DPM:UK 2016 – A very late roundup

Posted in PM

I had a great time at DPM:UK in  January this year and have only just had the time to blog about it. My highlights included:

  • Hanging out with my PM colleagues
  • Talking about Meditation on the train back with @digicalix
  • Listening and talking to Brett and Sam and musing about what a global DPM community could look like
  • Finding out that even Sky struggle with some of the same things I do

It might seem strange that most of these aren’t directly related to the talks, but DPM:UK has become a really important place to meet inspiring peers for me. The talks are always excellent but it’s the stuff that happens around the edges that leaves me buoyed up and excited…well that and the wine on the train.

Anyway, just to prove I was paying attention here is my run-down of my takeaways from the talks.


Sam Barnes –  ‘You can do well. or you can do good’


Sam questions whether there’s something specifically difficult about being a DPM. DPM has a young age as a career option and thus we we are still finding our own way (I had an interesting and unresolved debate with someone at DOPM as to whether this was true or not). DPMs need to have some level of knowledge on a huge spectrum of design, technical and client needs.

Within the chaos of a busy and disruptive environment you can lose sight of what you are doing and why an this can lead you into making bad choices.

Sam opened up about a big mistake he made in his early career. Working as a DPM for a really important client, he found out that project had been sold in wrong with estimates and timeline that were vastly optimistic

Following orders and giving clients the classic lie of ‘yes it will be ready on time’ rips away integrity and serves no good. Since that time Sam moved made an effort to consciously avoid ‘doing well’ by focussing on:

  • Impressing your boss
  • Advancing career
  • Protecting your job

and risk all of the above by doing good.

If you convince yourself you are just doing your job you can drift into appalling patterns of behaviour like client bashing, being overly defensive and blaming others, sliding into cliques and engaging in hierarchical bullying


Ultimately we should be loyal to the project and yourself.


This was the second time I’d seem Sam’s talk and it still had a huge impact. It kind of makes me want to quit my job and become a florist – not sure that’s the impact Sam intended, but it is an extremely engaging experience to be challenged and spend time thinking ‘Ultimately, why is it we do the jobs we do’.

Side note: Gez Smith’s talk on servant leadership is the perfect companion to this talk as he demonstrates being a servant leader PM/Scrum master can actually be a fulfilling almost spiritual vocation.


Related talks: Mike Monteriao – How designers destroyed the world



Katie Buffalo – Practical Prioritisation under Pressure

There are common shared values amongst PMs – multiple projects, limited budget no matter what tools we have to make decision about what comes next.

We can do things to make this a less dangerous proposition going forwards

  • Don’t fill containers to the top
  • Leave a bit of contingency – add in 20% on everything
  • Need a backup plan more than you need a risk registers, whats a plan B when money or time runs out
  • Don’t be a hero

We should focus on:

  • Doing the thing that gets you closer to done.
  • Breaking down big things into smaller tasks
  • Taking care of future you.

Katie then showed her diagram where she maps her tasks. It was an axis between small-huge and urgent-not urgent. It reminded me a lot of this:

but I thought it would make a really interesting exercise to do as a collaborative team planning activity and see how other viewed the same tasks.


Matt Thornhill – Technical debt

Matt did a really interesting talk on technical debt. Showing the different types of technical debt – way more that just lack of test coverage but also including things like, only one developer having the project code knowledge to work on a project. I also thought it was really interested in how he explained how accepting technical debt is fine if it is a conscious choice and you make the debt visible.


By the mid afternoon, I had stopped taking notes and was just enjoying the talks, so my highlights are briefer:

Verity Maybury took us through some DPM truths such as the need to under promise over deliver and collaborate and listen. Iain May showed us the joy in managing the managers which then got me thinking what it must be like to manage the managers of managers. James Locker gave a really nice insight into how Scrum teams work at Sky and some of the tools they used to ensure smooth, reliable, managed delivery. It was interesting to see how that had a mix of automated and manual tools and also used Guilds and tribes as with the Spotify model.

I really enjoyed Susanne Madsen’s talk. It covered the difference between leadership and management and had some really eye-opening concepts. It was the third or fourth talk I’ve seen that referenced Drive by Daniel Pink, and touched upon a number of concepts that really interest me and will hopefully provide fuel for a future blog or talk at a later point.

Rhodri Coleman did a really nice case study on cost/price and profit based on his experience at Foolproof. It’s something since that point I’ve had a chance to see a perfect mirror case study at my work and has made me think a lot about how we break up the project structure into phases.

Suze Hayworth’s talk on methodology madness touched on the common challenge of trying to get the benefits of Agile when working with clients who want an upfornt waterfall process. She showed the benefits that adopting hybrid models can bring. I have iffy views about hybrid models – I kind of think they can bring the worst of both worlds as opposed to the best of both, but this talk made me realise how useful then can be when transitioning a company to Agile. It’s also inherently true as Suze pointed out that there is no perfect methodology and you have to pick the process to suit the project, your tools, and the culture and environment in which you work.

Finally, Brett Harned gave us a call to arms as DPMs. It was a really fun talk and has made me think a lot about what I’m doing by attending such events or organizing things with DOPM. It’s feels good to be part of a profession that is taking itself seriously, holding itself to account and trying to define standards that may lead to wider recognition of the value we bring to organizations.

All in all, the whole event gave me the right mix of education, entertainment and inspiration. Provided I’ve not quit this job and become a florist, I’ll be sure to be back next year.


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