at the start of a project is critical to its success.

Treat your client like one of your team members.

It's your responsibility to educate where necessary and make sure there is no confusion. Using terms that stakeholders don’t understand weakens the relationship between both parties. If you can't educate and explain things succinctly, someone else will.

Document, document, document.

Taking notes, recording meetings, and keeping track of all the details will help down the road in longer and more involved projects. Make sure everything is documented in some way, and organize it in a meaningful way for others who might need to be on-ramped with short notice. Bringing someone up to speed on a project can be a huge setback, so minimize the downtime with documentation.

"A number of empirical studies of on-the-job excellence have clearly and repeatedly established that emotional competencies -- communication, interpersonal skills, self-control, and so on -- 'play a far larger role in superior job performance than do cognitive abilities and technical expertise'."

Successful project management relies heavily on the soft skills; being able to read between the lines, communicate effectively, and cooperate with a variety of personalities. Someone could have all the technical knowledge in the world, but at the end of the day, hard conversations about budgets, expectations, and politics are bound to happen. Being able to navigate tricky situations is a must.

Be direct and honest.

This was the “big secret” that most presenters alluded to. Hearing the truth up front is valuable because it reduces the risks associated with assumptions. Many project managers have the issue of walking into an oversold project and reigning in expectations and timelines. It’s far better to determine what the options are from the start, instead of half-promising features that won’t come to fruition.

A big thanks goes out to the Bureau of Digital Affairs, for putting together such a fantastic conference. It was great to see so many digital project managers in one place, and I could happily say, “I’ve found my people!”

A full list of speakers can be found here. And, don’t forget to check out the photo gallery!

Ben Kress