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A step (or stumble) into the unknown - Via the M4

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Spending a Tuesday evening in April at a chain hotel in Reading isnt exactly an eyes-wide-open- in- exquisite- anticipation experience. Add to that the subject of project management and I started to wonder - or was mild panic setting in?

My journalism career to date has taken me from television news reading in a ground-breaking kind of way (and some unforgettable, outside broadcast reporting) to news features on the national press, then by way of a floor-crossing exercise with some years in PR and back to one of the most talked-about (and misunderstood) sectors: travel journalism.

So, whilst my job isnt always about sipping Bellinis in Venice or watching sunrises in the Sahara (but yes, they do happen), I know that Im very lucky. Throw in the occasional interview with a minister of tourism, having dinner with Morgan Freeman and even some quasi-political assignment attached to the elusive international relations aspects of global tourism and youll see why I had doubts about that Tuesday evening. Would I be bored into oblivion? Sorry Reading, you and Project Challenge dont hold quite the appeal of Rio? It wasnt looking good.

All in the cause of research I told myself as I embarked on some and made a call to a senior commercial director contact at an airline. Mike, do you ever use project management companies, Im doing something outside of my zone and need to get a feel I started. Dont ask me Julia, not quite my thing. Weird breed the ones Ive met - theyre either ego maniacs stuffed full of self-importance or dull as the proverbial ditch water. They deliver on time because they have to but I really cant see you relishing that subject. Is something wrong?.

Misunderstood sectors? Perhaps I and they might have something in common after all..?

And so it began. Four teams of finalists, all young people, bristling with confidence, enthusiasm and a ton of hair glossing gel (and that was just the men!). I was ready to listen.

Im deliberately omitting names but youll know who you are.
First up was a bright bunch with a project relating to a calculator to handle the cost of meetings (I think!). My eyes blurred at the almost (to me) incomprehensible technical material presented. I assumed everyone else in the room grasped it. The main speaker kept using the word simple- I made a note to talk to him about the definition, but of course, never did. I liked their talk of level of influence but wondered if it was just project-management-speak and I was impressed that they recognised their shortcomings in that they had over committed. Hmmm.

Next, was a group which started off by trying hard to win over the audience (now this was more like it- touches of humanity perhaps?). Even a joke or two whatever next? Much talk about project and risk management ensued and just as I was about to yawn, the influence matrix entered the room. Gosh! Would I ever be the same again and what the hell were they talking about.?! Seriously though, despite my feeling that much of this might have been textbook management stuff, the enthusiastic delivery was beginning to beguile me.
The end result of this project was an on arm-patch security pass for cyclists and bikers ; it seemed useful, worthy and the proposal well positioned. I started to worry that these people were getting to me.

The third group arrived on stage, all power smiles and full of hope. I was lost. Im not even sure I knew what they were talking about and I noted that I should speak to some business editors about the responsibility assignment matrix. I havent yet and dont hold your breath. Despite understanding little of the proceedings here, I liked the way that Team Confusion (my name) recognised the need to amend and review whatever it was they were working on! Humility and flexibility are two of lifes greatest qualities irrespective of the subject matter at hand, be it personal or professional. Bravo. I was feeling that I might be among humans after all!

And finally ( as we often said at the end of the television news bulletins) came a group of young women oozing so much confidence that I didnt know whether to shudder or smile. They purred over their new software tool idea that promised to help write business cases and they did an excellent job.

The audience voted them the winners.

For me though, the highlight of the evening related to a group of people who were not overall winners but who presented their projects by means of posters. They had more limited methods by which to showcase their work and they all did it superbly. Here I will mention the British Airways Revolution poster campaign if I dare call it that? The combination of team spirit, applied methodology and creative flair impressed me. These apprentices are worth a million of those we see on regular car-crash television series.

So, in summary, was I impressed? Yes-overall. Did I understand it all? No. Would I invite any or all of you to co-present a motivational event with me? Probably not but perhaps the Latvian jury is still out on that one.

That evening in Reading affirmed what I already knew: that to come as any sort of runner up is often just as important as winning if you and your target audiences (whoops...dont I mean stakeholders) recognise the value and application of your work.

Just go steady on the jargon folks.
Kiss kiss ...a sentiment inspired by watching stars twinkling in a midnight sky over the Danube. There is a time and a place for us all.

By Julia Berg
Julia Berg is a travel journalist who writes for the Daily Telegraph, The Times, Daily Mail under various Julia bylines and is also a regular contributor to BBC Radio. She lives in Hove, Sussex and in Lovran, Croatia, speaks four languages including Croatian and likes drinking champagne and walking on the beach at low tide (preferably at the same time!) She attended the 23 April 2013 event in Reading as a guest of Andy Osborn.


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