It’s all about the little things

As DPMs, it’s our job to look after our team and make them feel valued. Read how even the smallest things can make the biggest difference.

Last month I attended Ground Control 2017, a new conference for Digital Project Managers. It was the first of its kind at this scale in the UK, and it was undoubtedly a resounding success.

I’ve written a series of posts where I’ll share some of the great insight I picked up from speakers, what I did in the interactive workshops and talk about the conference in general.

Sam Barnes - Ground Control
Photo Credit: White October Events

It’s all about the little things

by Sam Barnes

Sam underlined the importance of the human element of being a DPM by taking care of the little things. It’s our job to look after our team and make them feel valued by developing relationships and treating people with respect.

Managing your own Workload

As a leader, you must set the example for your team. This includes how you manage your time, how you interact with people and how you work under pressure.

Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen has plenty of useful information on how you can manage your time better and stay on top of things. Here are 3 simple techniques to get started:

  1. Inbox Zero (Folders, Actions, Reminders)
  2. Next Action (List)
  3. Waiting For (List)

Read your emails. Understand the content. Ask yourself if there are any actions or if it contains something you were waiting for. Move to a folder. Simple as that!

Remember, information logged somewhere is better than being in your head. I personally use Evernote, Trello and a simple Notepad.


1. Be present on Comms

  • There’s no excuse for not replying to people
  • Keep your word. If you’ve set a date for an update, get back to people even to say you have no update.

2. Consider people’s time and availability when scheduling meetings.

  • Avoid meetings before 10am. It’s literally torture.
  • Ask someone when they would prefer a meeting or at the very least check their calendar

3. 121s with your team are essential for your development and theirs.

  • Pay attention and listen carefully
  • Follow up on actions
  • Ask for feedback and remind them you are there should they need anything at all

4. Use radical candour when having difficult discussions

5. Out of hours emails (If you have to)

  • First line should be you do not expect a reply now
  • Avoid putting anyone in a situation where they feel they have to reply to you and/or work out of hours out of fear

6. Sick leave

  • Give people the flexibility to text/email in when ill instead of needing to call.
  • Ask someone how they are doing when they return

Bad working environments

Sometimes you aren’t the problem. Working with toxic, unbearable people can create stressful working environments.

  • Toxic people effect staff and the business
  • Total cost of Assholes (TCA) £980k based on 150 people being bullied at work.
  • Speak up if you’re effected.

I’ve seen and experienced first hand the impact of work-placed bullying. On both occasions, the business eventually lost skilled staff members.

If you’re in a position of power, it’s your duty as a person and in the business best interests to not let this kind of behaviour foster.

Flexible Working

Give people the opportunity to work Remotely/Flexibly where possible.

  • Improves morale and productivity
  • Avoid Employee Guilty/Employee Sneer

Flexibility is one of the best things I love about working at Pearson. As long as you’re on top of your work and you’re not missing key meetings, you’re free to work where you please.

If you don’t trust your employees to work flexibly or remotely, you shouldn’t have hired them in the first place – (Yan Lhert, Software Engineer)


1 – Assume people mean well and always treat everyone with respect.

2 – If your ideas are challenged, it’s probably due to a lack of trust.

  • Break down your proposal and provide tangible benefits
  • Build trust instead of assuming negative feelings towards you

3 – Be nice, be polite and watch the outcome.

4 – Use regret to make decisions: “Will I regret it if I say no?”.

  • Opportunities are rare. Fear is temporary. Regret is eternal.
  • It’s better to shit your pants than die of constipation – A wise man

5 – Being Professional doesn’t require you to be dull. Being yourself builds trust, shows authenticity and ultimately helps with team morale.


I really enjoyed Sam’s candid talk. As DPM’s we often become fixated on delivering the project and we forget that a big part of being a DPM is about managing people.

I also realised, many DPM’s like myself are keen learners, but I can’t remember the last time I sought out training on something that wasn’t PM/Digital related. We need to invest time developing these ‘soft’ people skills.

One of the first things I’ve done since this talk is get a handle on my Inbox. I’m ashamed to say I let it grow so much that people are physically coming to my desk to chase me. I spent a weekend sorting that out and I’m already reaping the rewards!


Ground Control

Return to the Overview to read about the other great Sessions and Workshops I attended.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *