The Joy of Project Management by Jo Swaine #trpm12

This one is also part of the series wrapped round the TR PM Unconferences, though with a difference. The author doesn’t work for TR, nor will she attend either event as a guest. Jo Swaine is an old friend, a fantastic PM, PMO leader and PM trainer with an infinite capacity for work and having a ball. For Jo the two seem to to just merge into a love of life. Saying that, just writing this self indulgent preamble I am developing a psychosomatic hangover…

She had never blogged, I nagged her until she decided it was easier to say yes.  My overall view with this slightly accidental series has been the more the merrier. With Jo on board, it just got a whole lot merrier. I should confess that she wrote this a couple of weeks ago and I have been tardy in getting it out, back then we were buzzing about the Olympics and Paralympics. Half lives…


I was asked [Repeatedly, through every channel – AA] to write something about the joys of project management by Anthony. Clearly he has a track record in this area.  I’m worried about the request for a couple of reasons.

a) I’m a blogging virgin, having until now managed to keep my opinions within the boundaries of my own circle and the wonderful clients who have over the years paid me to be a project manager or to train their people in project management, or to set up their PMOs. I am (probably unreasonably) horrified about sending my personal thoughts out there, unchaperoned, without me. I wonder if they’ll have fun let loose? Or cause trouble? Why do I wish they might?!

b) The topic.  The joy of project management….?! After a long wonderful summer…playing with my children and my other half, camping, hiking, holidaying on the Mediterranean, and to cap it all enjoying the incredible sporting spectacle of London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics… I haven’t been thinking about project management as much as usual (ok, not at all). Being asked to write something ‘sensible’ was a bit like taking another of the ice cold campsite showers my kids & I shuddered (& giggled) under this Summer.

So.  Where to begin. I mused on the thought of ‘joy’.

Joy is swimming in the sea, anywhere. It is playing with children on the beach. Dancing to live music in a field on a warm Summer evening. A chilled pint of something after a busy day at work. The view from the summit (of a mountain not the corporate ladder). An ice cold shower under a tree in a field after sleeping in a hot tent (honestly, try it). I could go on, but better not. Take a moment to mull your own personal joys. (Go on, indulge yourself).

If you’ve been responsible for delivering a major project recently, (with the ubiquitous constrained budget, organisational resources stretched to their limits, and often heavy pressure from superiors to deliver as quickly and cheaply as possible, without a flicker of compromise to quality or objectives), you can be forgiven if joy isn’t the word that you’d immediately choose to describe your feelings.

When people think about project management the first things that usually spring to mind are project plans, Prince2 theory, risk logs, budget controls, status reports. Some people also think about agile approaches, scrums and so on.

But these are just techniques, tools, procedural supports. Useful yes, mandatory at times. But so very far from the full story of project management in reality.

What about the real magic that gets projects defined and delivered?

  • Creative thinking and innovation.
  • Novel problem solving.
  • Skillful negotiation for every crucial resource.
  • Nurturing of the project team and the honing of their skills.
  • Passionate spreading of enthusiasm for the cause.
  • Meticulous attention to every detail.
  • Lying awake pondering ‘what if?’ and ‘what then?’.
  • Resourceful winning over of the skeptics and troublemakers.
  • Finding the right approach to use to suit the culture of this organisation / department / team.

Creativity. People skills. Management experience. These are absolutely crucial. You can’t buy them off the shelf. And in engaging our creativity and originality (for some people very un-project management) and our potential in using these aspects of ourselves, we are most likely to feel joy. And bring joy to our teams, and success to our organisations.  Not necessarily in that order.

Creativity, teamwork, dynamism, enthusiasm, empowerment, moments of brilliance, objectives achieved, opportunities grasped, threats managed, stakeholders delighted, the sense of having accomplished something worthwhile. Satisfaction. Joy. This is project management, done well.

