The Best Learnings from the Champions of Change Conference


I’m going to share a secret with you. There’s a very special, sometimes magical place where project managers escape the everyday world of cat-wrangling to sharpen their skills, learn, and grow. It’s the pinnacle of opportunity for collaborating, experiencing new ideas, gathering resources and tools, and picking the brains of peers and experts from around the world. This place is PMI®‘s Global Conference.

This year, the conference was held in Los Angeles, California, US. Over 60 countries were represented. The event is multi-faceted, boasting both pre and post-conference courses and activities with SeminarsWorld ® and the three day PMI ® Leadership Institute Meeting. I had the pleasure of participating in the three-day professional development conference and will share a summary of a few sessions and the perspectives I gained by being there.

Keynote Sessions

The keynote was spectacular. If you haven’t heard of Jon Dorenbos, you’re missing out on an inspiration. He discussed the importance of discipline, teamwork, perseverance and the acceptance of failure in achieving a common goal. A tagline he shared, “Live in vision not circumstance.” Take the time to explore his site, LinkedIn, the videos, his story. Don’t discount him because of card tricks or the fact that he played for the Philadelphia Eagles football team. Really do it. Watch and listen to his message. You’ll be a better person and a better leader because of it.

The conference closed with Abigail Posner, Head of Strategic Planning at Google’s Creative Think Tank for Agencies and Brands. I was thrilled to experience her presentation in person. She is famous for launching an industry-first thought leadership series on human beings’ emotional relationships with the digital space: Humanizing Digital. At Modus Create we focus on design first and people-centric principles. A woman, mother, young, fit, well-spoken, well-educated – her experience shines through. What a great way to end the conference. Want more? Check her out on Twitter, LinkedIn and her site.

Sandwiched between two powerhouse speakers were three days of presentations, workshops and hands-on activities prepared by practicing project and program managers who volunteered their time to share their knowledge and experiences. It was clear some presenters were new, and for some, this was not their first rodeo. Experiencing these down to earth, relatable, peer-driven sessions was so refreshing!

Sessions + Learnings

There were so many good sessions it was hard to decide which ones to attend. Thankfully PMI records many of the sessions and publishes them after the conference concludes. And for certified members, the chance of earning additional PDUs after the conference extends through December. What follows is a brief description of select sessions and specific personal experiences and learnings. Read on to discover why you should consider attending a conference such as this.

Think With Your Hands – An Abridged Version of the LEGO® Serious Play® Method

champions-of-change-LEGOThis session was “a facilitated thinking and problem-solving technique to bring creativity, exuberance, and inspiration of play to the concerns of Ethical Leadership.” The attendees sat in groups around piles of Legos. The presentation centered around ethics, petty theft and the broken window theory. The speakers directed us to build something that represents a problem, then build something that represents the solution, and finally place all our objects together to craft a journey story and present to the class.

I learned a surprising amount about myself and others from such simple exercises. This session was challenging for me. I sat and watched my table participants blast through building their models. I stared at the enormous pile of legos in front of me desperate for more instruction. Working with others who make up their own rules inspired me and I really felt astonished working with them. I felt joy and pride when they finished their builds and told them so. Meanwhile, I felt like my work was inadequate.

I was shocked when the team excitedly nominated me to present our little user story as shown in the picture. I had to decide whether to lean into my feelings of insecurity and decline or make the better choice and stand up. I stood up.

As I reflected on this experience, I remembered my table mates expressing their distress for the final assignment: presenting the “journey.” They struggled to link all our seemingly random parts together in a cohesive statement, as we were instructed to do. The story was the easy part for me! I had listened intently during the build exercises to their “whys” behind each unique tower, lighthouse, 3D chart, heart, and shoes. Connecting people through our humanity is one of my strengths. I tell a good people story and was reminded of that.

I re-learned that I work better with clearly defined requirements. Not a shocker for anyone who knows me. I am an analyst at heart and endless seeker of answers. I long for clarity.

