Designing Together - Podcast Interview with Dan Brown
Designing Together Design,
At DigitalPM 2013 I had the chance to meet Dan Brown, who is a founder and principal at Eight Shapes, a Washington D.C. based user experience consulting firm. Dan is also the author of Communicating Design and Designing Together and at the conference he facilitated a session using a game called Surviving Design Projects that he developed to help improve communication with design on projects where there is conflict.
In the interview we discuss Dan’s perspective on the value Design brings to the team and how we can improve our interaction with them. Dan also shares his thoughts on the challenges facing the role of project management in the digital space.
One of my lightbulb moments during this conversation was that in many ways, it seems as though the design side of the house and the agile software side of the house are headed down the street in the same direction, but on opposite sides of the street. It raises the question of when/how there will be a convergence in how the two sides approach their work.
Øredev 2013: Resetting the Bar
If you have ever attended a professional conference, one of the most common things you hear goes something like this:
"Oh, I don’t actually get much out of the sessions. I really just attend to network. The most important part of these things is what happens in the hallways in between sessions."
One reason professionals often attend conferences is for self-validation. Being surrounded for a few days by peers who share the same knowledge base you do and attending sessions that confirm that you all do in fact know the things you need to know can be very reassuring.
If you reach the stage where that becomes boring, you, like many will bail on the sessions and spend time in the hallway chatting with your colleagues. This is the portion most people say they find most valuable. It is a great way to extend your network, check in with others on your ideas and ensure that your face and name are a recognized entity in your professional community.
The question is, is this really the best that professional conferences have to offer?
This fall I attended two events that changed the way I look at conferences. The first was DPM 2013, which I’ve already written about here. It exposed me to a segment of professionals in the PM field who are working towards what may become a new way of approaching work. It includes aspects of agile and traditional pm, but is really neither of those things.
This November, I had the good fortune to be able to present at Øredev 2013 and this is the event that has had the most significant impact on how I view conferences now. This was my 3rd time attending Øredev. It is always enriching and challenging, but this time, I found myself very reluctant to miss any of the session. Each talk I attended introduced me to a new batch of ideas, concepts and ways of working that were unfamiliar to me. Each speaker I watched present, challenged some assumptions or practices I hadn’t previously thought to question. As someone who was firmly in the “It all happens in the hallways” camp, this was a new experience for me. I was more concerned about missing something my brain needed than I was about hanging out in the halls networking. Any decent conference will offer an attendee a chance to learn something, but what makes Øredev stand out is that it requires something more than information consumption.
The best way to sum it up may be by paraphrasing a conversation I had with another attendee at Øredev following the "Tekhnasthai" keynote given by Anna Beatrice Scott. He said:
IMHO, this is the type of bar against which conferences planners should be measuring themselves if their events are going to retain value going forward. And as attendees, we should use the same bar. Going to conferences where we can have our assumptions validated or where we can be passively fed is not enough. In order to grow the profession and grow in our practice of it, we should always be seeking out events that will push and challenge us and leaning into the scary bits.
Digital PM Podcast Interview with Carson Pierce from YellowPencil
One of the people I had pleasure of meeting at DPM 2013 was Carson Pierce. Carson is the Director of Project Management at Yellow Pencil, an end-to-end service provider for web development based in Edmonton and Vancouver. He’s also one of the folks helping the DPM community take root and grow.
Carson and I discussed DPM2013, the challenges facing the digital PM community with respect to the Agile vs. traditional question, and the group he has formed of folks in this space who are actively trying to find the collaborate on finding the optimal way to solve the unique each of them faces.
You can follow Carson on Twitter here.
You can find Brett Harned on Twitter here.
Digital PM Summit 2013 - Day 1 Recap
Digital Pm Summit,
Day 1 of the inaugural Digital PM Summit is in the books and it was impressive. The event is being held in Philadelphia and is billed as "The first conference for a community of people who manage all things digital". I've attended and spoken at a lot of IT and PM related conferences in the past and there is definitely something unique going on here. There are a lot of conferences that focus on design and a lot that focus on development, and what they offer covers a wide range of subject matter and are delivered in a variety of formats. There are also a lot of PM conferences that focus on project management from the more formalized approach to managing work. And there are the Agile conferences which cut a slice across those areas. However, those conferences don't really speak to the audience that is present here in Philly this week. For the folks who manage projects at digital agencies, there is a different need. The agencies tend to be small to medium sized businesses with projects that can last anywhere from a month to a year (on average). The teams tend to be smaller in nature and many of them are caught in a space where a "just do it" can work for awhile, but it brings a lot of the pains you'd expect (stress, marathon last minute efforts, and technical debt). They could go the route of moving towards a more formal approach (like PMI), but the process burden doesn't really fit with the needs of the client or the work culture. They could also address a lot of their challenges with Agile, but this is not an ideal fit for many of their clients who are often more traditional minded and aren't compelled to change. So, what they end up with are a need to be able to manage work using a variety of approaches based on the needs of each specific project and client. At a larger organization (upwards of 50), it might be possible to bear the overhead of staff who are expert in different areas and approaches, but most of these organizations have a more lean approach that requires them to be able to develop a broader range of options in how they manage work. Coupled with that is the fact that the medium they work in is in a constant state of flux and they are expected to always be on the edge of what is the new, best way of designing things that leverage the latest tech.