My proposition is this. Project management done well, creatively, originally, with touches of brilliance is fun, and yes can be joyful.  Not easy, but satisfying, and successful. And ok, I’ll grant, perhaps nearly as much fun as dancing in a field on a warm Summer evening….


Thanks to Jo ( for this, it really put a spring in my step. Most of my project briefs these days end with a requirement that we enjoy ourselves, especially on those projects I know will be fraught.



Half Lives and Sling Shots #trpm12

Last week we held the TR PM Unconference in London.  This event and the one in New York next week include some non TR people, so I am sharing some of the blogs leading up to and following the events here.

It looks like we enjoyed London.  The half life of that pleasure is hours or days though. It has all but decayed now.

We took some energy out of it. The half life of that passion is days, maybe weeks. I still feel it, but the clock is ticking.

After the London event, 10 people got in touch to express an interest in actively helping us get better at project management.

We have the New York event next week. I saw the Pecha Kuchas for this event today.  Four people with busy day jobs, one of whom isn’t a project manager but who has the skill and who values the role, have put a tremendous amount of energy into preparing these intense and personal pieces.  I am utterly amazed by and hugely grateful to them.

At New York I hope that a few more people will emerge, if we connect these advocates to the London set, we have an extended core to join with those working on standards and ways of working. If this core includes a few non TR PMs and people from PMI then so much the better. It certainly needs to extend to all those who couldn’t make London or New York.

If we achieve this sling shot between London, New York and turn the pleasure and passion to the purpose of accelerating our getting better at project management, then we will have achieved something and, better still, made a few new friends on the way.

Voyeur by Russell Whitworth

This is the next guest post in the sequence relating to TR PM Unconferences in Sep to which we have invited non TR PMs and kept them in the loop to some extent here. This is by Russell Whitworth (@V96GLF),  Head of PM Excellence for  Deutsche Telekom.  Thanks to Russell for sharing this elegant and insightful post with us.

It is fair to say that while most enjoyed the event, our guests in particular seemed to get a great deal out of it.

I should add that the title is Russell’s 🙂


I’ve had a really enjoyable week, thanks to the network that is the PMI (Project Management Institute). On Tuesday, Dominik Gratzki and I were guests someone else’s PM Conference – actually an “Unconference” – hosted by Thomson Reuters.

Now I’ve been to numerous PM functions at T-Mobile/DT, but this is the first where I was not running the event, or at the very least presenting or helping organise. So this time I was there purely as an observer, or rather as a participant. Apart from the two of us from DT, we also had external guests from Britvic, Siemens, HSBC and PMI – along with around 100 project managers from Thomson Reuters.

Of course, I was fascinated to see how someone else runs their event, and to borrow any good ideas for next time. (Next time? Well, if there ever is a next time, then these are good ideas…).

We had two headline external presenters:

Dragan Jojic from Tata Consultancy Services spoke on Agile. It was really refreshing to hear an Agile speaker not advocating Scrum as the answer to everything, and indeed recommending waterfall for traditional projects.

Peter Taylor, “The Lazy Project Manager”, encouraged us all to be more productive by being lazier. It’s a great philosophy: focus your efforts on where it really matters, rather than trying to do everything.

Next we went into the “Unconference” part of the day, which I think means that the content is generated by community rather than by external experts.

The afternoon was punctuated by a series of Pecha Kucha presentations, which is a fantastic technique that I’m determined to apply as soon as I get the opportunity. The rules of the game are simple: Each speaker is allowed 20 images, each of 20 seconds duration. Once the speaker hits the space bar to trigger the timed Powerpoint show, there is no going back… the presentation has exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds to run. This adds adrenaline and tension for the presenter, but also for the audience – nobody is going to fall asleep regardless of the subject matter. I found one Pecha Kucha particularly fascinating on Organisational Entropy, and I want to find out more about it. Perhaps that is just the frustrated physicist in me – physics was my degree subject.

