Attend a Conference Outside your Discipline

At my current agency, I'm a project manager. Although I come from a human-interaction background, my role today is a much more traditional PM position. Think managing requirements, timelines, deliverables, and of course, team and client happiness. So - why did I attend a web design conference?

A PM walks into a design conference. Why?

Honestly, I love web design. Attending An Event Apart has been a dream of mine for the longest time, and it was a great opportunity for me to nerd out with other like-minded individuals who fall more on the design side of the spectrum. Coming from a UX background, I relish every opportunity to keep my creative skills sharp. 

However, the value I also brought back to my agency as a project manager was significant.

Be a better client communicator.

The talks at most conferences range from the 10,000 foot view down to weed-whacking with the best of them. At An Event Apart, the higher level web design trend talks were excellent for my role in being the my internal team's proxy for many conversations.

Being able to answer client questions from a position of understanding earns you trust. Being there first hand and being able to ask the speaker questions is invaluable in the learning (and retaining) process. There are only so many blog articles and Dribbble shots you can absorb passively.

Even if you aren't a designer yourself, web design is the world you live and operate in. Be interested in the "how its made," and share that wealth of knowledge with your clients, who are undoubtedly mired in their own industry and counting on you to be the expert. 

Be a better cross-functional team communicator.

Similarly, your team lives and breathes this stuff. They're moving so quickly, keeping up with trends, and learning so much that sometimes, it's hard to take a moment to explain concepts to a layperson. 

Plus, as a project manager, it's your job to be the translator. Attending a conference for development or design helps you understand not just individual ideas and where the industry is headed in the near future, but also the discipline's guiding philosophies. Immersing yourself in the culture helps you communicate better with your team, and they will sense you understand where they are coming from.

Be an active participant on the team.

The more you understand the details of what makes other disciplines work, the better you can work with others. And - it opens up the opportunity to be even more of a contributing member to your team.

Be a producer! Come up with ideas. Run with the wolves a little. Understand that your team often has a lot going on - and you can help by filling in the gaps when you see them, or helping in brainstorming sessions. Understand that everyone has their area of expertise; but that doesn't mean the ideas of outsiders isn't valued.