I learned a bit about the types of people I should make sure are on teams with me to balance out my strong tendencies. I’m inspired by people who can make up their own rules.

I learned I can speak off the cuff when I hardly feel prepared to do so. By listening and understanding the “why” I can bring together an overall picture for the team. It felt good to serve my team this way especially after feeling inept as a free-form builder. Teams for the win!

Interactive Open Forum Discussion: The Future of Project Management and How We Will Work

PMI-Word-CloudThis was an interactive panel discussion. The topics ranged from the speed of technological change to customers’ evolving needs to the implications for technological change and organization culture. It seems every organization is searching for the most effective ways to transform and adapt to the demands technology and customers bring.

We used a fun tool to create a dynamic real-time word cloud per question. Word clouds can be a good conversation driver. Kudos to the session leaders who tried it out!

The most important thing I learned in this session happened when it was over. I left the room regretting not raising my hand to contribute during the open forum discussion. Instead of kicking myself and being forced to live with regret, I turned around and walked back to the room to patiently wait my turn to speak to the panel members. This led to some of the most enriching and valuable time of the weekend.

In return for practicing bravery, I spent hours speaking with two panelists who I perceived as giants in our field. It was intimidating at first. We talked through happy hour, met for dinner and continued our chat. We talked about our crafts, where we struggle, our kids, women in tech, wine, travel and one other really important thing. This “thing” is worth the entire trip, far from home, far from my comfort zone – we supported each other, shared ideas and our aspirations, encouraged one another.

I learned sometimes strangers can speak truth to you like no one else can.

Gamifying Enterprise Agile Transformations

gameifying-agile-transformation-pmiThis workshop tackled how gamification assists in establishing the adoption of agile principles enterprise-wide. Each table was challenged to create a new “game” that would solve a problem within a company. I shared how Modus uses HeyTaco to show gratitude and increase engagement company-wide to our table. We listened to each other’s challenges at work and chose “quality” as our problem.

The goal of our game concept was to eliminate software defects throughout an organization. We named our game “Zero Defects”. We defined how team performance would be measured: response time to fix reported issues by client, timeliness and a low number of defects reported. Teams need to be empowered to “pull the release” if internal teams found issues and the delivery quality would be compromised. Our conclusion was to enact policy to help the team truly own their work. To inspire competition and also allow transparent performance, we liked the idea of displaying a Leaderboard using a Jira Wallboard in a common area like the lunch room. To motivate the teams responsible for achieving “zero defects”, we proposed monetary rewards and the honorary trophy.

I learned this type of activity enlivens me and brings me joy. We talked about how to motivate and inspire teams, how to be fair, how to handle non-competitive people (me!), how to reward teams and more.

I learned when you’re confident and passionate others will ask you to lead.

Some Honorable Mentions

PMI was a great host. They provided an Exhibit Hall, PMI Bookstore, Ask the Expert sessions, a LinkedIn™ Corner and Headshot Station, Playgrounds for hands-on learning, an Escape Room, PM Wars (test your knowledge against others), Technology Zone and even a Wellness Pavilion where you could find activities to relax and recharge – a PM’s dream.


  • Iron Sharpens Iron Novices, experts, entry-level, senior executives – they can all be found there. Collaborate, share ideas, learn, grow, inspire and be inspired.
  • Stand Up! Lean into discomfort and even confusion. You may be surprised at how strong you are. Prove yourself to yourself.
  • Go Back, Speak Up! Make it right. No one is perfect, even giants. No one gets it right the first time every time. Practice makes progress. Expect learning and growth.
  • Courage over Comfort! Fight impostor syndrome. Be brave. You belong.


Project managers should understand the value they impart to the team, the organization and beyond. Invest in yourself, invest in your people, your organization, your products. Find a way to get to Philly 2019 – Driving Change in a Disrupted World. See you there!

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