16-December

How to Friend PMs (and Influence Projects)

16-December-smallA couple of months ago, myself and a couple of colleagues started talking about setting up a meet-up in Oxford for Digital Project Managers. It’s something I had been thinking about for a while but it seemed a daunting task to take on alone. I was really excited when I heard murmurs from the other PMs in the office that they, too, were keen.

I was eager to nip their enthusiasm in the bud, and sent out an invite to meet for an after work drink. I bought a pack of post-its and sharpies, and we did a lot of brainstorming around the following topics:

  • identify the audience
  • agree on a set of values
  • identify the tasks we needed to make it happen

In that meeting we also made a brave decision: we set a date! We’re all very busy and knew that without a deadline we could easily run off course. We then set up a recurring meeting within the week to return and review our actions which included things like

  • finding a venue
  • establishing a format for our first meetup
  • Getting the word out

A couple of weeks in and we have a plan! We established clear roles and we met every Friday at work to review our actions and keep it moving.

Since that initial meeting, we have run several meetups with about 20 people regularly turning up, and have built up a strong mailing list and twitter community which we rely on to promote future events and keep people coming back.

Here are some learning outcomes that may be useful to others thinking about starting a meetup.

Do it for the community

Start a meetup for the right reasons, and keep building a community at the heart of everything you do.

It’s easy to say and a lot harder to do, but don’t focus on the numbers. Nurture what you have and the people will come. I’m the type of person that always avoids big birthday bashes because I’m worried that people won’t turn up. I get that same anxiety before a meetup, but I’ve learnt to remind myself that the meetup is just an opportunity to hang out with like minded people! It doesn’t matter if 1 or twenty people turn up, I can still do just that.

Start MVP

We took the minimum viable product approach to our meetup to get something off the ground as quickly as possible. Much to the horror of some of our talented designers we work with, this meant, among other things, designing our own logo. We know it shows, but not having a logo was preventing us from creating our online presence so we just got on and did it!

Now we’ve got an online presence, we recognise the need for a decent logo so we’ll no doubt accept one of our designers kind offers of a re-design!

Also build up a mailing list from day 1, when we first set-up our first event on attending.io we didn’t have our marketing heads on and missed this opportunity. It made promoting our second meetup harder than it should have been, so definitely a lesson learnt!

KickassPM blog as also put together some great checklists for those starting out.

In terms of getting the word out there, here are a couple of things that have worked well for us

  • sending personalised emails to business owners or heads of department
  • posting messages on relevant Oxford meetup groups on Linkedin
  • posting on dailyinfo.co.uk (an Oxford online event board)
  • editorial content
  • word of mouth
    • asking people to RT or share with friends

Consistency is key

Keeping things consistent makes it easy for attendees to dip in and out of events as they will know where and when they happen.

Aim to use the same platform to promote events, with the same URL so people can easily find it! Admittedly, something we haven’t always done and try and keep it on the same day at time in the month, e.g. the second Wednesday of the month at the same venue. Check any conflicts with other local meetups, which avoids people having to choose between multiple events.

If you’re unable to keep to a regular time in the month, make sure you can announce the upcoming meetup at your next event so people can make a note of it.

Listen

If you’re running a meetup with some colleagues or friends, it’s easy to close yourself off unintentionally. Make sure you listen to your attendees and give them an opportunity to provide feedback regularly. We’re only a couple of meetups in, but from listening to our attendees we found that people prefer sessions where they get to talk to each other rather than be talked at! Therefore, we’ve tended to place more emphasis on learning through active participation rather than passive attendance.

Have clear roles

If you’re working with other people on the meetup, ensure you have clear roles so everyone knows what they’re doing. It makes life so much easier and prevents conflicts or people stepping on each other’s toes. We’re still working on setting simple responsibilities to ensure work is peer reviewed before going live and have found it useful to have people assigning themselves tasks before the meetup.

Ask for money!

Meetups can be done cheaply but they do cost money, so don’t be afraid to ask for it. Explain to sponsors that you’re a community event and just looking to cover costs. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is.

Top tip: you don’t need a separate bank account, or need to register your meetup as a company. You do need to:

  • Have an invoice template
  • Use a budget tracker to keep track of expenditure
  • Have a simple sponsorship pack

As an agency you use tools every day which make your life easier; chances are that people at your meetup will find them useful too! Contact the company behind the tools – send an email to a head of marketing or the founder if the company it’s small and tell them about your meetup and why they should sponsor it. Having a room full of talented PMs is like liquid gold, so be confident you’ve definitely got something to offer.

Tips for building relationship with sponsors:

  • Provide options in your sponsorship pack e.g. one off sponsorship vs quarterly, yearly
  • Encourage sponsors to sign up for a period of time so you don’t have to think about it regularly
  • Try and give something back to your sponsor e.g. I’m currently blogging for Resource Guru, a sponsor of DO PM, it’s something simple I can offer in exchange for their support that benefits both of us!

You won’t always get it right

Sometimes you may get a dud speaker, or the format doesn’t work and you might receive negative feedback.

I’ve learnt to develop a thick skin. Everyone has an opinion and most people will express it! It can hurt when you’ve put in a tonne of effort and someone you respect offers criticism, but don’t take it personally. Receive the feedback gracefully, make a note of it but don’t get too hung up on it. You can be sure that for every one person that didn’t enjoy it, there will be several that did.

Think big

We’re only three meetups in and we’re already planning a full day conference called ‘The Big Do’ next May, keep your eyes peeled for updates! This is proof that a small meetup provides a great platform and can open up new opportunities you never considered at the start, so be open to nice surprises along the way.

Have a vision and then back it up with a road-map which has practical steps you can take to achieve that goal.

I can’t tell you that organising a meetup is easy, but I can tell you it’s worth it! For the first time, I’m managing my own project and it feels great and when I get to meet with the wider DPM community in Oxford. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.

holly-davisHolly Davis is a Project Manager at White October and a Certified Scrum Master. Co-founder of DO PM, Oxford’s First Meetup for Digital PMs, she also writes for the Digital PM Summit, Sam Barnes, KickassPM, and the White October blog. She hates rushing and losing things, and loves hanging out with the DPM community and listening to Annie Mac‏‏’s musical hot water bottle show.



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  1. Ian May

    Really useful Blog post full of practical advice. It just goes to show that you can make things happen with the right expertise, enthusiam, people and approach. I went along to the second DPM meetup in Oxford and it was a good event – great to see the Digital PM community coming together here in the UK too. Great work Holly and the guys in Oxford!


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