We also used a variant of the World Cafe format to explore best practice ideas from the participants. I have heard of this before, but never experienced it. It would work really well for one of our PM Conferences, if we ever get the chance…

It works like this. A topic or challenge is given, in this instance “Stakeholder Engagement”. Each table of around eight participants is equipped with a large sheet of paper and some coloured pens. We discussed our views on Stakeholder Engagement around the table, making notes, doodles, diagrams or pictures on the table-cloth as we went. After about 20 minutes a halt is called, each table nominates one “anchor” member to remain behind, and the rest then split up and move each to a different table. On arriving at the new table, with a completely new group of participants, the anchor person then explains the discussion and the picture so far… and we continue for another 20 minutes adding to the table diagram. Finally the master-of-ceremonies brings the topic to a close using a roving microphone to pick some highlights from various tables. And that was it – we all learnt a lot about stakeholder engagement, without needing an external expert or facilitator. Great fun, and very engaging.

Perhaps not quite so new to me (as we have used it on other DT events, but not a PM event) was the use of artists to record the day as it unfolded. They did a great job – here is their take on Tom Defoe’s Entropy Pecha Kucha:

A further innovative aspect of the day was the use of social media in the build-up and execution of the event. Like DT rolling out TSN, Thomson Reuters is implementing their own very similar internal social network, and it is at a similar stage of roll-out and adoption. But they also make use of external blog sites and Twitter [for this event – AA]. Also, before, during and after the day we had a Twitter stream using hashtag #trpm12 – go ahead and click the link (if it isn’t blocked for you) to see what’s hot in the Thomson Reuters PM world right now. Again, a closed corporate event, but with a very public stream to accompany it. Is this a good thing, or just a trendy gimmick? I think it added to the day – and it has certainly added to the sense of community from those that have chosen to participate – so please count me in.

So what did I get from the day?

It is really fun to be a participant on an event like this.

Other companies have communities of project managers, facing many of the same problems as us (e.g. isolation of the lone PM, geographic challenges, budget cuts, mixing agile and waterfall, etc)

Inviting external guests as participants (not as guest speakers) adds value to the event, at zero cost.

Other people have good ideas too! We can learn by sharing our ideas.


Once again Russell, many thanks for sharing this.  It was great to meet you. Our non TR guests really added to the day. We are not alone!



Going For It at the London PM Unconference 11th Sep 2012

Well, we did it, and we all lived:

The good bits:

A lot of people showed up!

I met a lot of them and I liked them all.  I made a few friends. I feel even better about working for TR.

There was a lot of noise and laughter.

We had invited external PMs to the event.  Most people liked this and thought it allowed us to learn, but also be reassured that others are in the same boat.

Draga Jojic (@drjojic) spoke to us about the value of agile methods in a project environment. We included this after seeing it emerge as a continued topic of interest among PMs throughout the year.  This session inspired one of our attendees to write his first blog.

Peter Taylor (@thelazypm) entertained us all while making serious point that, if you are smart, you can be productively lazy and more effective as a result. Its a good point, we often manage projects in a comprehensive way but miss the obvious.

We all got through our Pecha Kuchas in 6m40s, even if one person (ahem) had to do this by not breathing for the duration and impersonating an auctioneer in a livestock market.  I learned that you speak considerably faster in your head than out loud, which is of course blindingly obvious.  These things need practising out loud.  One of my colleagues described the whole experience as the corporate equivalent of an extreme sport. I accidentally sold three cows and a Louis XIV dressing table during mine.

The World Cafe connected us really well and yielded a lot of thinking. Our challenge now is turn the pleasure and passion of the day into purposeful action so we can better at project management. If we include some non TR people then so much the better.

For a flavour of the London PKs, see Doug Shaw’s blog  Doug facilitated the unconference beautifully. We all knew what we were doing and why but it remained an event run by and for PMs. Perfect.

The Twitter stream, #trpm12, buzzed well through the day with people joining such a stream often for the first time.  It is a bit ephemeral but has the advantage of helping us to stay connected after the event. Its like electronic small talk, the immediate value is not huge, it is entertaining, but the long term value infinite.

