A Day at Ground Control Conference 2017

Last Friday I was lucky enough to spend a day at Ground Control Conference in London. This was a conference for anyone leading digital projects. Talks revolved around project management, product management, Agile and leadership topics.

Coincidentally it was also Turing Day in our team. So this conference’s themes perfectly fit our aim to sharpen the saw and learn new things.

So here are a few of my key insights.

Yvette Pegues: Digital Diversity – Leading multi-sensory & multi-ability audiences

When designing (IT) systems, check their P.O.U.R. criteria:

  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust (can this be interpreted on a different platform)

If you create content consider these practices:

  • Text alternatives
  • Search engines
  • Labeled images
  • Don’t enlargement, color contrast
  • Captured video
  • Short time-out windows
  • Meaningful links

Generally, follow WCAG standards

Sam Barnes: It’s all about the little things

It is our job to look after people, and make them feel valued. It is about the little things. These include:

  • Manage your own workload: have your house in order
  • Always be present on communication channels
  • Get back to people on time
  • Unlock radical candor
  • Out of hours comms: make sure you are not expecting a timely reply
  • Assume people mean well
  • Trust is often the issue: Break work into smaller pieces to build up trust
  • Use regret to make decisions: “Will I regret it if I say no?”

  • Professional doesn’t mean being dull: Accept who you are, be comfortable and be yourself at work
  • Be nice, be polite and watch the outcome.

Adrian Howard: Failure Swapshop

Adrian was the guy who made me aware of this conference as we are both members of the BalancedTeam Slack. His workshop focused on failure:

  • Failure is hard to hear and hard to say
  • If you can’t admit to a failure you are not allowed to learn
  • Celebrate failure (don’t be afraid to fail) and you will have a better life

One way out of the not-allowed-to-fail hole is to run a Failure Swapshop:

  1. Hi, my name is ___ and I failed
  3. Explain your failure
  4. Share the lessons learned

Carson Pierce: Your brain hates project management

This was a great session of cognitive biases in project management.

To get past some of these biases:

  1. Slow down decision making, explore other ideas, analyze the information we get
  2. Unpack it, break the problem down into smaller pieces
  3. Go outside, find an external source to help look at things more objectively, reference class forecasting
  4. Flip it, consider the opposite of the problem, pre-mortems
  5. Be sad, avoid optimism bias
  6. Externalize, because memory is so bad, “Never memorize something you can look up. (Albert Einstein)”, meeting minutes, Jira tickets, Google docs, you never have to rely on you own information

Meri Williams: Modern management – Creating space to be awesome

Yet another awesome talk. Meri extends Daniel Pink’s Drive with a dimension on inclusion.

Space to be awesome =
+ Purpose (do I believe in why)
+ Autonomy (do I get a say in what)
+ Mastery (do I choose how)
+ Inclusion (do I belong here)

Cultivate inclusion, show that “someone like me can be successful here”. In order to do so, craft inclusive environments, answering these questions:

  1. Am I expected here?
  2. Am I respected here?
  3. Can I be myself and be successful here?

Michael Lopp: The impossible job

The day was wrapped up by Michael Lopp’s talk on Leadership, the impossible job. Michael presented 16 of his leadership practices/traits/hacks/qualities … Very worth it.

There is never enough time: As a manager you are exposed to more things.

#1 Two minutes early for everything. Show up two minutes early for everything. As a leader we set the tone.

#2 Office hours. As a leader there is more of them than you. It is not effective to meet them all. But you must be available. Schedule “office hours”. This encourages serendipity.

#3 Move the clock towards you. Empathy is a super power. Move the clock towards you to avoid devaluing the moment when looking at the clock.

You are greatly outnumbered by chaotic beautiful snowflakes.

#4 The most important meeting. One on one meetings with all direct reports. 30 minutes, every week, no matter what. If you have to reschedule, tell your people why this happens. Value people’s time.

#5 Learn everyone’s first name. As a leader you acknowledge the connection with other humans.

#6 Three questions before any meeting.  Prepare for any meeting and find three questions. 1:1s and staff meetings are for topics of substance, they are not status meetings. Talk about the things that matter to humans on the team. Value people’s time.

#7 Complement frequently. Compliments are free and amazing leadership coins. Show acknowledgement and talk about the things we are doing well. Give compliments of substance to recognize the value of what others are doing.

There is too much to do and too much to know.

#8 Continually fix small things. Pay down a little bit of debt.  File bugs, pay attention to small things.

#9 Know the most important numbers. What are the three to five most important numbers in your business. Know where they are coming from and why they actually matter.

#10 Share profusely. Share meeting minutes. The more eyeballs see an idea, the better it gets.

Their expectations are unattainable. Their expectation is that you are the best version of them.

#11 Think before you speak. Everything you say as a leader is judged. Speak clearly, speak slowly. Get some speaker training.

#12 Admit and explain failures. Can you admit failure and explain it?

#13 Seek diversity. This is also about social justice. Ideas get better with diverse eyeballs. Pull in diverse ideas to build products for humans. This is really hard, this is a 100 year problem.

#14 Weaponize rumor crushing. As a leader crush rumors. Talk about gossip, rumors and lies in every staff meeting. Put truth/signal back into the system.

#15 Smile as the sky falls. As a leader smile when the sky falls. We want to understand how to fix it. The smile will calm people down so they can fix it. Set a positive tone.

#16 Pick one thing.
For @rands this is to be unfailingly kind.


The ROTI for this conference was a clear 5 (out of 5), i.e. it was an excellent use of time. I already signed up for the 2018 mailing list of Ground Control Conference.

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