UT Dallas 13th Annual Project Management Symposium: From VUCA readiness to N.A.K.E.D Networking by Silvia Davis

Last month I attended my first UT Dallas Project Management Symposium on May 21-22 in partnership with the PMI Dallas Chapter. I was impressed with the quality of the keynotes, track sessions, panels, and networking opportunities. Over 450 people were in attendance for the 2-day Symposium which offered 40+ sessions. The interactive presentations were focused on “how to” and provided practical examples I could apply to my day job.

The event attracted professionals from varied industries looking to stay engaged and relevant in an era of digital disruption.  The key topic of this year’s event was VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity). VUCA helps companies understand the challenges of operating in a world of constant changes and helps them to be more resilient. It is not about having the perfect project, but about learning to be ready when the unexpected happens.

I was thrilled to be part of the volunteer team lead by Rita Lopez from the PMI Dallas Chapter and Kathy Lovelace from UT Dallas. These ladies managed the whole event bringing together 40+ speakers and 40+ volunteers. Special thanks to ALL Volunteers and UT Dallas staff, including Mary Saunders, Sigal Dor and Karen Breuer, for leading the PMI Dallas Chapter volunteers. Thank you to the PMI Dallas President, Joe Carson, past president Susan Kennedy and everyone that supported this event for giving their time to the community.

From left: Susan Kennedy, Rita Lopez, Joe Carson, Ariane Stone

Part of the profit of this event is destinated to the PMI Dallas chapter to sponsor projects to enable the Project Management community to grow professionally and be successful in their careers.

There are 9 Key Highlights from this year’s symposium:

1. Leadership is not always about leading; sometimes you need to follow.

Mike Wheeler, Senior Vice President of Supply Chain and Chief Procurement Officer at Flour, presented how they have embraced Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to deliver fact-based insights and early warning indicators on project performance. Mike shared the 8 steps to transforming your organization leveraging the John P. Kotter approach and underscored the importance of data standardization and quality. Fluor has been working in innovating the way they deliver to be ahead of the competition and be successful in the future.

My key takeaways for project managers:

  1. Leadership is not always about leading; sometimes you need to follow
  2. Be open to new learnings and possibilities
  3. Balance Being in the Moment and Focusing on the Future

2. VUCA Mindset and Model: Being Successful in the Digital Age

Several sessions hit on the symposium’s theme: VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity).  Project Management can be used to overcome the uncertainty and complexity arising from increased to delivery speeds required to meet Business objectives and achieve profitability. I attended Darrel G. Hubbard, PE, where he spoke about “How well action results can be predicted versus How much is known about a situation” which leveraging VUCA Framework. He outlined the 4th Industry Revolution. The 1st industry revolution was mechanization, the 2nd was mass production, the 3rd was computers and automation and now we are going to the 4 Industry Revolution: cyber-physical systems. According to Mr. Hubbard, if companies do not transform, they will perish.

  1. Volatility: Changes are frequent and may be unpredictable. Situation/events may be understandable when relevant information is available. Several actions/decisions are continuously changing.
  2. Uncertainty:  Some situations/events underlying causes and probable effects are generally known. Any information may be inadequate to process successfully.
  3. Complexity: the overall volume of the information available can be overwhelming, and the nature of it may be too intricate and complex to adequately process or analyze.
  4. Ambiguity: Cause and effect relationships with, or among situations/events are unclear. There is a lack of knowledge because former ways of conducting operations may no longer apply.

My two key takeaways:

  1. Cultural intelligence in Management: the application of soft skills to successfully and respectfully relate, adapt, and work effectively in a complex cultural context and multi-cultural business environment.
  2. Social Intelligences in Management: Refers to leadership’s socially-based competence in Business. Reflects the capacity to know oneself and to know others within a social context.

Both topics focus on leading people to a common purpose amid complexity, ambiguity, volatility, and uncertainty in the Digital World and are vital for project success. It is the art of learning about human behavior, removing fears, and being able to drive global teams to a goal.
I had an opportunity to pick Darrel’s brain during lunch. He’s an extraordinary thought-leader with 40+ years of experience, and actively contributing to the project management field. Darrel’s advice to me was: “Learn and pass it to others.”

3. Will the role of Project Management change with Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

Humans make around 35,000 decisions a day, and AI is now learning these decision paths to replicate and automate human decision-making processes. AI will not replace the Project Management role but will help project managers manage risks based on intelligent data, early issues detection, and process automation to mitigate risks. These enhancements will lead to more successful product and service delivery.

Chaitali Cheeda, PMP, explained that AI is a simulation of human behavior and will include actions such as observation and progressive learning using all human senses.

4. The curious world of Blockchain: How it affects project management?

Marv Williams, PMP, founder and CEO at Xerillium, presented on Blockchain. He mentioned various use cases and provided examples of how Blockchain can be leveraged to manage a project, take on Scrum Master responsibilities, streamline international teams and even managed SOWs! Fascinating, ha!?
Blockchain adoption has been slow, but it is here to stay. I suggest learning more and embracing how it can help accelerate your project timelines and costs.

5. Agile and Continuous Delivery: Hot topic for IT Projects

There were multiple presentations discussing the role of Project Management in application development and delivery. Companies are quickly moving to Agile and DevOps frameworks. As enterprises adopt these new frameworks, there is a need to manage it on a Scalable level.

“Agility is the ability to both create and respond to change to profit business, balancing flexibility and stability” David Carrier

David Carrier explaining what is MVP – Minimum Viable Product

My key takeaways.

