Well that was new …

As a project manager, there are times when you simply need to get new thoughts about the project’s direction to the stakeholders. Mostly people use a presentation deck of slides and a formal presentation. I went to three events last week where that didn’t happen – people simply got the group talking. That was coincidental (I didn’t plan a week without PowerPoint deliberately) but i’m recognising it was a great week and there are things project managers can learn from that.

The first event was a gathering of about 40 people. The discussion was wide ranging and through 2 hours we discussed the issues around a big topic in short sessions in 2s or 3s, groups of 8 or 10, or leader facilitated plenary. It had a consistent theme of “what can you do about this intractable and complex problem, how will that benefit everyone round you and how will it help you?” no one session was long enough to solve anything but we all understood the situation a little better. At the end we were asked to scribble down a list of 2 or 3 small specific and immediate actions we committed to do with the understanding that we’d get email reminders from the facilitator. The potential progress before we meet again in a few months could be incredible – lots of small solutions motivated by the individual’s own needs which when combined would make the problem a considerably smaller issue. We won’t solve it but the interaction of all those small changes could be significant.

The second was an event with an expert speaker at a comfortable venue with no projection equipment. I found I was watching the speaker and that helped me to listen more effectively. While I had heard the information before, I was hearing shades of meaning that I missed last time round. As a presenter, recognise that your visual aids should help your audience,not distract them.

Finally, I had a Friday evening speaking engagement at Southampton Solent University for BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT) at a local branch and Quality specialist group combined meeting. I usually have a lecture hall for these meetings and deliver from a stage but this was a smaller group and we sat down to a large round table discussion. We recognised how things had changed, how everyone round the table had different insights, and that we could learn from each other. I had the agenda I would have used for PowerPoints beside me and yes, as presenter, I did more talking than anyone else. Fascinatingly, I noticed how energised my audience was as they left the room. There was something in allowing them to participate beyond the question and answer session that changed how they felt. There are times when that engagement can change the nature of stakeholder support.

So next time you have a presentation to make, check with yourself: do I really need PowerPoint?

HomeTech London 30 June 2011

Last day of the Home Technology Show (www.hometechnologyevent.com) at Excel in London’s Docklands. I haven’t been to a show like this for a few years but a new project sparked an interest. I was expecting it to be a gadget fest with a few specialist building suppliers for switch panels and lighting effects. The market has changed.

Today’s show tells me that all the thinks the geeks were chatting about over lunch in 2000 (like Bill Gates home or the latest Phillips lab demo) are now mass market. You can have a house build to the best eco standards and have integrated home cinema projection units, TV’s wider than the wall in my first flat, wireless sound, video and security. All with the wires and switches hidden in single remote or wall switches. You can even have a flatscreen TV in the hall that shows you your security cameras view but switches when the doorbell rings to display a high quality film of a fish tank nicely framed into the wall. Some members of my family have wanted to watch TV in the bath – I won’t show them the one with a glass mosaic surround.

A friend’s husband has just built himself a shed. The way to keep him happy there would be to get him the so very realistic indoor golf kit – just like the simulators in the amusement parks. He could play with family across the internet or just try out a new course anywhere in the world.

To keep me happy, I want more variety. 3D TV still needs me to wear glasses but it is improving each year. I could get myself a new docking station and have a flush wall mounted IPad in my office or a wall mount, a custom coded house control app and flat wireless speakers.

For me the highlight of the launches was a simple iPad mounting gadget – a music stand that will safely hold my iPad. Why didn’t I think of that? Of course, not all iPad users are musician but they do use the technology they have in as many ways as they are individuals. Music stand becomes recipe book holder, iPad baby mobile stand, or speakers’ lectern. For those of us who are developing an iPad-lifter-arm, there is now an app for that too! (www.ratstands.com

Back to the office for a conference call in a meeting room with a phone line but no phone and poor mobile cell reception. Frustration! As a project manager often finds, making do with the equipment in the temporary office isn’t always fun and the budget doesn’t always stretch to a refurbishment. The Revolabs FLX teleconferencing system (www.revolabs.com) I saw at the show would be ok in a large brief case as a portable meeting room conference phone kit. Encrypted and wireless it only needs power and a phone line: no more trailing cables. Time to start a new equipment wish list.

Not another meeting!

I see two major problems happen with project meetings: there are too many or there are too few. I know from painful experience how likely either case is to make a project manager unsuccessful. How can we get the balance right?
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