There were good, “So What?” and “What Next?”, questions at the end. I think we know the answers to those questions.

The beer was cold.

The bits that could have been better:

Tests should be as close to the real thing as possible. We rehearsed in the morning but we did it in our suits and not the dread t-shirts.  The microphones didn’t work well with t-shirts.  We had to find Brian Knights (@pedanticbear) a mic mid PK to resolve that one.  Meanwhile Brian Knights was fabulous anyway, as all Nokia 6310 fans are.

One of the World Cafe questions was too broad.  This was my fault. We will fix it.

We placed the graphic artists in a corner so they struggled to keep up with the conversation, but worse the rest of the gang didn’t get to go and consume it and join in as much as I know can happen. We fix this for New York.

The unexpected bits, or the bits I didn’t dare hope for:

We have been looking for someone to run master classes for PMs in the part of TR I work in. We have met this need as a result of the event. It has been suggested we invite a few PMs from the wider community.  We will do so.

Several PMs contacted us afterwards offering to get involved in helping TR to get better at Project Management.  This was through several channels, LinkedIn Twitter, email and Pinot Noir. It included some of our external guests. That could get very interesting.

We have received several one off blog posts reflecting  views on the event, the community and project management in general. These will appear here soon.  Chuffed doesn’t cover it for this one.  In total we have had 6 posts, 4 of whom were first time blogger.

Linda Doty (our most prolific blogger) caught the buzz from St Louis and offered (invited herself actually, editing the agenda herself somehow) to do a PK in New York.  Linda doing a time bound preso definitely counts as a dangerous sport.  I am going to sell tickets for that one using my new found auctioneering skills.

I enjoyed it greatly.  Thanks to all for coming and contributing.  Lets make sure we transfer the momentum to action.

The half life clock is ticking on the passion…

And so to New York where the next event is to be held on 27th Sep. Go for it!


PS I wont be in NY, so you wont have to witness a man holding his breath for six minutes and forty seconds while talking continuously!

TR PM Unconferences: Project Management is a Funny Thing

In the continuing series of posts here leading up to the TR PM Unconferences in London and New York in September, here is a thought provoking piece on Project Management by Mark Simpson (  Mark led the charge in extending the TR PM Community in 2011. He formed and led the core team.

Over to Mark:


Drop the term Project Management into a conversation and it conjures a diverse range of reactions from people, but the most common reaction is a very definite glazing over of the eyes. If you are at a social occasion, the individual you have managed to zombify just by uttering the arcane words “Project Management” like a Harry Potter spell, may then snap out of their trance by noticing someone else they need to talk to and making a bee-line for them. Or is that just me…

Even if the reaction I encounter is specific to me and my engaging personality, I would suggest there are widespread assumptions about Project Management that affect how Project Managers and the discipline itself are regarded. Some examples:

  • Project Management is all about bureaucracy.
  • Project Management is the enemy of innovation.
  • Project Management and responsiveness are mutually exclusive.
  • Project Management is an unnecessary overhead that adds no value.
  • Project Managers are here to do my admin for me.
  • Project Managers are clipboard-wielding drones closely related to accountants.

Harsh, certainly. But fair? Certainly not, and endless books, articles and blog entries have been and will be written expounding the value of Project Management and forensically tackling these assumptions and others. But who reads them? I strongly suspect only Project Managers read them, or those closely involved with Project Management, and so this torrent of persuasion is largely preaching to the choir.

The reality is that there is much that needs to be done to raise the profile of Project Management and build an appreciation of its value outside of the Project Management community itself. I would suggest a dual perspective here – firstly, it is of course vital to drive recognition of the Project Management profession in the wider world. Many, perhaps most, members of our community see themselves as professional Project Managers and so the support and development of their careers is inextricably dependent on how their profession is seen and appreciated at Thomson Reuters and in the world at large.

