Reference the original post here: https://41perspectives.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/updates-hackathons-big-data-mba/
Last year (2013), the company that I work for, T4G, organized an event that we called the ‘Big Data Congress’ to talk about Data Science and what it means for business. We had organized some events before, but nothing ever like this. We brought in world-leading industry ‘thinkers’ and ‘do-ers’ such as Andrew McAfee, Tom Davenport and Stephen B. Johnson among many others, along with a host of local industry leaders to talk about Big Data. To cap it off, we had maritime favs The Joel Plaskett Emergency close out the day with a concert. (That was particularly awesome, as I’m a big fan.)
While I’ve been doing IT Project Management for a number of years, this was my first foray into Event Management, so this made the event particularly interesting and informative for me. (Note – for any PMs thinking about getting into Event Management, be forewarned that there is much more standing and physical labour involved in the latter!)
This year (2014) we embarked on trying to top last year’s event, which we knew would be no easy task due to how well executed and received it was. For this year’s event, we went BIG. We increased the scope of the event from a 1-day event, to a 3-day event, complete with world-leading ‘thinkers’ and ‘do-ers’ (among them Rick Smolan, Kevin Slavin, and T4G Big Data Congress returnee from last year, Hillary Mason), ‘technical sessions’ (by popular request from feedback received from last year’s attendees) AND a ‘Student Super-Power Challenge’ (an initiative to inspire high school students to get involved with technology).
Our ‘headliner’ was none other than the WORLD’S top management thinker Clayton Christensen, author of the Innovator’s Dilemma (check out my earlier post for a synopsis if you’re so inclined) and the person that introduced the world to the concept of ‘disruptive innovation’ (among other accolades).
So, while we knew we had a big task ahead of ourselves to top last year’s performance, at the end of the 3 days there was no doubt that we had done just that. A credit to everyone involved, from the organizing team, to the sponsors, to the venue, the volunteers, the speakers, attendees and so many more. Kudos!
Now that the dust has settled and I’ve had a bit of time to reflect, here are just a few of my personal lessons learned that I think will help me for all my projects (and events) moving forward. Hopefully you can read them and take something from them that can help you too.
Project Managers, either through training, hard-wired genetics, or some combination of the two, are often risk averse. Risk is bad. It must be proactively sought out and destroyed. Managing scope and controlling (or rather, having a process for) change is your reason for being. This is the mantra of the Project Manager. All that said, without having a grand vision of what your project/event/initiative CAN be, you may not be realizing its potential. Scope must be managed. Risk must be mitigated (or avoided, or transferred, or accepted – see an earlier post on some of these strategies if you like), but be careful not to de-risk your project SO much so as to limit its potential to be GREAT! Like many things in the universe, it’s all about balance.
Listen to your customers.
As this was a follow up event to last year’s event there was, of course, some pressure to make this year’s event even better. When figuring out how to go about doing this, we started with looking at the feedback we received from our post-event attendee surveys from last year’s event. One of the things that people were saying that they would like to see for the future was more content on the ‘technical’ side of things. Exploring in more detail some of the actual tools and processes for getting elbow deep into the data. So, with an understanding of what our customers wanted, we added a day of technical sessions. Easily done.
While this sounds simple enough, quiet often it’s easy to become immersed in what you’re doing/developing/planning etc. to come up for air and see what it is that your customers are actually asking for. The somewhat recent advent of the ‘lean start-up’ movement, and similarly the ‘Agile’ development movement, both advocate for frequent contact and validation from customers as opposed to the more traditional notion of going heads-down to develop something that, in the end, nobody wants. While we, in our planning and delivery of the event, didn’t subscribe directly to either of these methodologies, their principles were at work in our ability to solicit and react to customer feedback.
Adapt. Adapt. Then adapt some more.
With this point, I will try and tie the first two points together. In point 1 I noted that projects should be envisioned to be as big as and bold as they can be to accomplish whatever your objective may be, while still managing them so that you are able to actually deliver the goods. In point 2 I noted that a key factor in successful delivery of anything – whether it be a software application, an event, or a Big Mac and fries (depending on your line of work) is to listen to your customers and not ASSUME you know what they want. Sometimes striking this balance can be tough. It’s all about figuring out that sweet spot between level of rigor with regard to managing scope and risk while still being ‘Agile’ enough to respond to changing requirements. I felt we did a good job of this as we planned this event; allowing our processes to be fluid enough to deal with evolving scope and requirements – from speakers, venues, logistics and more.