As the reviews start to roll in about NEPA BlogCon from attendees, presenters and sponsors, I have some thoughts of my own.
Frankly, it rocked
It was a great day in #NEPA570 for the 130 or so in attendance. There was so much learning and great networking going on! Ok, that's my biased overarching assessment of the event.Read the event Storifyand just published Citizen's Voice reportfor a variety of perspectives on the day's happenings.
But, I really want to talk about lessons on project management, expectations, goal setting, priorities, and host of other behind the scenes things most organizers generally keep close to their vest and I'm going to spill the beans on, because I think they are good lessons. These observations are applicable to not just organizing a conference - but, any type of internal or external event, project you are managing, volunteers you are organizing, and any type of planning you are doing professionally or personally.
Have Plan A, B & C
From your dream venue to presenters (or dream career, home, or fill in the blank), and every detail in between, back up plans are a must if you don't want to be disappointed. With three tracks and twelve sessions, and a multitude of presenters and panelists scheduled, it was bound to be that a snafu or unfortunate incident would happen with at least one of them last minute. It did. Less than twelve hours to show time, one of our presenters had to cancel and three hours before the event another one notified us of a possible cancel. Fortunately, we had a back up panel organized quickly and a strategy in place to divert attendees to other sessions should the other presenter not make it. The lesson here is to use ITTW (if that then what) strategy. Be an octopus and make sure your tentacles are long enough to reach several layers deep into your project. You might not be able to anticipate every potential snafu but if you wear rose colored glasses confident everything will be perfect and don't have some contingency plans at the ready - at some point you'll likely be shark bait. And it WILL be bloody.
Use Collaborative Tools
Are you still emailing spreadsheets and other documents for people to read, edit, markup and return? It's still better than using papyrus and postal mail but really not the most effective and efficient method. We organize using many tools but the hub is Google (use the provider of your choice). The main Google tools we use are Gmail, Calendar, Hangouts, Chat, and the central nervous system of the operation --> Drive. All documents and files pertaining to the event are stored in a shared folder with neatly organized sub-folders full of everything right down to scanned receipts. The master tool is a planner spreadsheet with tabs for every area of the conference from prospect sponsors, presenters, and financials, to swag, tracks / sessions, technical details and account logins. We work independently on stored documents, and also collaboratively during hangouts and chats - we never email documents and never have to worry about the most current version of our work.
A Word About Communication
There are people who seem to ignore email and those who hit reply all just to say LOL - every time. Most people fall in between. Don't take communication for granted. Have a conversation about communication strategy. It's unrealistic to expect immediate answers all the time - maybe a team service agreement would be practical - like a twelve hour response time for anything not marked urgent and a three hour response time for anything that is. For matters requiring immediate attention don't expect email to always work. Resort to mobile text and IM, and even the dreaded actual phone call. Just do it.Schedule calls you need to make and emails you need to write on your calendar and set a reminder.
Be conscious of the number of emails you send. If you are using email like chat or IM you're doing it wrong and will most certainly, absolutely and without doubt irritate someone (like me). Start a draft email, or a cloud based shared document, and add to it as the day goes on for non-urgent items. Send or share at the end of the day. Do not reply to all if it really isn't essential. Text or IM short questions that only require short answers.Fight the good fight against inbox clutter. Because no one wants to come back from a three hour meeting and have to open twenty emails from you.
I manage several simultaneous large projects that all require vast amounts of teamwork and communication. I like to keep the projects as separate as possible - so I find it essential to have a Drive folder for each - with the essential program planner spreadsheet the core, team based email distribution lists for each one, a calendar for each one and a task list (I use Evernote) for each one.
Understand and Choose Diverse Complementary Competencies
If everyone on your team is a wood whittler who is going to do the bookkeeping, sales, customer service, etc? It can be challenging when everyone has the same core competency in a department to get all of the various accountabilities executed in the right way. The key is to look for strong secondary or complementary competencies. If you can't find them in individuals in your group you'll be SOL unless you look to another department or area to recruit the talent you need. You will be stuck - I mean this - if you try to get one of your team to take on a task they are totally unprepared for. They will get frustrated and likely fail, and therefore your project will not be as successful (or may end up being a complete failure) as you had wished. At NEPA BlogCon, our team was strategically selected to include a diversified portfolio of essential skills for the project: administration and project management, sales, marketing and public / media relations, design, IT - and a shared love of all things digital, education, community building and our geographic region. This works.
I saved the best and most important for last....
Have a Healthy Perspective
Your project lead must have a global vision of the end result and not be someone who gets mired in the minutia. Work styles, personalities and competing responsibilities will all factor in and there will be good times and bad ones too - mostly due to individual ability to manage feedback, stress and accountabilities. Forcing people to work together is horrible and never works out well. Get buy in. Divulge what's on your plate. Don't commit because you don't want to say no even though you really can't take on more. Be honest.It's better to plan with a longer timeline at a slower pace than a short timeline at a fast one. Ensure that in addition to working hard together that you also you play hard together - good times are necessary for the health of the team. And last but not least... Don't just go home to bed exhausted at project completion - celebrate your success together at a great restaurant or virtually with a toast!
Add your tips for collaborative work in the comments!