Founder and Digital Strategist, Manage+Digital
Why another project management conference
A legit unconference
The historic American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis
IVAN STEGIC: Hey everyone you're listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight and sometimes more often to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I'm your host Ivan Stegic. My returning guest today is Lynn Winter, a content strategist, and digital project manager. She’s the founder of Manage Digital, a conference for digital project managers, happening here in Minneapolis on May 9th. I’m honored that we get to work together on a daily basis, and I’m excited to have her back on the show, it’s always fun to talk to her. Hey, Lynn. Welcome back to the Podcast.
LYNN WINTER: Hey, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
IVAN: No problem. I love talking to you. (laughing)
LYNN: (laughing) You say that now. We can do a check in at the end and see how you feel.
IVAN: See how I feel, ok. So, you started a conference.
LYNN: Why not? Right?
IVAN: Exactly. Yeah, why not. It’s not like you’ve got anything else to do, right?
LYNN: I don’t. So, I thought “what should I do with all my extra time between 2am and 6am”, and so I found something.
IVAN: And a conference was on the top of your list. You’ve already had one iteration of the Manage Digital Conference, why start another one? Why have the second one? Aren’t there already other PM conferences out there?
LYNN: There aren’t a lot, actually, and that’s kind of what got me going. Back in my earlier days when I moved over to the Drupal community, in about 2008, I really loved going to camp, and going to DrupalCon, and meeting folks, but I had a really hard time meeting people like me. I think that’s important, not only to have comradery, but also to learn from other people doing stuff that you’re doing, and it wasn’t back until just a couple years at this point, that they started doing Project Manager tracts at DrupalCon. So, there was a really big gap in that kind of relationship and education for project managers. Then around that time, a couple years after I started going to DrupalCon, I went to the DPM Summit, which is more the national conference that’s put on by the Bureau at Digital, and it was really great. It was a whole bunch of PM dorks, showing up at 8 a.m. with their laptops open, in the front row, full up, ready to go, taking notes and excited, and it was wonderful. It was a wonderful experience. I learned so much. I met a lot of people I still stay in contact today, and it was a great experience. The thing is if you’re not a bigger agency, you can self-fund it, it can be expensive because of the travel, and it’s a longer conference. So, I always wanted to build more of that community locally in Minnesota, so that you could have that network here. So, when you have job opportunities or you need a mentor, or you want to mentor someone else, you can kind of do that locally. So, a couple years back, I’d been talking about this for a long time as an idea, and we already had a strong group of people around to meet up, but I changed my jobs, went freelance instead, and I have no excuse because I have all this free time.
IVAN: (laughing) Freelance, right? That’s what the free stands for.
LYNN: (laughing) Yeah, it was like that for a month or two, and by then I had got going so I didn’t realize what I was doing, but I wanted to make a conference that was local, that provided learning, networking that was affordable for folks to attend. And so, that’s where kind of Manage Digital, came out of.
IVAN: And, you said you wanted to make sure that it was affordable and for a local community, so I would imagine registration is still open. What does a ticket cost and how fast are they selling?
LYNN: Tickets, the early bird which has now ended, is at $150 for the day, and then the other pricing which is the past early bird is at $175. So, tickets, actually, we are way ahead of where we sold last year, and we sold out right before the conference, so I’m expecting that to happen again, which is great. But, if anyone’s interested, now is the time to get your ticket so that you could make sure to be there.
IVAN: And where do they go to get those tickets?
LYNN: You can go to managedigital.io and there’s a big registration button on the top that will take you over to Eventbrite, and that’s where you could get your ticket.
IVAN: So, those listeners who are project managers, or curious about project management, this is probably a good conference for you. Go over to managedigital.io and register for the conference before they sell out. Now, what do you get for $175, which I have to say is very reasonable for a conference? What do you get for that investment? What does the day look like?
LYNN: So, we changed it up actually a little bit from last year. Last year we had more breakout sessions, and this year we’re going towards more opportunities to network as well as learn from each other. It turns out that just because you’re on a stage, it doesn’t mean you’re the smartest person in the room, right? Or have unique experiences. So, we wanted to provide more interactions within the people that are attending. So, we have two keynotes this year, and a mini note, so, just a tiny, short little, keynote presentation. Then we’re going to do a breakout conversation or discussion where we’re going to have a set topic set aside for an hour, where folks are going to sit at their tables, and they’re just going to hash out ideas, challenges, things happening around them, around that topic. And so, I’m going to force people, I don’t know how, but I’m going to make sure I force people not to sit by people they know, so that they can maximize, kind of the learning from other different agencies. The attendees are coming from all different kinds of agencies, small, big, freelance. They’re coming from in-house folks that work at arts organizations and big companies, so there’s a lot of things to learn from each other. So we want to make sure that happens. Then we have four really great breakout sessions on totally different topics, that will hopefully get people thinking. Either they can pick something really specific away, or get them thinking about something different they can do in their day to day job, and then we’re going to end with a happy hour, so that people can take a moment to network some more, to build those relationships with people that maybe they haven’t met before.
