After a 3 hour delay, and a scarily turbulent flight due to some icy northern winds, I finally landed in Las Vegas’s sensorial overload to participate in my first ever PMI event and first professional conference of this scale.
There were about 5 thousand participants, and a selection of 140+ sessions to pick and choose from across a 3.5 day event.
Project Managers often work quite isolated from each other. We are used to being a “source of truth” of priorities, and wearing many hats in order to see a project through to execution. Our responsibilities vary, as we are known to our colleagues as many people, such as: The person through whom technical terminology gets translated into “human speak” and shared with clients or stakeholders. The gatekeeper of teams. The organizational guru. The planner. The reporter. The scheduler. The “just checking up on this” person. The “are you doing okay, is there anything you want to talk about” person.
My team and I have defined our vision (and our challenge) as Technical Project Managers at Vic.ai as making big ideas come to life whilst working within very real constraints.
In all this, if left on their lonesome to continuously churn out projects, a Project Manager can feel a little isolated, like a unique species in a team of technical minded savants.
That’s why, upon walking into our registration queue, I found myself thinking in awe to myself “Woah. This is a planet of project managers. There are more of us out there.”
Another typical characteristic of a Project Manager is that we always attempt to help the teams we work with keep their eye on the prize. Ad nauseam, throughout our life, we’ll be asking the business “Yes, but what’s the priority”, and then re-laying to teams “THIS is the priority”.
Therefore, I had set myself 2 main goals as part of my participation at the Global PMI Conference.
1) Network with other professionals and learn about shared challenges across industries.
2) Take-away some new ideas to experiment with, in our Project Management and Engineering teams at Vic.ai.
Objective 1: Network with other professionals and learn about some shared challenges across industries.
This objective was completed within sessions, mostly during the in-between times like lunch, or talking in line while waiting to be let into the next event.
I met individuals setting up their own Project Management consulting businesses, someone working on Project Management coaching, and even PM’s from Honduras and Ecuador from construction and hardware (printing) businesses. We spoke about the differences and similarities in challenges experienced as women in Tech in South and Central America vs the United States.
My colleague, Mira Brady, and I spoke to Japanese Project Managers within the Tech and Motor Vehicle industries and compared working cultures in terms of allowed vacation days and how our jobs have (or haven’t) changed since Covid.
The most exciting part of my networking experience happened at the Q&A section of the session entitled “Sustainability. Good for the Environment, Good for Business” run by Laura Davidson, Social Impact Manager at PMI.
The session was about Sustainability and what are the benefits to your business of working on the ESG (Environmental Social Governance) front. Out of the open discussion and Q&A at the end of the session, I felt most empowered by the people in the audience, hearing about the steps they’ve taken in their organizations to make sustainability a priority.
All were in agreement that this starts with instilling the habit of asking “Are we doing more good, or more bad with - said - action?” Other crucial questions to ask include:
Will this project contribute positively to society? Or, at least limit negative impact?
Will this project generate economic value for a sustained period of time?
Will this project contribute positively to the environment? Or, at least limit negative impact?
This is when I recognized fully the value of even tenuous networking opportunities. I felt excited to connect with these people and follow-up on their thoughts and the initiatives they are working on.
Objective 2: Take-away new ideas to experiment with, in our Project Management and Engineering teams at Vic.ai
My second objective was mainly inspired by the awareness that while leading project teams, we are constantly looking to iterate and achieve more success in delivery, but also wellbeing (which helps improve delivery potential). In doing so, we also need to be constantly learning from others, from their best practices but also failures (i.e. lessons learned).
Here are 4 takeaway reflections from the sessions I participated in, keeping in mind that this is my own personal experience of the PMI Global conference and that there were probably 130+ sessions I was unable to attend in person.
1) Sharpening Your Influence Skills to Be a Complete Project Manager a joint session led by Alfonso Bucero Torres and Randall Englund gave me some bullet point takeaways:
A definition of Influence: The capacity of achieving results through others.
Once your technical skills or career progression has plateaued, your ability to influence others will be a distinguishing factor that will further your career
Don’t be afraid to love sales. Everything we do is basically a sales pitch. Influence is negotiation and negotiation is looking for a win-win result.
But most importantly from this session I took away reflections on how intertwined, even in-separable, concepts like ‘partnership’, ‘trust’ and ‘integrity’ are, to our ability to influence.
Partnerships do not exist without relationships.
You cannot build good relationships if there is no trust.
People cannot trust you unless you prove that you are a person (or organization) with solid integrity.
