Project Managers matter, and other self-actualizing thoughts

I had a wild aha moment last week while I was away at my first PM conference. I work in web and I'm a project manager. I thought I “got it”. Except, I guess I didn’t.

It wasn’t until I was surrounded in a ballroom of my peers, hearing Brett Harned's Army of Awesome rallying cry, seeing the words blown up on a screen that I realized, Oh my god. I'm not a glorified secretary.

I may not be the one coding, designing, or deploying a product, but what I do matters. It makes a difference. I'm part of my team in a tangible way. And a there are others like me

We're here because we are needed

Similar to DrupalCon, the Digital PM Summit is a conference that travels around the US from city to city each year. This year it landed in San Antonio, a hop-skip and two-hour drive from my home in Austin, Texas.  

As a seasoned event manager, I tend to have a pretty agnostic relationship towards attending conferences. Speakers present their topics. Attendees politely paid attention, or didn’t. The draw of a glowing macbook is hard competition against topics which don't directly apply to me and the work I do.

But this time was different. For once, I not only understood the scheduled topics, I wanted to attend them. For once, I had trouble choosing. I was even excited to talk to strangers, not something that comes easy to me, because we already have something in common.

My world was rocked.

Over the course of three days, speakers and attendees shared tools, processes, tips, and horror stories of life in the PM trenches. It was quite cathartic and therapeutic to be surrounded by people who understand and empathize, because they live it, too.

Talking to other digital project managers this weekend was invaluable, and something I didn’t realize I was missing out on. Turns out, I wasn't the only one. While a handful of the attendees were newbies, like me, many others remember their first Digital PM Summit fondly. All these same warm-fuzzies I was feeling was part of the reason they come back.

Here’s a few of my biggest takeaways, many of which were reiterated by different people, in various situations, throughout the course of the event:

1. The struggles and challenges I face as a PM are normal. I'm not on fire, and nobody is dying.

2. Early and honest communication helps solve and prevent problems.

3. Problems aren’t always external. Internal scope creep is real. 

4. Nobody's figured out how to virtually replicate an in-person whiteboard brainstorming session.

5. Project Managers should carve out time for themselves and often don’t. 

6. The importance of empathy, building relationships, and treating people like humans. 

Side note: If you haven't seen Derek's DrupalCon Dublin session on perfectionism or read Brené Brown's work on vulnerability and you work with people, do yourself a favor, and get caught up. 

As you can probably gather, DPM was quite a touchy-feely event, something that's also not the most comfortable thing in the world for me. I think that twinge of discomfort helped me appreciate the honesty and open dialogue even more.

For me, this event was professionally and personally beneficial and I've come home better prepared to work with my team, to engage with my clients, and to better appreciate and respect the work that I do. That we all do. 

If you're a PM, and you haven't heard this at all or lately, you are awesome. Your work matters. And you are needed.

October 17, 2016
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