ProductCamp Austin Winter 2009

I’m proud to announce that we are bringing ProductCamp back to Austin for an encore!  The first ProductCamp Austin had amazing participation from the Austin and Central Texas area, with over 130 people signing up and about 90 participate back in June.  ProductCamp Austin Winter will have more people, more sessions, and be better in every way – if are are in Product Management, Marketing, or Product Development and can get to Austin on Jan 24th, this is the event you want to participate in – and it is free.

What is ProductCamp?

ProductCamp is an unconference.  An unconference takes the old, stogy idea of a conference and turns it on its side.  Instead of corporations paying for boring keynote speakers talking and waving their hands, you have the participants in the conference leading all discussion sessions.  ProductCamp is a meritocracy, or perhaps a participatocracy – anyone can lead a session on any topic relevant to product management or marketing.

At the first ProductCamp, we had sessions ranging from career advancement for product managers, to intellectual property discussions, to working with Agile development organizations, to working effectively with Sales and Executives, to user interface design.  ProductCamp attracts a broad and diverse crowd of smart people who “get it,” so the networking is really good and the discussions are rich and rewarding.

Describe the ProductCamp Experience…

It’s Saturday January 24, 2009 and you wake up way to early for a weekend and head down to the UT campus.  You park and walk up to the College of Communications and follow the signs to ProductCamp.  As you ride the elevator up to the 4th floor, there are three other people with you looking confused.  “Are you here for ProductCamp?” “Yeah, this should be interesting…”

You exit the elevator and see a registration table with people milling around it.  As you make your way to the front, you recognize a few familiar faces from other companies.  You give your name to the PCA volunteer at the table and he hands you a badge and a goodie bag with a PCA shirt in your size.  You make a beeline to the coffee.

As you get your coffee, you notice that ProductCamp has attracted all types – managers, developers and engineers, academics, startup junkies, and everything in between – and these people are talking to one another.  Someone is rambling about their startup, and other person is educating a small group about Twitter: “ProductCamp has its own Twitter ID, here’s how you follow it…”

After chatting for a few more minutes, a PCA volunteer calls everyone into one of the rooms.  The studios at UT are huge, with 40 foot ceilings and have seen much use and abuse over the years.  As you walk in, a volunteer hands you three post-it notes and you wonder “why just three?”  The room has a projector showing a “Welcome to ProductCamp” slide.  Someone gets up and introduces themself as a ProductCamp planner and thanks the sponsor for breakfast.  Next, someone gets up and gives a short minute intro on the open grid scheduling process.  You listen as you’re told to put vote with your sticky notes under the three sessions you’d most like to attend, which are listed on the back wall.

You head to the back wall and read the session names, offered by people just like you.  You recognize a friend-of-a-friend’s name who is giving a session about “Connecting with Customers.”  That sounds good – you use one post-it note.  You see another session about “Agile Product Management.”  Your engineering team is moving to Agile so that might be a good session to attend, and use your second note.  As you step back to consider your third note, you see a dozen other people doing the same thing, and people feel geniuely torn about what to vote for – there are so many good sessions to choose from!  Finally, you put your last sticky on a session called “Career Building in Product Management and Marketing.”

You walk back to your seat and see the PCA volunteers start to rapidly count the votes.  Someone gets up and explains that they are determing which sessions are most in-demand so that they don’t overlap on the schedule.  While the volunteers assemble the schedule, a ProductCamp planner gets up to talk about what ProductCamp is and why everyone is here.  He says things like “ProductCamp is for starting conversations, not finishing them – it’s OK if these discussions spill out onto email, blogs, forums, twitter, or facebook.” “Learn from each other’s collective experiences, but challenge each other – speak up if you hear something that you agree or disagree with.”  You think “wow, this is definitely not a normal conference.”

The planners announce that the schedule has been set, and the crowd huddles around the posted schedule to see which sessoins they are going to attend.  You notice that your favorite sessions are at 10-11, 1-2, and 2-3, and you fill your schedule with other sessions you think sound interesting, including a roundtable discussion.  You refill your coffee and head to the first session in Studio 4E…

As you walk in, you see 20 other people looking at each other and wondering how this is going to work.  The session leader is welcoming everyone and making introductions, and you see her slide projected with the session title “Roundtable: Working with Sales.”  The session leader gives a quick facilitation of 1-2 slides and kicks off the discussion by talking about a recent scenario where she introduced a new product to Sales and was immediately met with hostility from the Sales team.  The questions fly quickly “was the pricing right?” “how is your relationship with them normally?” “How did you explain the value of the product?” “Does that product solve a customer problem?” “Did you just repackage one of your existing solutions?” “Is sales compensated correctly on your product?”  The Q&A continues and the facilitator guides the discussion into new areas: how to be effective with your sales leadership, how to get sales buy-in for new product launches, how to end-of-life a product with sales, and so on.  Through the discussion you furiously type notes out on your laptop as you try to capture some of the great ideas that the team is generating.

The hour-long session feels like it is over as soon as it begins.  You wish it could continue, but you only have a few minutes to get to your next session.  You quickly introduce yourself to the facilitator and a few other people you were impressed with and exchange business cards.  You notice that they have their Twitter ID’s on their badges and quickly follow them on Twitter.

You go through two more sessions before lunch and meet several impressive people.  You think “I need to keep these people on file because they might be good if I’m hiring or looking for a job.”  You grab a plate of catered lunch and sit down with some of your new friends and talk about the sessions they attended so you can get the scoop on what you missed.

After lunch, you hit 4 more sessions.  By the end of the day, you are spent, physically and mentally.  As everyone filters out, people are already talking about the next ProductCamp and what sessions they plan to offer, and you think that maybe this isn’t so hard, and you’ll offer a session next time, too!  A group breaks off to do an official ProductCamp happy hour, and you join in few a few drinks.  The week after ProductCamp, you email some of your new connections to grab lunch – it’s great to keep the network fresh.

I hope that this gives you a taste of what to expect at ProductCamp.  After running one, I was very excited to lead another, and have high hopes for ProductCamp Austin Winter 2009.  I look forward to meeting you at ProductCamp!

Go Register for ProductCamp!

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  • Reply Beth Robinson December 11, 2008 at 7:39 am

    Thanks for the impressions. I’d heard about these unconferences and was curious about how they worked. Hearing about it from a personal point of view was cool. I’d love to attend/participate in one sometime.

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