Brett Harned | [Top Agency Series] Starting the First Community for Digital Project Managers
Smart Business Revolution

Brett Harned formed the Bureau of Digital and founded the Digital PM Summit, which was the first annual digital project managers conference. He is also a Digital Project Management Consultant at Digital PM Consulting, LLC, where he works with teams to build processes and communication tactics that work for their projects, people, and clients. Brett has worked with major clients such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Zappos, MTV, Alaska Air, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to name a few.

Brett’s previous roles include Director of Education at TeamGantt, Vice President of Project Management at Happy Cog, and Senior PM at Razorfish. Today, he speaks at events all over the world, writes for popular websites and publications, and can be heard on his podcast, Sprints & Milestones. He is the author of Project Management for Humans, which was published in July 2017.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran is joined by Brett Harned, the Founder of the Digital PM Summit, to talk about project management. Brett discusses the origin of the Bureau of Digital, building the community, the best practices of putting together events, and tools in the digital project management space today. He also shares how he got a community of leaders together, some of the people who helped make his projects possible, and how you can be a good community citizen.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Brett Harned discusses the founding of Bureau of Digital
  • How Brett built and maintained a community
  • Keeping a community alive with engagement
  • The oath of sharing and vulnerability
  • Brett talks about the best event management practices
  • What are the top tools for digital project management?
  • How Brett got a community of leaders together — and the great people who helped make it happen
  • How to be a good community citizen
  • Brett’s interesting clients

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:01

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now now, your host for the revolution. John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran. Here. I’m the host of this show. And I feel it’s such a privilege every week to talk to smart CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs of arranging different companies from Netflix Kinkos, YPO, EO activation, Blizzard, lemon tree, go check out some of the archives. There are some great episodes back there. I’m also the co-founder Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners so they’re ideal prospects. And quick shout out to Carl Smith of Bureau of Digital who helped introduce me to today’s guest. This is part of our top agency founder series and our guest is Brett Harned and he brings nearly 20 years of experience and communications of project management, along with a passion for teaching and community building to his roles as an advocate for the digital project management community. For years, Brett worked as a digital project management consultant and coach. He’s also worked on some really interesting digital products with projects which we will ask him about including for Zappos, MTV, Bill and Melinda Gates, foundation, Alaska Air and many more. And in 2012, on the Happy Cog agency, Brett helped to form the Bureau of Digital which I’ve been a member of for a number of months now is great community, and founded the Digital PM summit, the first annual conference for digital project managers. And Brett is also the author of Project Management for Humans. Of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25 Media. And I know Brett, you have done podcast before on both sides of the microphone. So you, you know how wonderful it is you get to talk to smart folks like yourself. And so if anyone’s curious about how to do a podcast effectively for a b2b business, send us an email [email protected] All right, Brett, it’s such a pleasure to have you here today. And you know, you were there at the beginning for the founding of the Bureau of Digital, which is now some 800 members strong and growing like wildfire. I’m really curious to know what the origin story was like, what it was like at the beginning. Especially what’s fascinating to me is that this is a brand new industry that did not exist 20 years ago, you know, and now digital agencies are becoming a really amazing element of, of the economy. And obviously, that’s, that’s where we play these days. But what was it like in the beginning, the very beginning? Yeah, I understand. We were chatting before end, you just started locally started meeting with other people because you didn’t have that community?

Brett Harned 3:05

Yeah, I mean, so the origin story of the Bureau is a little different from the origin story of the Digital PM Summit. I mean, the idea of the Bureau really came out of, if I’m remembering this correctly, kind of a business development concept. Are Joe Rinaldi, our biz dev guy at the time, had this idea that, you know, it’d be really cool to be able to just connect with other business owners and talk shop. So at the time, Greg Hoy, and Greg Storey that the owners of Happy Cog, basically jumped on that concept and said, Oh, let’s start an event called shop talk. So they started this little kind of retreat getaway, which is now called owner, owner camp, right. So it’s a few days, they go away, they have some meaningful conversations just about the way that they run their shops. So that was kind of the first event that spun out of that. And I jumped on that, because at that time, being a part of Happy Cog, which is a great agency, it still is around, founded by Jeffrey Zeldman, very much rooted in the idea of learning, right, like learning on the job and learning and teaching also, and just sharing. And I really love that concept. And as a project manager at the time, I felt like, I didn’t really have that community. So seeing that founders of agencies were finding each other and my friends who were designers or UX leads, had their communities really made me like, take a deeper look. And so, you know, locally, I joined the local project management institute chapter, very quickly realized that that was not really the place for me. There weren’t people working in digital, who were going to those events and they were really, it just wasn’t just wasn’t my space. I’ll leave it at that, because

