Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

Are conference attendances useful in delivering better projects?


I was at an industry conference at San Diego last week. Aside from the stark difference basking in 26°C, compared to the 6°C that I left behind in Wellington, what struck me most was how projects face the same challenges the world over. Having spoken to my counterparts from Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Austria and East Africa, our challenges and constraints in projects are not markedly different.

Are conference attendances useful in delivering better projects

As I was attending various presentations during the week, it was quite a pattern. Most presentations covered what the project did, followed by a demonstration and discussion on technology used to deliver those feature functions. This is in keeping with other similar conferences I have attended over the years. What we most often do not share in these industry forums is what outcomes the customers were looking for, challenges the delivery team faced, tradeoffs the customer had to make because of this, which resulted in the final shape of the project as it was delivered. I found it far more useful to talk to some of the presenters after their talks. I found they were much more relaxed and readily forthcoming with the kind of information I was looking for.

Delivering IT projects are interesting exercises even at the best of times. On my flight I was talking to a company director who was quizzing me on why IT projects fail so often. From his point of view such projects are usually one of the top CAPEX projects in companies that he and fellow directors worry about. He had a valid point. If I had a ready made answer for this, I would be a millionaire. My main goal attending these conferences it to ensure I can minimise having to learn lessons first hand that my peers have learned from making mistakes.

It is a delicate balance however. Having spoken to my peers around the world, it seems that same approaches have worked in some parts of the world and failed miserably in others. Some approaches that we had discounted seems to have flourished elsewhere. It is key therefore just to not look at results on the surface, but also understand the cause of such success or failure. Conference settings are notoriously difficult to delve to that level of detail. I have also found that we are much better at scrutinising things that have not gone well and less aware of what made our projects successful. It seems success makes us complacent.

You have to always remember to not take away half baked ideas as learning. This is where the connections you make in such conferences are gold. If you stay in touch with like minded peers and exchange ideas, this can form a huge source of information and a place to test your ideas before you jump in at the deep end.

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