IVAN: I love the idea of it not being terribly structured with sessions and running between session rooms to make sure you get the best seats in the house. I love this idea. It almost feels like an unconference or a BoF session.
LYNN: Yeah, I didn’t think about it that way, but you’re kind of right. I did feel like last year we had six breakouts, and it just felt like, you are going room to room, and you’re not spending as much time connecting. And where I saw the most connections was over the lunch hour. We had the balcony, and people went outside and were eating and talking to new people. The in-betweens were snack breaks and things, people were meeting new folks, and that’s really where I saw a lot of dynamic. I also, because I’m a project manager, assigned homework to people (laughing), so they were required to meet someone new and then go and connect with them within a couple weeks after the conference to build a new relationship in the community. I don’t have any stats on how many people did that, but I did hear feedback that that prompted people to really step outside of their box, and maybe not just talk to the folks that they’ve already seen before.
IVAN: It’s a great networking event. I find that’s where most of the connections and the business and the learning really happens, is outside of the sessions, during lunch, during a breakout session. I love that you have it designed that way this year. It’s at the American Swedish Institute, a beautiful castle in the city, rich in history, is this the same location as last year, or is it different?
LYNN: It is. We decided to stick with the same location. The food was really good last year, and you can’t beat that, as well as the service. They also just upgraded all their technology and screens, so that’s a bonus. We’re in the more contemporary side of the institute and they have this great balcony up on top, so, we’re getting into May, we’re finally seeing the sun and no snow, and so it’s just like this first feeling of spring, stepping out and hanging out with folks outside. So, hopefully we’ll have beautiful weather again.
IVAN: Please don’t jinx it, Lynn. Thanks a lot. (laughing)
LYNN: (laughing) You know, I was stressed out every hour before the conference last year, because it was supposed to rain, and it didn’t. It is what it is.
IVAN: Well, it is the beginning of May, it should be good, I’m looking forward to it, and I love the venue. I’ve been there many times, the Swedish Institute is just a gorgeous building, and what they’ve done to extend it and expand it, add the technology that they did, it’s so nice to see a local conference happening there. Let’s talk about your keynote speakers, you have two of them, one in the morning and one in the early afternoon, and then as you mentioned earlier, the mini note. Your first keynote speaker, the one that’s opening everything up, I love the title, The Greatest Insults I Ever Received.”
LYNN: And I know the punchline too, but I’m not going to share it yet.
IVAN: Yeah, don’t ruin it. So, Kurt Schmidt. Tell me a little bit about Kurt, and how you were inspired to get this keynote lined up.
LYNN: I’ve known Kurt for a really long time. I actually met him at the first BPM Summit that I attended, way back, I don’t even know how many years now. But we met there and being both from Minnesota, we started chatting and talking, and so I kind of stayed connected with him over the years. He used to be the Director of Project Management at the Nerdery, and so he has tons of experience, not only at being a project manager first, but then he managed, I don’t know how many he ended up with, like 80, it was in multiple states, he was responsible for all project management processes, direction, strategy, vision at the Nerdery for so many years. Then he moved into a more strategic role for a while, and then he left and joined The Foundry, as the President. So, he’s been over there making a lot of changes, doing a lot of great stuff. Anyone that’s kind of like a recovering project manager, you never really let go of it. You always that in everything you do. So, a lot of the things he talks about and what he’s passionate about really comes back to a lot of foundation around that. So, he’s going to really get us started for the day and inspire us of where we want to be going and thinking about ourselves as a community.
IVAN: And the second keynote, “Making Sure the Juice is Worth the Squeeze,” Rob Harr, tell me a little bit about that.
LYNN: I met Rob, similar situation, just actually last year, at the DPM Summit as well, and he does a lot of workshopping around it. He’s more of the operations side at Sparkbox, out of Ohio. He focuses on a lot of the client relationships, and how to put that, pay it forward, in what you do. So, he’s going to be focusing on that portion of our work, versus getting our heads really down in the weeds about profits and tools, and things that sometimes project managers can do, especially if they’re kind of more newer in the role. We tend to forget about the people, and that’s what makes the difference between a really good project manager and an okay one. So, he’s going to be talking about that topic.
