Why community matters.

Want to learn more, get help, or gain a new perspective? Joining your virtual (or local) digital community might just be the answer…

Did you know that there is an online community of digital project managers?

There have been events and conferences for Web Designers and Developers for more than a decade. These include: Reasons.to, Future of Web Design and many others. But it’s only in the last three years or so that a grassroots community has grown up around managing digital projects.

I have to confess that I never thought I’d be as interested in the ‘science’ of project management as much as I am now. For me, PM was always a means to an end — it was the next logical step on from designing and developing. I’ve worked agency-side for ten years now. I think it’s fair to say that my previous employers didn’t look to the outside for ideas in quite the same way that my most recent agency does.

Inspiration from across the pond

The person who really got me interested in the Digital Project Management (DPM) community is Brett Harned, a consultant, coach and advocate based in Philadelphia, PA. Brett is a warm-hearted and genuine guy with a real passion for getting people together.

Through the Bureau of Digital, Brett set up the first DPM Summit in Philadelphia in October 2013. The event has been a massive success and acted as a great opportunity to get PMs from all around the US and beyond to ‘geek out’ on process, tools and people. The third annual DPM summit is being held this year, again in Philadelphia. So far, I haven’t been able to attend the summit but I have followed the event online from over here in the UK.

DPM takes off in the UK

In summer 2013 I attended Slide and Stage — a ‘talk on giving talks’ — in Brighton and met Sam Barnes for the first time. Later in the year, after seeing his slides from the DPM Summit, I contacted Sam and we got together to talk about trying to get something going in the UK. The first DPM:UK event in Manchester had just been announced so the timing was perfect.

After hearing about DPM:UK, I decided that our team had to go. Then I contacted the organiser Matt Thornhill to ask if there was anything I could help with. We had a great conversation over Skype and it resulted in me joining the Q&A panel (chaired by Paul Boag) for the conference in January 2014.

But what about locally?

On a more local level, I can thank my colleague Ben MacGowan for getting me interested in the digital community. In 2013 Ben started work on Breaking Borders, an event held in Reading for Designers and Developers. After lots of badgering to attend I’ve managed to get along to quite a few. Events like these, which embrace the wider digital community are great. They get you thinking and increase your exposure to new people and ideas.

In Summer 2014, after attending Breaking Borders, I started talking to Holly Davis from White October about trying to get a local meet-up going. Holly and the team held their first DOxPM event, appropriately enough, on 1st October 2014. Since then there have been more than ten further meet-ups. After attending several events I even volunteered to join the organising committee!

So, why get involved? What’s in it for you?

I suppose you might be thinking: ‘this is all very well and it works for you, but why would I give up my spare time to get involved in something like this?’

These are the best reasons I can think of to persuade you:

Grow your knowledge and learn your craft

Digital is one of those fields that is constantly changing. Therefore you really can’t afford to stand still and let your knowledge turn stale. There will be someone who’s learnt the new thing that’s come along and the chances are they’ll get picked instead of you.

On the flip side there is SO much stuff out there to help you to understand how digital things work that you really don’t have an excuse! Indeed, people who make digital products or services seem to love publishing information about exactly how they did it…

Get noticed

Contributing to Twitter debates (e.g. #PMChat) or LinkedIn groups doesn’t take a lot of effort and it could be the route to getting noticed. If you can find a way of getting your voice heard online it can be a way of getting included in interesting conversations. And, even better, getting to know who else there is out there. You never know, it might be the first step to a career move.

Build a network or get help

Once you’ve established a few connections and figured out who’s got interesting things to say, then the best thing is to ask questions. One of the things I’ve observed about the DPM community is just how friendly and supportive everyone is. There’s genuinely no such thing as a stupid question. You’ll be amazed at who has experienced (and solved) many of the challenges you’re currently having. Many PMs are guilty of struggling on alone (particularly if it’s just you in your team/organisation). Don’t — you just need to ask…

Get a new perspective

It’s easy when you work in an organisation with established process and conventions to forget that there are other ways of doing things. Being part of a community can open your eyes to how others do things and make you question whether your way is the best way (or indeed, the only way). I’ve always been a bit sceptical about Agile as a methodology. I’ve been involved in several projects that tried to use it but didn’t run a smoothly as I felt like they should have. By hanging around with people who swear by it it’s made me wonder whether I’m missing something and want to learn more.

How to get involved

Here are some of the best ways to join in:

  1. Social: Twitter (@BrettHarned, @TheSamBarnes, @ProjectDavis), LinkedIn (Web project Managers, Digital Project Management, Digital Producers), Google Groups
  2. Blogging — reading (The Digital Project Manager, The Sam Barnes, Louder than ten, Team Gantt) or if you’re feeling brave, writing.
  3. Attend a conference e.g. DPM:UK in Manchester or the DPM Summit in Philadelphia
  4. Go along to a local meet-up — there are DPM meet-ups in the UK in: Manchester, Bristol, Bournemouth, Oxford and London and in North America in: Vancouver, BC; New York, NY; Portland, OR and Philadelphia, PA

If there isn’t a meet-up near you why not start one? It’s surprisingly easy and the organisers of other meet-ups nearby may be prepared to help.

So what are you waiting for?

Now is as good a time as any to get involved. Whether it’s in the Digital Project Management community, or one more related to your field, there is a community out there for everyone. There are so many options to suit all needs and talents. Let’s make this year the year to get involved.