DPM Summit 2015: NO PMs – It’s the future

Posted in PM, Talks

Thanks for checking out my blog. I’ve broken up my DPM: Summit talk into 3 distinct posts.

For the ‘Price per Point’ contracts stuff check out Part 1 here

Part 2 about automation tools is here

Slide deck here

The role of managing a digital project is not one person’s responsibility. It is a team effort. Too many PMS think that it’s all down to them, too many developers think that client management has nothing to do with them – .all total nonsense. The only way you will manage a digital project is through the hard work, compromise and specific skillsets of multiple people

So for a recent project. Rather than coming in and saying: ”I am the PM do what I say’

If you ever act like a TSA agent around your team…you’re a shit PM.

We booked some time together as a team and we all came up with what we understood to be the key points in the process and brainstormed working agreements as to how we could work as effectively as possible to ensure each team member got what they needed.This helped us to see the project from other team members points of view.

The team also came up with what behaviours were important to them and agreed on penalties if they failed to fulfil them, so If you missed scrum, hadn’t updated Jira or sent through notes for the daily stand up then you had to do a plank. here’s an example

We also received rewards for positive behaviours or excellent work and scores were given each week. The team rotated roles so no one person was having to do all the work.

Weirdly with these things in place, The team effectively started to self-manage itself and my role as PM became less and less important. however, my role as a member of the team became ever more important – it was a really powerful experience and it made me realise a number of things.

Cats make excellent PMs – Note how they get everyone else to do the work with style

Doing yourself out of a job by getting your team to take on more PM responsibility, is really exciting. It’s definitely not shirking your work, but helping other see the bigger picture. There’s no shortage of stuff to do on a digital project so we shouldn’t be precious as to what our domain is…the question should be what is the best way of getting these things done given the people and tools and time we have at our disposal


The old stereotypes are no longer true:
Introverted coders, aloof designers and PMs shouting about the process are very, very old and archaic ways of looking at roles. We hurt ourselves and our teams
Coders nowadays are extremely creative. Designers may be sticklers for rigorous testing and evidence-based design. Good PMS are becoming more and more invisible.We’re shouldn’t be waving our hands around shouting loudly, things should just somehow go much smoother when a good PM is around.
Tech is a huge industry and it attracts people from a broad range of backgrounds.

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper – One of the most kick-ass developers we’ve been blessed with. We continually perpetuate the bullshit stereotypes because they’re easier than engaging with the truth.

Stereotypes about gender, attitude and personality not only hurt us by limiting our ability to see what each role can and can’t do. They also act as barriers to people wanting to move into the industry. Learning to code is like learning a foreign language – it gives you a completely new avenue to express yourself and be creative. It is no longer something that is just ‘reserved for geeks’ and we need to do all we can to continue to smash down out of date prejudices and stereotypes.
It’s also true that nothing ever stands still. so even if you get a team to be self-managing then things will eventually change and they’ll need someone like a PM/Coach to help them adjust. This has always been my experience but we don’t necessarily have to have this fixed PM role where we are always there, always doing the same things for highly experienced teams that should really be mature enough to run through their process without a token PM being the leader.
We need to keep adapting the way we think of our role and the way we approach our work because our work is dramatically changing. Automation is going to dramatically alter the landscape of our work.

There is a great talk and writings from Andrew Mcafee which I really encourage you to check out. Where he effectively shows how automation has already taken over a number of knowledge-based industries. For example:

Right-now automation is often only producing outputs that are just about ‘good enough’ but not great for detail and nuance like Google Translate but if we look at the rate of technological change and take a Moore’s law view, then pretty soon some of these placeholder technologies are going to move from being ‘good enough’ to being the new standards.

You can easily see in 20 or 30 years time someone might be looking back at the way you work now and think: ‘’I can’t believe you did all that- that was crazy and so laborious. We did not need a PM to do that.’

Relevant article:

The job of a Digital Project Manager is already radically different to what it was 20 years ago. We inherited tools and techniques from manufacturing and industry – all of which have been useful in some way, but then had to adapt them to a world where some developers can build a site or an app faster than I can create a Pert Chart.

Agile PMs didn’t really exist until the 1970s so who knows what’s next.

We’re not going to suddenly abandon useful tools and techniques be it waterfall, Agile or whatever.But the essence of our job changes as the products we produce change. and our work environment changes

A study in 2014 found 35% of jobs in the UK are at risk due to automation in the next 20 years. That’s massive and ⅓ of the workforce undergoing change will have a massive impact on you whether you are directly in that ⅓ or not.


And I for one welcome our new robot overlords…

Some of the types of jobs under risk were admin, sales, clerical support and services but here’s the good news: the replacement jobs will need ‘digital, management and creative skills’. That’s a DPM right?

Those words digital, management and creativity really make me think of the modern digital PM and they types of skills I need to work on in order to be successful now and in the future.

I’d argue passion for learning is more important than process knowledge (in the long term) as our processes will continue to change
Human skills like, motivation, empathy, facilitating change outweigh admin abilities like documenting, scheduling, forecasting – as eventually tools and A.I.s will be able to do that or us
Protecting budgets is important but if you aren’t gaining experience about taking risks then all your projects may be on time and on budget, but they’ll probably be too safe for the modern world
Taking risks and dealing with unknowns and changes is an essential part of what we do now and what we will continue to do in the future.

We are the people that can help teams prepare for and explore crazy new ground in a sensible and well thought out manner.

And this is something we are going to need more and more of. In the past two years myself and other DPMs have received client requests along the following lines:

  • “We’d like customers to be able to download the app directly onto their phones when they reach the stand but we won’t be able to guarantee any WiFi”
  • “We may need to find a way to keep the phone logging data even if it switches off”
  • “We sort of want to build linkedIn but without the enormous cost”
  • “We will also need the website work offline”

Initially, I react with an air of incredulity upon hearing these things. Then you start breaking them down and you realise that customers don’t care how something currently works, or that there’s a standard way of doing things. They just want to be able to do something.They don’t necessarily really care if it’s a website/ an app/ Drupal/java/PHP/javascript.

More often than not these clients and entrepreneurs have a far greater vision that we have but we can help them explore these really tricky problems without wasting their money. All of the above requests can actually be solved when you flesh out the detail but the ways of fulfilling these need can vary by hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

We are the guides who can help innovators explore new and dangerous lands whilst helping them to avoid failure and bankruptcy.

The tools may change but the approach, strategy and forward thinking we can help cultivate is timeless.

There are old roads to new directions – the future of the web and digital will continually change so we can’t always rely on models and cultural norms that were created 100 years ago…sometimes we have to be bold and come up with a totally new way of working.



One thought

  1. Ni,lahoscIt’s interesting to see that you faced very similar problems to what i have faced in a another very large agile engagement. We were further constrained by the fact that we were delivering 30 large projects in parallel.One additional factor is the enterprise project governance/quality gates process is usually waterfall but its trying to manage an agile project…so there are massive issues in project reporting. The role of the product owners (as you mentioned) is the most critical…In an agile environment, with a tooth-less product owner the chances of project success becomes very bleak


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.