18th February 2018

Takeaways from Deliver Conference 2018

Isabell Schulz
Delivery Manager

Last week I attended Deliver Conference in Manchester, an event all about project delivery or in the organisers' words "a conference for people who strive to lead, inspire and deliver value with their teams". It had been a couple of full on weeks, so visiting a new city to get a fresh perspective on things was certainly welcome.

I say fresh perspective but actually it was more like a reminder and inspiration. Doing the job I do, with sometimes extra pressure and stressful weeks, I think there is a risk of going down the rabbit hole without being able to take a step back. There is also a risk of becoming too emotionally attached to issues or problems and in the nature of any delivery or project manager – we'd want to fix it all right away.

The two days at the conference gave me a chance to breathe and reassess. To listen, remind myself of what I know to be true. To be inspired and to learn.

Day 1.

The two days were divided into a workshop day and a conference day. On the workshop day, I was keen to attend I got 99 problems because, let's face it, who doesn’t have them! I heard somewhere once that everyone has always "99 problems" at any given time. "Problems" is probably exaggerated to an extent, but you get the gist.

The workshop was facilitated by Peta Kennett-Wilson from DigitalRev and simply kicked off having us write down our problems. Through strategically coordinated exercises, we, the folks at my table, analysed problems from various angles.

Turns out that we, humans, generally jump to the occasion to solve other people's problems and get stuck when trying to solve our own, which is why it is often so very important to talk to peers or anyone you can to get a different perspective from.

Also, we get stuck with our own problems because we easily and quickly become emotionally attached and therefore get caught up in emotional reactions or decision-making. I mean, who hasn't been guilty of sending a passive-aggressive response to a colleague or client five seconds after receiving an email and instead of easing the situation just poured some more gas on the fire? Or digging yourself deeper and deeper in analysing reports, repeating yourself with stakeholders over and over playing the same "game" with every new project?

On the topic of emotional attachment, here are some good tips:

As I like simplicity, I preferred the exercises that were the most straightforward and simple to get to the bottom of an issue or brainstorm solutions:

  • The 5 whys: Not a new concept, but because of its simplicity and effectiveness, I think, often forgotten. The idea is that if you ask "why" over and over again (maybe stop after 100!), eventually you'll get an idea of why the problem is occurring and can then tailor the solution.
  • The power of suggestion: A wonderful exercise for when you think you've tried it all. The person with the problem explains what the problem is and is then not allowed to talk for a set amount of time (or until no one can think of anything else). Members of a group, team or table may then unleash the solution train. When we did this exercise within our team, there were probably 2 or 3 ideas that the person with the problem hadn't thought of or tried before.

Day 2.

Day 2 presented itself with many talented speakers and inspiring talks in various shapes and sizes.

There were 3 talks that stood out for me and I am still thinking about them. I did take a lot of notes, some still make sense, others a bit questionable, so this is a true exercise to see what has stuck with me so far.

Building an effective team culture by Alison Coward.

  • Processes and structure don't really get along with creativity, so it's important to remember the creative self and let that be part of the productivity and collaboration among a team.
  • Progress is key – decide how the team can create small wins during the day to feel an accomplishment at the end of the day and stay motivated.
  • How over who – What is often more important than being the expert is to be able to read other people's emotions. In an effective team, everyone needs to be able to do this. Also, every person's contribution is equal, not superior or inferior.
  • Mindset over talent – Someone in the team may be very talented at doing something. However, that person can kill the team culture and growth if he/she is not willing to learn. Challenge team members and prepare to be challenged.
  • Deep work – It's vital for a well functioning team to dedicate time to focused work with no interruptions.
  • Psychological safety – I've recently witnessed that creating a culture of trust can be possible in a professional setting. Allowing team members the chance to be vulnerable, rather than viewing it as weak or unprofessional, contributes to a healthy team culture as well as a healthy mind, freeing up those brain cells to be creative or think about progress.

Compartmentalised empathy by Roisi Proven.

This talk gave me all the feels! I am still in awe of how someone can be so brave, vulnerable and funny in front of a bunch of strangers. This is not something you see everyday and I appreciated this talk very much. Roisi had me the moment she started talking and it was a good thing we had our lunch break right after, so I could not only digest my food but also her story.

  • Sympathy ≠ Empathy – This might seem obvious to some, but they are not the same thing and sometimes we can confuse being empathetic with being sympathetic with someone.
  • The Spoon Theory – Think of a spoon being your emotional capital. There are only so many spoons you have each day, and not every day has the same amount of spoons. If you're spending more spoons a day than you woke up with, you are running into psychological deficit.
  • You matter – Make sure to ask if you can handle "this". Your spoons are important and shouldn’t be given out too freely.
  • The box – You know the saying, "Leave your feelings at the door when you enter the office"? This one goes more like "Leave other people’s feelings at the door when you leave the office". For an empathetic person, the box is a nice metaphor and coping mechanism. At the end of the day, before leaving the office, you take all the feelings from someone else, put them in a box, wrap it up and give it back to the person the feelings belong to. This way you're making sure that you won't get overwhelmed by everyone else's feelings and problems, and you can deal with your own.

Level up: A leadership MVP by Meghan McInerny.

It was a brilliant idea to save this talk for last. I’m pretty sure it gave everyone a motivational kick in the behind and nobody even noticed when she went over the time limit.

Not quite sure what else I can say about the keynote. It is pretty much summed up in the slides below. I also found this recording from another recent event Meghan talked at. Go watch it or read the slides.