  1. Portfolio managers need to focus on what is vital to the Business and perform continuous reviews and adjustment to the portfolio
  2. Business Analysts have become the new Product Managers, helping to focus on customer needs and manage Product Backlogs.
  3. Project Managers have become Product Owners or Scrum Masters, working on application development deliverables.
  4. Agile and DevOps must be implemented together. Start with one Business Unit (BU), apply the newly adopted frameworks, ensure success using analysts, and then expand to other BUs.
  5. Not all application development needs to move from Waterfall development to Agile frameworks.

6. Legos and Mousetraps: How to Avoid Common Project Management Pitfalls

Stacey Cellier, Vice President of the PMO at Solis Mammography, started her presentation with this interesting video: Legos and Mousetraps. A Project Manager’s job isn’t easy – we’re constantly faced with a lot of uncertainty!

Stacey undertook to implement a new PMO quickly by going above and beyond to understand the patient’s journey, which brought value to the organization and improved customer and employee satisfaction.

Project managers don’t do the work, they get work done through other people” Lee R. Lamber - PMI Fellow.

How did she do it?

  • Engage Deeply. Know what success looks and feels like:
    • Focus on what is a priority for the business, do not try to do everything
    • Align the portfolio of projects with the business objectives
  • Ask the challenging questions:
    • Get the top 3 projects and go deep. She performed a survey to understand not only customer needs but employee need.
    • Focus in the end-to-end process
  • Measure yourself not just on what you accomplished, but how you accomplished it.
    • Use analytics to continuously measure and improve
  • Celebrate!


The results were terrific, Solis is becoming a well-known nationwide institution helping to prevent breast cancer. I loved Stacey’s vision and how to get impactful results.

Stacey Cellier, Vice President of the PMO at Solis Mammography,

7. The high-speed train is coming to Texas! A massive project!

Travis Kelly, Vice President, External Affairs from Texas Central Partner, LLC. shared how the new high-speed train project started and the current state. It is a very complex project with thousands of people involved spanning government, third-party companies, and international stakeholders. The multi-billion project brings innovation to the United States. You can follow updates on the project here. 

My key takeaways

  1. It is hard to manage a project when there are thousands of people involved, million different options and uncertainty. Keep the focus, manage the stakeholders, ask for help and have everything well documented, communicated and measured.

8. Make yourself matter

Carl Youngberg, a respectful writer, and thought leader hosted an interactive session on “Trust”. Carl had various games and videos about how to transform a dysfunctional team to a cohesive, confident team.

The “TRUST” checklist:

  • Do people continuously question your expectations of them?
  • Would most people describe you as someone reliable?
  • Do most team members underperform at the tasks you ask them to do?


Here are the steps for a Trustworthy team based on the Lencioni Pyramid – five layers/behaviors:

  1. Create a trustworthy environment where you remove the blame and focus on solutions.
  2. Work on conflicts, do not avoid them. Face and resolve them.
  3. Have everyone committed to success. Everyone helps when and where needed.
  4. Foster accountability, define clear roles and facilitate open conversations.
  5. Focus on the team results, remove status and ego.

9. N.A.K.E.D. Networking: Mutually beneficial relationship – Plan, Connect, and Grow!

Kari Mirabal, an innovative Speaker, and thought-leader shared tips on how to network and deal with challenging situations not only in project management but in your life and career. Her presentation can be seen here.  So, what is N.A.K.E.D. networking is about? It’s the feeling of being Neglected, Afraid to take action, Knowledge acquisition and applying strategic steps to plan, connect and grow, Engage with others and Dedicate time to develop.

Communication, networking, and relationships can be a challenge, as it was for Kari in her early schooling. In this presentation, she shared her experience on how she became an innovative speaker. One of her tips is “think BIG” and have confidence through criticism. She mentioned the power of positive thinking connected to the universal law-of-attraction. The energy that we put out is what we will get back. So, what are you telling or passing to others around you?

Kari also spoke about fear. Fear is nothing less than a lie in our minds.  She gave tips to reframe the lie in our brain:  find the root cause of the fear, replace the myth with the truth, and reframe it in your mind.

An example would be:

“Asking for a meeting with someone I just met is too bold,” The TRUTH is “I am scared to feel rejected.”

Let’s reframe it to “Asking for a meeting is just a request” and let’s add “I am scared to feel rejected and I love that because…”

where “…” can be “I am about to do something really brave.”, or something similar.

The whole suggested phrase would be:

“Asking for a meeting is just a request.

“I am scared to feel rejected, and I love that because I am about to do something really brave.”

Say it to yourself and reframe your fear with a positive statement.

So, what do you have to lose when trying something new or networking with new people? Nothing, because you already have the “no.” Kari just launched a new e-book “You already have the no” and it is available here:


Now, you understand WHY the UT Dallas Project Management Symposium exceeded my expectations. The amount of learning in two days was very valuable for my career growth amid the VUCA that is going on!

I am looking forward to the next year’s conference – May 18-19, 2020.

Stay tuned!

Silvia Davis, PMP, SAFe SPC, ITIL Master

Social Media Director, PMI Dallas - TX and

UT Dallas Project Management


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  1. Julio Ruiz Rodriguez, Sr.

    Jun. 10, 2019

    Great article!

  2. Julio Ruiz Rodriguez, Sr.

    Jun. 10, 2019

    Great article Silvia! The symposium was awesome and a lot of knowledge in the environment.

  3. Susan Kennedy

    Jun. 8, 2019

    Great article! I enjoyed the detailed info on sessions, and the reminders of things like how to turn negative thoughts into positive statements. Thanks for taking the time to write this.