But there are those of us who don’t see ourselves as professional Project Managers. Personally, I see myself as someone who has acquired  Project Management skills and experience over a varied career that includes other fields and disciplines as well. For me, my Project Management skill set is a vital part of my professional armoury and one I could not do without, but it does not define me in professional terms. I think there are many people like me, and the truth is there should be many more because this discipline is rich in skills, principles and tools that are critical to success.

I say the great challenge of our Project Management community, and the real indicator of its success, is how we draw in “non-Project Managers”, and how by engaging them we both dispel the myths that hold back our profession, but also spread the tools of the trade that anyone can learn to use in their work and thereby help to drive success for the whole business. This is where the value of the community space on The Hub [our Jive implementation in TR] is really starting to show its potential – by encouraging Hub users to search our content for answers, and by welcoming those who consult our community members for advice and help. We have already formed a habit of launching top trending discussions on The Hub, and I suspect we have one of the most vibrant communities on the platform. If we can capitalise on this not just to support each other, but to support everyone at TR who needs our help and advice, then we will reap the dividends in our professional lives in the long run as well.


Thanks to Mark for this,  he will be with us for the London event on Sep 11th.

We are both fans of Project Management. Among many other things, we share the view that while it can be a job, it also represents a set skills essential in many other roles.  We are open to those who need the skill and those who aspire, as well as to those who already carry the job title.

Mixing things up a little will likely lead to us learning and enjoying ourselves a lot more as unexpected things tend to happen when you do.  As just one example, when I kicked this little series off I expected to have to write it all myself. This is the second post written by someone who expressed a desire to do so.  There are 2-3 others brewing which I am delighted about. That they are mostly from people new to blogging is something I am even more delighted about. Feel free to join in by contacting me on Twitter through @allinsona or simply chipping in with the #trpm12 tag.

This is probably the last post before the London event this week.  We will add to the series again after the event and then again around the New York event on Sep 27th.

In the mean time, we would love to know what you think.

TR PM Unconferences: Are we nearly there yet?

Today, a typically witty, fresh, enthusiastic and undeservedly flattering contribution from the person who actullay gets all the work done, Diane Taylor Cummings (@DianeTC1).

Diane leads the PM Community in ThomsonReuters and has put together the Unconferences we have planned for London and New York in September. She kindly offered (after a little encouragement, I have a bit of track record, see below) to add to this series of blogs leading up to the events. This is about how we ended up embedding a bit of Unconference in our PM Conferences this September. This is terrifying stuff for  PMs.

She  refers to a chap called Anthony a couple of times. He is a pain in the neck, it’s like travelling with a three year old.


Around this time last year a new-ish member of the PMO Council (a GRC chap called Anthony Allinson) told me about an HR event he had been to and the rather strange event format they used.  You may have heard of Anthony.  He’s the one that keeps saying that he is not a project manager but then blogs constantly about project management!  Ever heard of a closet PM?

But getting back to the point, at this HR event, the agenda and content were not decided by a central planning team.  There were no keynote speakers.  The audience did not sit comfortably and listen to expert speakers passing down their wisdom.  Absolutely not!  At this HR event, the audience did the lion’s share of the talking and shared their own wisdom with each other. The agenda and content were driven by the audience. He called it an Unconference and said I should go to one.

I must confess that I ignored this suggestion at first, in the hope that it would go away. This Unconference sounded a bit weird.  It might be OK for these wacky HR folks (are you listening Nick Creswell) but I knew that our professional PMs liked our corporate-style annual event with keynote speakers.  It works so why change it?  But Anthony didn’t go away (the words persistence and tenacity come to mind [I really am a pain the neck, working with me is like going on along journey with a three year old in the back of the car] and so a few months later, Louise Eccles and I were travelling to a strange and distant part of London (Vauxhall) to experience our first Unconference.

