One week ago today, I was in the middle of the biggest, most fun professional event of my career: The 2013 Digital PM Summit. It was inspiring, informative, stressful, fun, and mind-blowing all at the same time. I'm extremely proud to have been one of the organizers and attendees. I feel like my brain is still spinning from the whole experience, but I want to share some thoughts with my new friends! So here we go...
First, I have to acknowledge that there have been PM conferences in our industry in the past. Adaptive Path held a couple, but they ceased to exist some time ago. And, as many "web PMs" know, there has been discussion on LinkedIn about events for digital PMs. I hope that those other events happen--this community is MUCH larger than the 150 attendees we saw in Philadelphia this month.
Did I ever think that I'd be organizing a two-day conference for digital project managers? No. Am I glad I did? Hell yes!
Honestly, the reason I talked Greg Hoy and Greg Storey at Happy Cog into letting me do this was for a lack of real content and sense of community for me and my team of project managers at larger web industry events. Being a team member of Happy Cog means that you're constantly learning from your peers, have opportunities to attend great events like An Event Apart, and often have many amazing resources at your fingertips. All of that is amazing, and I'm sure to jump on every opportunity. Those opportunities are great, but there is never a direct connection to project management as a practice. Over the past year or so, there has been a slow increase in content about managing projects from folks in the industry, but I wasn't seeing too much of that content come from actual project managers. I knew they were out there and I knew they had something to say, I just was not sure that my community would ever form.
The challenge was on.
After a few ventures with speaking at events like SXSW, Web Design Day, and NXNE with a moderate level of success, I thought, "We should do this." I took it to Greg and Greg and they thought the idea had legs. We enlisted Alison Harshbarger to help out, and we were on our way.
We took a very measured approach before jumping in. We surveyed the land and found over 700 people who said "you should do this." From there, we planned: contacted speakers, looked at event spaces, started a marketing list, built a site, found a caterer, etc.
I had no idea what I was doing. Neither did anyone else. Planning an event is similar to planning a project, but there are so many details that I had never thought about. I knew that because we'd been to so many conferences that we knew what makes a "good" experience, but I wasn't really sure how to make that happen. We had the benefit of knowing some amazing event organizers, so we set up calls to pick their brains about practices. We absorbed as much info as possible, and I like to think it paid off.
It took us about 9 months to make the event happen. We worked up until the last person left WHYY on the 15th, and it was 110% worth it.
For me, the best part about organizing this event was curating the content. At first, I thought it might be tough to fill the speaker lineup with the agenda I had envisioned. I thought that it would be amazing if we could learn from speakers as a group, and then break out in to smaller groups and discuss ideas around specific topics. But that meant I had to recruit at least 20 speakers. TWENTY.
The content had to be a mix of client/PM-specific talks and web-relevant topics and practices. Contacting speakers was exciting and fun. After every phone call or email I grew more excited about the lineup. Thankfully, I only ended up bummed a couple of times, because you can't always get what (or who) you want. But even in those cases, the support for the event was emphatic. In the end, was so happy with our speakers, and felt lucky. Added to that, I came away with a nugget of wisdom from every talk.
In the end, I was happy with the outcome, but I have ideas to make our next event more diverse, and provide avenues to dive deeper into some more PM-practice specific content. The goal of this first event was to build community and provide a "we all do this" kind of vibe. From here on out, I think that we, as a community, can begin to focus on and standardize practices. And talk about them. This is what excites me most about our next event.
We released a survey this week to get a sense for how people enjoyed the event. More than anything, I want to provide an experience that is not only fun, but useful. Like I mentioned already, I have some ideas for improving the format. But, like any good project manager would do, we'll be conducting a post mortem meeting to find out ways we can be better.
Over the next couple of months, I hope to plan some workshops and continue to build the community. We'll keep blogging at blog.dpm2013.com, and will do everything we can to keep the community engaged with a new site, which should lauch soon!