One of Vic.ai’s value “pillars” is: Integrity is Fundamental
We lead by example with integrity, treating those around us with respect and sincerity. We earn the trust of our colleagues and stakeholders and choose the responsible outcome that will do better for the world.
As a result I have for the past few months been pondering what integrity actually means and how I can help create a shared understanding of that among the teams I work with.
Thanks to this session I have landed on a definition that seems universal and simple:
“Do what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it, and for the reasons you said you’ll do it.”
An integrity crime is what sucks the energy out of a team, when you violate the trust of the team you are working with. And that can happen if anyone of those three elements (what, when, why) are compromised.
I took away some fantastic tools for self assessment in order to establish what skillsets I might need to work on myself, and also to establish if our project teams need to work on specific areas (to note that assessing “humour and fun” is considered an important part of a strong project team).
2) Our Brain: The IT Killing Constraint We Never Consider lead by David Burrell from Bridging Business and IT, LLC and Courageously Authentic Leadership — Create Remarkable Results Without Burnout run by Tina Parker, founder and CEO of Lead Outside the lines
I believe most project managers buy into the idea that you make a plan based on “what works” with the resources you have. Well, turns out, our brains are of course a fantastic but flawed resource. Both of these sessions touched, in different ways, upon the brain, its biology and how it reacts to stimuli and summarizes information.
Tina Parker’s session approached this constraint from a personal and emotional perspective. It was fascinating to see how the brain responds differently in the same scenario based on the emotional state of the person needing to process information, recall facts, or action a task. When we prompt our brain with gratitude and excitement we are physically more efficient in how we use our brain capacity, compared to when we are anxious or stressed. Guess which scenario will lead you to burn-out quicker?
David Burrell called out some very specific brain constraints that affect projects over and over again.
This awareness of the brain and our ability (mostly inability) to hold and process huge amounts of detailed information, means that asking the right questions, and never tiring of asking questions is what will save us from common project pit-falls in the future.
3) Creativity and Creative Problem Solving lead by Jacob Cancelliere, VP, Account Enablement, Rego Consulting
This session brought me to a similar conclusion, which is that an effective Project Manager refines constantly over time their ability to ask the right questions and encourage others to really think through problems and challenges, and this can be done in increasingly creative ways.
We don’t need to do things, run sessions, and have meetings the same way over and over.In fact, if we work on building our own ‘creativity muscle’, we are more able to encourage others to find creative connections and open ourselves up for more and better out-of-the-box thinking and problem solving. If our brain works best through association, Jacob discussed how we can encourage new association exercises by asking people to problem solve or do requirement gathering based on seemingly ridiculous prompts.
Example: What does a banana have anything to do with a program being launched?
It’s beautiful. It’s colorful. How might we make “x” solution as appealing and stick-out the way a banana might?
Last but not least, tying together all my takeaways and reflections, we had:
4) Featured Performer Beatie Wolfe: Translating Data into Impact and Art
Beatie was a prime example for me of what creative thinking can do in a world of problems to solve, and how presenting a problem in a beautiful, visual way, can speak to people's minds (brains) and trigger desire for action.
Beatie transformed climate data from Nasa, 80 thousand years of said data in fact, into a piece of musical and visual art, showcasing the rise of CO2 levels and impact of human presence on earth, in a way that our limited human brains can visually, and emotionally, relate to.
Although she had no real idea what project managers were, before coming to the Global PMI Conference, I believe that what she was able to achieve with her piece of work “From Green to Red” is the pinnacle of what Project Managers all over actually hope to achieve. Taking a very real problem, communicating it effectively so you can influence and motivate others toward action is the dream. Well, and then of course plan and execute… that’s the dream. And have things actually go to plan… That’s the REAL dream.
You’ll notice that my takeaways from the conference are philosophical, people centric and soft skill based. And I am surprised as you may be.
I was really grateful for the experience and feel that my takeaways are all the more valuable. Rather than being given a checklist of things to do, I’m coming away with some prompts to create a bigger and better vision for myself and the type of Senior Project Manager I want to be at Vic.ai, along with new ambitions for the type of teams and environments I hope we are able to build as an organization.
It was also great to be joined virtually by all the other Vic.ai Technical Project Managers, and get real time updates through our team slack channel on sessions each person was participating in.
I’m grateful to Vic.ai for investing the resources to ensure all the Technical Project Managers at Vic.ai could participate one way or another! Here’s to entering 2023 with a fresh take on things!
Interested in joining our team here at Vic.ai? Click here to view our open positions.
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