Synergy 2011

Banner from PMI conferenceLast Thursday was International Project Management Day, and, along with 800 other project managers, I attended Synergy, a ‘day of celebration’ in London.

None of us really knew what to expect. It had never been billed as a traditional conference and it was held at the IndigO2, part of the O2 arena which mainly hosts concerts. There was only one track of speakers. We had allocated, theatre-style seating. It was practically impossible to see anything inside that wasn’t on the stage — it was like a nightclub, or an arthouse theatre.

We queued a long time for a cup of tea, only to find out that it cost £2.50. Most of the day ran late. HRH The Princess Royal was unable to attend. The two closing acts were comedians, Andi Osho and David Armand.

It was a very strange, unexpected day, but I think that’s what they wanted to achieve. They turned the idea of a project management conference on its head. Even the ‘traditional’ speaker slots had a different feel to them — more energy and passion than a normal conference (with one exception).

Emile Faurie, Equestrian Ambassador, talked about building a team to take a jittery horse from being too jumpy to take part in a race to winning events. A whole host of people talked in short bursts about taking project management skills into schools. Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, talked about the UK’s poor track record with civil engineering projects in his famously blunt way.

Steve Carver from Cranfield University did a demonstration of team work. He threw a ball into the audience. The person who caught it threw it on, and so on, until about 11 people had touched the ball. This took 43 seconds. Steve then asked them to do the same thing, but faster. They repeated the sequence in about 20 seconds. He said that another group who had done the same exercise had completed it in 2 seconds. Now that’s a challenge.

The people in the audience all came out to the front and stood in a line. They passed the ball down the line but they couldn’t break 4 seconds. When they stood in a circle, all poised and ready to touch the ball when it was their turn, they managed it in 2 seconds. The improvements came through understanding the rules (the requirement was to ‘touch’ not ‘hold’ or ‘pass’) and taking out the unnecessary lag time, such as having the ball in the air.

Chris Field (PMI UK Chapter President), David Hillson and Ricardo Vargas
R-L: Chris Field (PMI UK Chapter President), David Hillson and Ricardo Vargas

David Hillson collected the PMI Eric Jennet Project Management Excellence Award for his work in project and risk management over the years. His award looked like it was made of chocolate, and a bit like a wizard’s hat. I’m sure he’ll find a home for it.


  1. Elizabeth,

    Great summary. I’m sure that had the lighting been a bit better, I might have met more of the people I know online.

    And I’m not sure what category of PDUs I should claim, a jolly time, but not much professional development.

    1. I don’t have that PDU problem, not being a PMP and all that, but I expect you can claim a lot for your new knowledge of interpretative dance!

  2. Hi Elizabeth
    I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head with your review of the day and would agree with the points you made – I think my initial synopsis was ‘some good bits, some oddities and some boring bits’. Pity I couldn’t see you in the dark though or I would have come and said hello! 🙂

    1. Good, odd, boring in parts, that’s a concise summary of the day. Chris has been in touch to say that next year (they are apparently doing it again next year) they will consider the lighting so that we don’t strain our eyes taking notes.

    1. Penny, the video is excellent! Thanks for sharing it. The sound quality is also very good: Steve Carver was very clear. I think it gives people a good flavour of the day and the surroundings.

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