IVAN: So, you’ve mentioned the DPM Summit now a couple of times, and I know that’s run by Bureau of Digital. And I see that Bureau of Digital is also a sponsor of Manage Digital. And I just so happen to be going to the Owner Camp that Bureau of Digital puts on next month, so, I’m starting to see Bureau of Digital a lot lately. (laughing)
LYNN: (laughing) I swear, there’s no relationship. I just support what they do and they’re trying to do for the community.
IVAN: So, tell us a little bit about the DPM Summit. I’m sure people who are listening to this podcast would be interested in that as well.
LYNN: Yeah, it is a really great opportunity, and honestly if you want to do both, that’s a good option too. They offer longer programming, so there’s a day of workshops and then there’s two days of conference. Obviously, the normal networking type situations, with happy hours and nighttime connections. It is in different locations all the time. This year it is in Orlando, and I’m looking forward to that, nice warm weather. Maybe too warm in October, (laughing) but yeah, it’s been put on a group of people. We had one of our keynotes last year, Brett Harned, he co-founded that, and he is doing a lot of work in the DPM field, providing webinars and information. So, it’s a place to start a community. It’s a place to learn from other people, and really, they inspired me to start Manage Digital, so I give him full credit for that, because they put together a lot of great opportunities and different types of events, that allow people to get what the need in their career at different levels. Like, Owner Camp is very different than the DPM Summit, because the DPM Summit is more like a conference and Owner Camp, I think, is a little more flexible and a lot more dialogue in a small group.
IVAN: Yeah, and, I had the pleasure of interacting with, I believe, the founder…
IVAN: Yeah, Carl, with Bureau of Digital, and they seem like a really nice group of people. So, I’m glad to hear from you yet another data point that this is something to be looking forward to on my behalf. I have the webpage up right now in front of me, /membership and there is a picture of you on there, Lynn. I don’t know if you know that.
LYNN: Oh, no, really? (laughing)
IVAN: (laughing) Great. So, one whole day of sessions, two keynotes, and a mini note. I want to bring the energy down a little bit, and talk about something that’s relatively serious, right. And you’re going to be covering that in the mini note. Let’s talk about burnout. How prevalent do you see that? Do you have any data to show? What have you noticed and what are you hoping to achieve with your mininote?
LYNN: In general, stats, if you start looking at people across the industry, or working people, and then specifically, across the industry, there’s so much pressure and change of environment from, where is the line between a home and work, from working at home or having technology accessible all the time. It’s really blurred the line of when do you go home? When do you put things down? When do you turn off? And it’s becoming a problem, and honestly this talk came out of my own personal challenges with burnout, but as I started talking about it with people, I heard these stories over, and over and over. I’d be speaking at conferences and people would talk to me about, “how do you deal with this?” and “how do you deal with that?”, and it was all about boundaries, and all about taking ownership of the path that you actually want to go on, versus letting the path take you. I think it’s a thing that PM’s deal with more in this industry, because of maybe the role and how it’s often positioned at agencies. So, what I mean by that is, a lot of times it’s not as valued as a developer, for instance, like, when you’re going to hire. “Oh, we can get any old PM, they don’t really need to be a PM, they can be anyone, they can do that, they’re just scheduling medians but hire a developer, we’ll get a recruiter and it’s going to be harder.” And, it’s hard for different reasons, to hire different roles, but there’s just oftentimes that situation setup or less responsibility or value placed on it. Some PM’s aren’t even allowed to talk to clients. They have to go through account managers, they’re not given the responsibility or the value in that role. And so, there’s some positioning at certain places, and then there’s also that impact of how you personally come to your role and for me, I personally have an issue, balancing. Like, don’t take on too much, and stop running the hamster wheel kind of situation. So, I had a, kind of, career change back in 2017, and I’ve been really trying to force myself to step back and try to realign what are my goals in my career and what is my personal goals, and things like that. So, since I’ve started talking to people about it, I’ve gotten, honestly, a lot of feedback that has been positive as well as a lot of sad stories. So, it’s something we need to talk about.
IVAN: I agree. I think it’s an important part of mental health as a whole, especially in our industry with the amount of blurring there is between work and home life, as you said. If there’s one thing that an attendee to your conference takes home at the end of the day, besides the homework that you’ve doled out to them, (laughing), what do you think that one thing is an attendee takes home?