The PMs in this space have to have one eye on design (maybe one and a half) and the other eye on technical practices. And somewhere in the middle, they still need to develop PM skills. Going back 10-20 years, my experience in this space was that the project management side of things involved a lot of floundering around, establishing a new approach every time things went really side-ways. The agencies that garnered all the attention back in the boom were places like Razorfish that kept a keen eye on the design side of the medium. That was, and remains, a valid approach, but this field has grown and evolved and is hungry for a better way. Unfortunately, none of the primary options can holistically solve the challenges they face.
What I have found to be truly unique about this event is the programming and the attendees. The way yesterday began offers a great example of what I believe makes this event a valuable and interesting alternative. The day started with Jeffrey Zeldman giving a talk that was rooted in design and UX standards. It was followed by Jared Ponchot that also skewed towards design as well, but dealt a lot with the creative process and how to approach creative work. The third speaker was the Conference Chair, Brett Harned, who gave talk called "How to be a Better Project Manager". Each of these talks would be at home in a variety of separate conferences, but putting programming like that together for this sold out event is what set the tone. These are not PMs who want/need to spend an hour learning about a better way to do Earned Value or, Critical Chain or managing projects that deal with Sarbanes-Oxley, CMM, ISO or (insert process here). These are design centric PMs who are deeply involved in the creative process who, while they may not self-identify as servant leaders need an approach that enables and supports their creative and technical leaders. Agile has a place here, but these folks are not Agilists. Traditional practices have a place here, but these folks are not PMPs (mostly). They are also not (mostly) designers or developers. They are creative PMs in the digital space. While it would be great to be able to develop expertise in each individual area (design, development, traditional PM and Agile), the years of work that could take would definitely be at odds with the realities of serving their clients.
One of the things I found most impressive yesterday morning was that for during the first 3 talks, there was the level of attentiveness and engagement of the people present at the conference. That is not to say that people who attend other conferences aren't engaged and attentive, but this was different. My experience has been that at a traditional PM event, career PMs look for a few new ideas and go to validate what they think they know. At an event like Øredev, technically savvy knowledge workers who are more on the advanced end of the spectrum go to be challenged with new ideas and ways of working that are often a few years ahead of the curve. At an Agile Conference or Scrum Gathering practitioners of Agile get together to work on how to get better at applying Agile. What I saw yesterday was a room full of people who were all there to find better ways to help the work that are fully respectful and supportive of the creative and technical process. They were not so much looking for ways to change how others work, but more for ways to change how they approach their own work.
Five or ten years ago, I'm not sure if something like this would have sold out so quickly to an audience that includes attendees from all over the US and some from Europe as well. But this community of Digital PMs is a segment of the PM community is definitely hungry for the opportunity to share and hone their unique spin on the field of project management.
Kudos to Greg Hoy, Brett Harned, Allison Harshbarger and the folks at Happy Cog for having the vision to create this event and for having done such a great job with it. #bigdamnheroes
Personal Kanban - App Review Update: LeanKit and Kanban Pad
I mentioned before that I was happy enough with LeanKit that after I had adapted to using it, that I was not going to keep testing out different apps for Personal Kanban.
What can I say...
I was pretty happy with LeanKit from a Personal Kanban standpoint. When I checked it against my original criteria a few weeks ago, it only hit 50% of my original requirements:
But that was better than none, and it let me do some stuff I felt was really important:
I am also part of a volunteer group that had made a decision to use it and we were able to get full access to the tool which opened up some additional functionality. Being able to attach files to card and assign them to multiple individuals is something I found very helpful when using it with a team.
I went to a meeting. I sat next to someone way smarter to me. I glanced at his screen and saw that he was using a Kanban app. Since he is smarter than me, and had come to a meeting with just an iPad (an obvious indicator of superior intellect and travel skill), and his screen was filled with a lot of really bright colors, it became obvious to me that this was an app worthy of further investigation. And this is how I was introduced to Kanban Pad.
When I compare this Kanban Pad against my original criteria:
The app works great on an iPad or in a web browser. It's easy to drag cards from one column to another. And technically, Kanban Pad works on an iPhone as well. They do have a version sized for the small screen. Unfortunately, in the smaller screen, you can only view one column at a time. Trying to move tasks between columns in this format left me feeling like I was wearing boxing gloves while carrying a small child, a folding chair and trying to eat an ice cream cone at the same time.
Kanban Pad does allow for customizable, swim lanes, but not in exactly the same way that you'd set them up on a physical board. It allows you to establish multiple columns and within each column the Type setting allows you to establish Queue, In Progress or Queue and In Progress workflows. By using Queue and In Progress and editing the labels, I found an easy solution to my recurring task issue.
Another great feature is that the Product Backlog and Backlog of work that has moved past Accepted (meaning it no longer needs to be seen), can be maintained off the main task board.
Kanban Pad also allows you to establish WIP limits for your queues and it warns you fairly incessantly about your flagrant violation of them should you choose to venture off the path. (I ended up not using this feature because my frustration over the warnings became more significant than my desire to maintain WIP limits.
The app includes a feature where you can customize colored tags which can be applied to each task so that you can tell what type of work you are looking at.
There are a number of additional features that Kanban Pad offers, but those are the ones that have proven to be most valuable to me from a Personal Kanban perspective.
By way of a final verdict/opinion on the app, I offer this... I've been using Kanban Pad for about 6-8 weeks now. It has become my primary tool for managing my work using Personal Kanban. After all my efforts at trying to find a way to use Things as a tool for Personal Kanban, I've all but stopped using Things and only open it (or Reminders) now when I have to capture something that I will add to my task board later.