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!

Cheers,

Anthony

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7 thoughts on “Voyeur by Russell Whitworth

  1. Bringing the outside in – it really makes a difference. Striving for improvement is so much easier when we can gain the benefit and insight from people who we don’t associate with on a day to day basis. People in large, well established organisations over time simply forget, or become conditioned not to challenge, or ask the ‘dumb questions’ that can often produce exciting new and reinvented ideas. And as for the time invested being fun – that gets my vote every time!

    • Doug and Diane,

      Thanks both for taking the time, especially as Doug is probably concentrating on packing and Diane is galavanting around Hamburg.

      I read a book called The Flinch a while ago. Its free on Amazon but also available in PDF so can be read on practically anything.

      http://tinyurl.com/8lbraqu

      It describes why we fear things. Put simply its only a few tens of years since there were no antibiotics, no social security and food supply chains tended to break due to drought and other factors beyond our control. Put simply, we are programmed to fear things because if the status quo works, then change really is a big risk. Infection, poverty, starvation etc posed real threats to your life which would almost inevitably be nasty, brutish and short.

      Over riding that is tough. But things have changed and its often worth it. The book relays this much better and can be read in an hour.

      Cheers

  2. Bringing the outside in can feel risky. People will ask you why and come up with reasons not to. But a new pair of eyes can bring unexpected, innovative and challenging insights. Thanks Russell for sharing his experience of our PM Unconference, thanks to Doug for holding our hands through the Unconference day, and thanks to Anthony for introducing us to the Unconference idea in the first place New York are you ready?

  3. Russell,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on the day’s events at our project management unconference in South Colonnade.

    For me, it is very encouraging to hear you endorse the use of the twitterstream (‘please count me in’) not only as a way of promoting the #trpm12 activities you described but also as a means of connecting to the wider project management community outside of the corporate firewall. If you host a similar event at Deutsche Telekom will you reciprocate and do the same? If you do, please count me in…

    Brgds, Ian
    @iwhitti

  4. Good to see the comments on here – I suppose it isn’t that surprising that there are more comments here than on the original version on our internal DT platform.

    Let me respond to Ian’s question of whether we would use Twitterfall in DT. In terms of providing a live on-screen feed during the event, this is an easy answer – as we have already done it. But we didn’t use Twitter, we used SMS. Functionally it looked pretty much the same, and indeed we got more interaction (in terms of message count) than the #trpm12 stream. Perhaps because not everyone has a Twitter account, but everyone has a mobile phone with SMS?

    Technically it was easy for us to set up, since we have the SMS development team as part of our community. It would be a bit harder, but not impossible, for an external company to use SMS in this way.

    However, there is a significant difference between SMS and Twitter, in that one is private and the other is public. Would I want to comment on or question a presentation by our group CTO in public? Well actually I would, but I’d do so in a way that is filtered for (potential) public consumption. I can easily see that it would be possible to get into hot water by inadvertently revealing some product hint in an inappropriate way. A project manager working on the UK 4G rollout might, for example, ask a question that refers to a Christmas launch… which would be fine now that it has been announced but would have been highly inappropriate a week ago.

    My view is that this risk can be managed with appropriate guidelines – and we do have corporate social media guidelines, as I hope TR has, and which I’m keeping in mind as I write this. So I would recommend use of a Twitterfall stream for a future DT event – yes, definitely. Whether my senior stakeholders would accept this, I don’t know. It’s a tough call.

    Unfortunately I won’t get the chance to find out. As some of you already know, I am impacted by the decision to close down the Technology function in DTUK, so I will be moving on in the coming months. My Twitter identity remains @V96GLF, and I’m quite certain this isn’t the end of the road…

    • Russell,

      It was great to get a summary of the event from someone other than an organiser and a TR rep. This one got a lot more comments than my attempt to summarise things here at the weekend!

      We have had a few guest posts that we’ve kept internal either because the writer preferred it or because I felt the content was more TR oriented than about connecting to the wider PM community.

      We have great guidelines, central to them is application of good judgement.

      Stay in touch. I intend to mobilise a few people to help us get better at project management. That will include non TR people to keep it fresh and informed.

      Keep it coming.

      Thanks,

      Anthony

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