We arrived.  It did not look promising.  The venue was a rather old & basic warehouse-type building hidden in a housing estate.  A far cry from the polished marble and sharp suits of Canary Wharf!  I felt overdressed even in the jeans that I had been advised to wear. Maybe I should have worn my scruffy blue jeans instead of my smarter black ones?

But what can I say.  By the end of the day my pre-conceptions were shattered.  The Unconference format was incredibly dynamic and powerful.  We didn’t “network”, we talked, shared and engaged with people. We came away exhausted but inspired and more significantly, converted.  We had become evangelists of the Unconference.

From there our journey continued. We worked with a small team of passionate PMs to bring our own version of the Unconference to our PM Community.  We are almost ready.  The London event is next week.  The NY event is two weeks later.  A few people from Eagan are coming to see it and try it out, so maybe it will go to Eagan too.

Here are a few things that I have learned on this journey.  No doubt there will more lessons once the events are over but this is a start:

  1. Think outside the box.  I thought I did this already as every year we always looked for “something new” for our Annual events.  But now I know that I was only changing the things inside the box.  This time we have thrown away the old box and found a new one!
  2. Listen and be prepared to take a risk.  Nuff said really.
  3. Don’t assume.  A ex-manager of mine told me this many years ago.  I even have it written on my desk but it can still trip me up.  It was easy to assume that the Unconference philosophy of content-from-audience would lend itself to an easy-to-implement & lower-cost event!  But the reality is that it takes far far more detailed planning to get the foundation & structure of an Unconference in place than for a traditional conference, although to be fair, some of that might be because we are beginners.  And the costs are not cheaper – just different.
  4. Don’t underestimate the value of the PM community.  We all know about Stakeholder Mgmt and getting senior buy-in.  After all, we are PMs and that is our job.  But there is more to it.  There is a whole other story to tell about our PM community, the passion of our PMs, how they get stuff done despite the organisational obstacles around them, about how the community has used to the Hub do some of this and to find a voice.

Maybe this should be my next blog? I will simply say here that top down is not enough, and that harnessing the collective PM community is the only way that we can make project management better.  We have to do it ourselves.  And that is what the Unconference is all about.  So let’s see what happens on the day…


Tenacious, moi ? Thanks Diane, I was a bit of a broken record and I did nearly gave up once or twice.

Are we nearly there yet ?  Looks that way… but this project is only 95% done and we all know what happens when a project is 95% done 🙂


TR PM Unconferences: Avoiding Clubiness

Golf is a great game, but growing up, one aspect of it really used to grate.

I really dislike the club mentality that sometimes comes with the game. It seems to have become a lot more open and democratic in recent years, but growing up in North Leeds we were surrounded by several golf clubs. The exclusivity, the blazers, the ties, the silly socks, the pomposity, the hierarchies and cliques in oak clad rooms made my skin crawl.

I pick on golf for the sake of an example. It is a bit unfair as clubbiness breaks out in lots of other clubs too. I have noticed this in cricket and sailing clubs (though not generally in sailors).

I am not a project manager. But I am a fan of them. I also manage projects. Lots of people who don’t carry the label have to do this. If we set up a project every time we installed a bench things would get really slow.  But take a look at the photo at the top of the blog.  It shows why many of us need some basic project management skills.

There are I hope some people coming to our ThomsonReuters PM Unconferences in September who are secret PMs like me, and others who aspire to be project managers but aren’t there yet.

They are most welcome.

My introduction to unconferences, blogging etc,  came from my being invited to an HR Unconference last year. I am not in HR either, but they let me in. I think one or two eyebrows got raised, but I was made hugely welcome and made some new friends and learned lots. Now look what has happened.  More on this in a post here from Diane Taylor-Cummings (@DianeTC1) tomorrow.

It is almost inevitable that I will discover that golf is a great game at some point and have another ex smoker moment. I hope they let me in!!

As ever, I would love to know what you think. (The copyright for that phrase is held by @AlisonChisnell by the way!)