LYNN: I hope that everyone walks away either renewed or inspired. Renewed in like they’re like, “oh, I’m tired,” or “oh, I feel exhausted and I can’t get where I need to go.” And maybe this refreshes them to be really excited again about the PM role. Maybe they're on the fence of, if that’s what they should be doing. Or, inspire them to try something new, some new tactic, some new tool. That, as well as, I really want someone to meet someone new. I want to build this community. I think it’s good for employers. I think it’s good for employees. It’s just good growing the depth of our skills in Minnesota. We’re a strong pact place, and I like the idea of trying to help grow that, and helping people connect with other people. If you’re an employer, how do you find your next awesome PM? And if you’re a PM, how do you find your next great job? So, that’s important to me too.
IVAN: I think your conference is going to go a long way to helping the local community here, and we’re very proud to be a part of that, and to be sponsoring you this year. We’re a Drupal shop, that’s what we do, but we also have a project manager, and we always have, and so, it makes sense for us to be participating in the community. And I hope that, I’m sure I will get to meet a ton of amazing people at the conference when it happens, coming up here in May.
LYNN: And we are super thankful that you’re sponsoring us, because you’re not only providing an opportunity for yourself, but more importantly, you’re supporting a community, and we couldn’t do this without the sponsors for the conference. We couldn’t make it affordable.
IVAN: So, let’s talk about that a little bit. You have a number of sponsors for the conference, there are about 5 or 6 of them, or us, should I say (laughing). Do you want to talk about what it takes to be a sponsor? And, if there are any spots available. Or if people are going to have to wait for next year? What’s the status there?
LYNN: Well, I should probably just mention everybody, because I think that would be good, since we’ve mentioned how you both obviously, you guys at TEN7 are sponsoring, great, and we’ve already talked about the Digital Bureau. We also have Creed Interactive which is another local agency that’s agnostic, so they do different technologies and focus on the experience of the site. We have Pantheon that does awesome hosting for Drupal and WordPress platforms. They’re very active in the community in supporting different levels of folks that are building websites and providing a great environment for them. We also have the DPM school, which you might be more familiar with the digitalprojectmanager.com. They provide webinars and articles, and tools and things. They also have a DPM school, where you can actually go and have kind of a structured learning to get stronger at your project management work. Actually, they had just posted an article I did about the burnout, so if anyone’s interested in kind of a primer, they can take a look at that as well.
IVAN: We’ll link to that in the show notes on the website, as well, so, we’ll make sure we get that from you.
LYNN: And then, Vogsy is a platform that you can use, that helps make businesses and organizations more efficient, by, instead of having a billion tools, you use one, and it’s all based on the Google platform. So, if you’re using that, they’re a great tool, and my understanding is that they will be at the conference, and they can demo to folks, so they can really see what you’re getting for that. That’s a great thing to learn about, kind of one on one with them.
IVAN: Vogsy. I’m going to look them up. I have not heard of them before.
LYNN: Yeah. They’re newer to me too, and I kind of walked through a demo and it’s a great tool. If you’re with the Google platform, they’re out of the UK, so, they’re a little more newer in the U.S. market, but it’s a great opportunity.
IVAN: What do you think the major issues are that PM’s are facing these days? It used to be that technology was a problem in the past, and we were really struggling with how to keep track of tasks and notes, and so on. Is that still an issue, or, what are the critical things that PM’s are dealing with these days?
LYNN: That’s a good question. I still think it’s maneuvering and handling the people, and finding your voice as a project manager. People often try to use the tools and the structures, and the things to outline how they do projects and drive things. But really what it is, is every client is different, every agency is different, and figuring it out, how to work with the different unique snowflakes that you are working with, and managing that kind of way, in a nice way, where people still like you, respect you and will respond to you, I think is still the hardest thing. I mean, at the end of the day, sometimes to get a developer to fill out a timesheet, is hard.
IVAN: Yes. So, I think you hit the nail on the head there. I think people are always the greatest puzzle to solve.
LYNN: Yeah, and think the longer we’re around, like, the web is not that old. And on top of it, the project management role is not that old in digital, and the longer the tale of our life is, I think the more people understand what we do and value it. I think that’s just changing over time, but it’s not probably where I would like it to be.
IVAN: Lynn, thank you so much for spending your time with me to talk about Manage Digital today. It’s been a great pleasure talking to you again.
LYNN: Thanks for having me, and I really, really appreciate the sponsorship.
IVAN: You bet. Well, tickets are selling fast for Manage Digital this year. Manage Digital happens on May 9, 2019 at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. Go over to managedigital.io and register for the conference, and we hope to see you there. Lynn Winter is the founder of Manage Digital, the Digital Project Manager’s Conference. You can find the conference on Twitter and Facebook. The handle is @managedigital, and, of course, Lynn is online at lynnwintermn.com. You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message, we love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.