For several years, I have a particularly meaningful event in my spring work calendar—the Portfolio Experience conference. As a co-organizer, or perhaps I should even say a co-creator of this event I have strong emotional connections with this event. I must admit, however, that these emotions have very strong rational basis, consisting of such elements as: my own experience in project, program and portfolio management (PPM), comparisons with other similar events in which I have a chance to participate, or thorough absorption of feedback from the participants of previous editions, as well as the expectations and needs of individuals who may be interested in this conference. If I were to verbalize the nature of these emotions with some more accuracy, I would use a somewhat descriptive term “subject-matter creative enthusiasm combined with responsible commitment”. And while I realize that describing feelings with such phrase does not sound particularly romantic, it has been working perfectly for the last few years in the context of the conference.
For the last few weeks we have been increasingly engaged in the preparations for this year’s edition. As every year, one of our basic goals is to prepare an event that, on the one hand, will be of interest to the participants of previous editions, and on the other hand will attract new people. Therefore, I decided to present a digested summary of the five most important reasons for which I believe it is worth to reserve in the calendar the date of April 8 (and perhaps also April 9). The order is perhaps not so important—each of these reasons may have a slightly different weight for different people—but I admit that it reflects my subjective assessment of their priority.
Personally, I think that this is the most important factor. We are making very conscious attempts to gather at the conference, a wide and strongly diverse representation of people involved or interested in the topic of PPM. We strive to meet people from various industries, sectors and organizations, who play various roles in these organizations. And this attempt is related both to ensure a diverse group of participants, as well as conference speakers or workshop facilitators. This approach is a response to one of the most strongly accented expectations of the participants. Almost three-quarters of participants who completed their evaluation surveys in recent years state that the most important strength of the conference for them was: “the opportunity to look at PMO from different perspectives, different businesses”, “meeting people from different environments, experiencing various challenges related to PPM”, or “interesting combination of diverse topics.” Diversity is also the main theme in their responses to questions related with guests they would like to meet during the next conferences and with things we should focus on to make future editions more attractive. Therefore, when we invite speakers we ensure that they form a diverse group representing public and commercial sectors, and a wide spectrum of experience, cultural and industry contexts and perspectives related to roles they play in their organizations.
The conference formula that we propose complements the diversity theme indicated above. It goes far beyond the traditional form of a lecture or presentation. Instead, we continuously involve participants in various interactions, both with guests and among themselves. We do not let them snooze in the corner in the second hour of a lecture. We want them to create, challenge, supplement, question, transform the shared repository of practical wisdom accumulated as a result of our event. For many years, the distinguishing feature of our Conference are “Round Table” micro-workshops based on a brief lecture combined with activities involving all participants. In the previous year, we also proposed a retrospective session based on the World Café formula, which was received very warmly and was often mentioned by the respondents as the most interesting element of the Conference. We also receive many suggestions and hints from the participants that inspire us to modify and enrich the means of interaction we use. For most of them, “sharing knowledge and experience”, “networking”, “inspiration from people who struggle with problems similar to mine” are examples of the main goal they want to achieve through the Conference. This year, we also promise a high dose of interaction and participation.
A combination of academic and practical perspectives
The practical usefulness of what the speakers intend to present is one of the main criteria applied by the Program Board when making decisions on the selection of invited guests. Our model speaker is an exceptionally well-prepared professional who had numerous opportunities to test his or her methods and tools in specific projects, and at the same time is capable to share the associated experiences with others in an inspiring way and convincingly does that in various publications and educational activities. Our participants expect from us: “a presentation of practical examples supported by theory”, “experienced leaders presenting an innovative approach to the challenges they face” and “speakers who effectively combine academic perspective with practice”. These are the people who gain the highest marks from the participants. The examples of such speakers from previous years include: Mark Price Perry, Alfonso Bucero, Paul Hodgkins, Olivier Lazar, Peter Taylor, Beth Ouellette, Craig Kilford, Kimberly Wiefling, Henny Portman, and Marek Skała. Deeply rooted in specific environments of specific organizations, illustrating their presentations with real examples, based on facts, indicators, and data confirming their claims. Solid professionals skilfully sharing their valuable experiences and wisdom, not just story-tellers. The list of this year’s guests that we work on is going to be an excellent continuation of this trend.
Predictability merged with uniqueness
We like clear rules of the game and we ensure to make declarations and promises happen. We monitor that the schedule is followed and announced agenda is completed and we have contingency plans for emergency situations. We want the participants to feel that everything is under control, and if there is improvisation and creativity, it is because we want it, and not because it is forced by circumstances. The vast majority of participants are happy with the one-day formula of the Conference. Considering the aforementioned intended diversity and active participation, it means that meticulous planning of the event and preparation for various surprises are absolutely critical. Predictability gives us all a sense of comfort and security. They let us all focus on achieving goals and meeting the expectations, which are very diverse, often long-term and sometimes conflicting. From the participants’ feedback, however, we learn that the Conference was a turning point for many of them. It made them aware of some new courses of action they can take in their organization, gave new tools, and enabled to initiate new relationships. It also often increased their self-confidence and showed in which areas they are effective, and where they might consider changes or improvements. We have dozens of specific examples of initiatives changing the face of organizations that originated during or as a direct result of participation in our Conference. One of the participants wrote: “This conference does not really teach me anything new, but is a source of inspiration and motivation to me. PMO is often a difficult (and lonely) challenge. Such motivation and the discovery that others have similar difficulties are priceless.” And so we achieve such a small paradox, where we combine predictability with unpredictability.
Gifts and prizes
This is like a dessert. A little extra. Each subsequent edition features an increasing number of presents, prizes and additional small items (sometimes quite substantial ones) that participants can take away. Of course, we have the annual PMO Award competition, which is entails not only a statuette and printed certificates but also some very tangible additional benefits for the winners. But we also have small and large gifts and prizes available to practically everyone who actively participates in the Conference. During last year’s edition, almost every person who completed the evaluation questionnaire received such a gift. It was even noticed by some of participants: “I liked the draw of books :) it's always nice to go home with something like that.” This year, there will also be gifts and prizes. And though they do not have a decisive impact on the value of our event, they certainly contribute to smiles on our faces and an even better atmosphere.
I would like to invite you to take part in this year’s Conference. Its main theme is PMO as the Transformation Enabler. If you are looking for inspiration and new perspectives. If you want to meet different people from different countries, environments, industries and organizations. Performing different roles, but having problems similar to those that you face when you manage your projects, programs and portfolios. If you value predictability, within which you can discover something that will completely change your world. Then Portfolio Experience Conference is the event that you cannot miss.
Author: Paweł Dąbrowski