John Corcoran 5:01

these are the project managers managing different types of projects, but not in corporate

Brett Harned 5:04

and construction and it okay not, you know, very different culturally in terms of workplace. So, I ended up and of course, had gone to tons of conferences and always felt like, wow, these conferences are great. And I’m learning things, but there’s never anything specific for me. So I ended up spinning up a little meetup in Philadelphia, basically called a DPM Philly and attached myself to a design meetup and said, Hey, can we run an event where you bring your Pm, and you ask people to bring their pens. And that’s how I started the list. And then that meetup grew and grew. And then I went to Greg and Greg and said, hey, you know, there’s actually a community of people here, and we’re doing events. And this is before we even called it, the Bureau of Digital.

John Corcoran 5:58

And these are like monthly events, just like a mighty, OK,

Brett Harned 6:02

meetup at a bar, round table. You know, PMS love to talk about the challenges they’re facing. And when you get them in the room together. They’re like, Oh, my gosh, me, too. So that was really comforting, right? So essentially, I went to those guys and said, Hey, like, I think there’s an opportunity here for an actual event, is this something that you get behind? And, like, do? And they said, Yeah, let’s do it. So

John Corcoran 6:29

it was the what was the sales pitch for you to your agency? What was the business case for why they should get involved in that? It? Was there an argument that was gonna lead to business? Or was it just like, something that they do out of the goodness of their own heart? Or why?

Brett Harned 6:46

Um, I think it was a couple of things. I think it was this idea that there is there was a gap, right at the time, there was a gap for communities for people like me, or people in leadership roles. And that’s really kind of where I think the Bureau started was, let’s find and build community for these folks. So it was more of a community building goodness of your heart kind of situation. But also it was, hey, maybe this is also a business that we can spin out of the agency, which is essentially what happened. So yeah, we we set up that that first event, we’ve limited it, because we weren’t sure what the interest would be. We limited the capacity to 150 people and we sold it out in 30 days.

John Corcoran 7:36

Oh, that’s still too small, because I’ve done events myself. And, you know, I don’t know if you’re on the hook for a hotel, if it was a multi day event or what but that’s nerve racking.

Brett Harned 7:47

It was nerve racking. We weren’t we did not go to the hotel route. At that point. We hosted it at why in Philadelphia, so it was in a big television studio. And it was two days, I had to hire, you know, speakers to fill those days, I myself gave a keynote. You know, I had a pretty aggressive goals with that. And the response to it was amazing. And the second year, we more than doubled it. So we’re, I guess that was 2013. Now we’re heading into 2021 and doing another event. So it’s been going well. And I have to say you know that the community has grown in this amazing way. And anytime we walk away from those events, I always tell people, I feel bad in the actual in person events when we can do them because I would, you know, walk down the hallway trying to get from one place to another and be stopped by, you know, a handful of people saying oh my gosh, this is so cool. I never thought that I would meet people who do the same thing that I do. Which is just like that just makes me feel so good. Because we’re what we’re doing is providing a place where people can grow professionally, and learn from one another and feel like they have a community they have a place to go, where they can meet people and talk about the challenges that they face in a really comfortable way that helps them to level up in their careers. That’s really meaningful to me. What

John Corcoran 9:16

are a few of the secrets that you learned over the years to nurturing a community like this? What’s the secret sauce?

Brett Harned 9:26

Yeah, you know, it’s it’s actually really tough. It’s a lot of kind of testing ideas and seeing what resonates for people. For this community specifically, people are busy, so getting their attention is not easy. Finding the right topics in the right kind of format is really important. And what I’ve found is people don’t necessarily like to go to a conference and just listen to a talking head. They want to hear from someone who is in it and doing what they’re doing. They want to be able to relate to that person. And I think that’s really important. I think the other aspect is providing a level of engagement. So a big part of all of our events at the Bureau are about people just sharing and discussing and asking each other questions. It’s not about us hiring the best speakers and putting them on stage and, you know, making a presentation, it’s more about them talking to each other.

John Corcoran 10:25

Hmm. And then, you know, you started, you know, there’s different, very different world now, especially post pandemic, as we come out of the pandemic, hopefully. And we’re recording this in August the 2021. So it’s a little debatable whether we’re coming out of it or still in the thick of it, right. But you know, a very different world in 2013 2014, especially the way that people engage with one another online. So how did you keep the community going between the live events that you did? Because you started with the live events, you started with the meetups? bronde, it became more of a, like a real conference. And then how did you keep that community alive?

Brett Harned 11:05

Well, the amazing thing was that after that first conference, other conferences and other countries started to pop up. So immediately, it started to become this kind of global thing.