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pragmatic

On Being a Pragmatic Marketing Instructor

This week, I was fortunate enough to receive a new opportunity within Pragmatic Marketing, and accepted a new role as Vice President of Products.  It’s a rare occasion that the stars align and you’re able to do work you love for a company you love with a team you love – but that’s exactly how I describe working at Pragmatic.  If you haven’t experienced that feeling, I sincerely hope that you will, and I’d like to share some thoughts on the best job in the world with you in the hopes that it piques your interest, and points you down a path of achieving success, however you define the term.

In 2010, I worked for Dell, and managed a small team who was responsible for portfolio management of several acquisitions that Dell had made over the years.  Prior to Dell, I worked for Cisco, a company Cisco had acquired called NetSolve, and a startup called NetStreams, amongst others.  All of these were good experiences in their own ways, but at a certain point I realized that I had the itch for something smaller, where I could see an immediate impact.  I had an idea for a startup of my own that I was trying to pursue but had come to a point that I needed to either quit and do it full time, or abandon the idea.

Key Learning: Why kind of person are you?  Do you prefer the stability and structure of big companies, or do you prefer the chaos of smaller?  Know your preference and use it to narrow your choices.

Around the Spring of 2010, Pragmatic Marketing opened a role for a new Instructor position.  While I had never considered it an option before, I found myself stepping back and asking “Why are you thinking about making a change?” “What do you really like?”  My self-realization was that I did love managing products, driving strategy, and beating the competition.  But what I liked even more was seeing the successes of my team.  I got energy from seeing people from my teams grow, seeing them nail a presentation to the executive team, and even seeing them quit and move on to bigger opportunities (although that’s always painful).  Their success was my success, and I loved it.

In a “normal” career, you might manage a few dozen products, you might touch a few hundred people directly.  But as an Instructor, I’d get to affect thousands of people.  It’s intimidating to move from a “doing” track to a “teaching” track, especially if you’ve climbed the ladder your whole career.  It wasn’t until I got into the role that I realized how good the fit could be.

Key Learning: What is your passion?  Do you love what you’ve done so far, or do you need to go in a different direction?

After going through an intensive hiring process, eventually I joined Pragmatic as an Instructor in August of 2010.  Immediately, I was paired with a mentor Instructor to learn the what and how of what we teach.

Most people come to three or four training days with Pragmatic, but it’s difficult to convey how much depth in our teaching is developed behind the scenes.  In any given class, we just scratch the surface – and the Instructors on the team all come from executive backgrounds and have loads of experience across industries and business models to fit any situation.  It feels like a Marketing MBA every time you step into the room with the Instructor team, because they are some of the smartest people in the world with regard to the application of market-driven techniques and strategies.

Key Learning: Where can you work with the smartest people?  When you work with A-players, and people smarter than yourself, it forces you to raise your game.

After completing the mentor/protege process and becoming certified to teach, I started to travel the world to deliver our training.  It’s no lie to say that teaching a marketing class can be intimidating:

  • You have to master topics ranging from pricing to competitive analysis to organizational alignment to roadmaps to business planning
  • You have to command the room and have the answers to everyone’s questions
  • You have to supply energy and keep some traditionally dry topics interesting and fun
  • You have to do all of this in front a room of smart, Type A people who are or will become executives

It’s a challenge, in a good way.  In the past six years I’ve delivered our trainings in 20+ states in the U.S., the UK, Paris, Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, and many others.  Training is a marathon; a few years ago I was on the road 47 weeks in a year teaching.  You can’t do that for something you don’t love.

Key Learning: Love and passion aren’t enough.  Do you have or can you develop the skills you need to thrive in your new role?

Today, when I step in front a room, my first step is always to observe the class.  Who are these people, and why are they here?  Some people are eager, excited, and ready to learn.  Others are here because their boss told them to be.  Others are evaluating switching roles from Engineering or Sales into Product Management or Marketing.  None of them quite know what to expect because their past experiences with other training classes have been so poor.  We have a chance to blow them all away with the best professional experience of their lifetime, and make an impact that lasts far beyond the time I’ll spend with them.

Within the first 15 minutes of class, everyone realizes that this class will be unlike any other class they’ve ever been to.  It’s not theoretical, it’s practical and actionable.  It’s enlightening and fun.  It embodies a philosophy of asking “What problem are we trying to solve for our market?” that will stick with them throughout their careers.

It’s not uncommon for students to approach me and other Instructors at the first break to say “Wow, I feel like I’ve already got my money’s worth and we’re not even through the morning session!  This is the best training I’ve ever attended!”  I often get emails from alumni of our classes years later, who tell me that I taught their class long ago, and they still use what they learned, and that they carry their tattered books around as reference manuals and clutch their Pragmatic Framework tight to their chest as a Rosetta Stone for their jobs.  That’s the feeling I got when I first attended a Pragmatic Marketing class as a student.  That’s the feeling I want to give to all of my students.

What we teach impacts students throughout their careers, affecting them, their peers, the products they work on, and the businesses they work in.

I’m an Instructor.  I don’t “train people.”  I change lives, and businesses for the better.  When people ask me: “Why did you stop doing Product Management to teach people like me?”  I tell them: “I never stopped doing Product Management.  I do it every single day – only now, my product is you.”

If you made it this far, and you can envision yourself as an Instructor, I’m looking for the next great member of our team.  Head over to our careers page, read the requirements, and let’s get to work changing the lives of students around the world.

A Big Announcement!

For the past two years, I have worked in the software-as-a-service team at Dell, managing a team of product managers.  We’ve been plotting the strategy for Dell to make the transition from a hardware-based company to a mixed hardware/software/services company.  It’s been a fun, challenging, rewarding role.  Last week I accepted a new role, one that I am very excited to do and that will allow me to go out and hopefully meet more of you face-to-face.

Through involvement in events like ProductCamp, as well as mentoring and teaching product management in my own roles, I have learned that I enjoy and am good at the teaching side of the job.  For that reason, I’m excited to announce that I will be joining the creators of the world’s most popular product management and marketing training: Pragmatic Marketing!  I will be an instructor at Pragmatic Marketing, traveling the world helping product managers and marketers learn to be more effective.  If you have been to one of their seminars, or have implemented their framework at your company, you know that their message of being market-driven and empowering product managers is absolutely essential for success.

As a side effect of this change, you should start to see a few more posts in this space.  I will provide a lot of credit to Dell as a company for being very progressive about their blogger policy.  However, this blog became a victim of its own success, and enough people at Dell knew me and read this space that it became difficult to write, even when keeping situations semi-anonymous.  I now appreciate the CrankyPM that much more.

There are a lot of smart people at Pragmatic Marketing that you should be reading, I will list a few of them here:

ProductCamp Wrap-up, and Introducing ProductPotluck!

Another ProductCamp Austin has come and gone – Austin’s third.  If you haven’t participated in, or planned a ProductCamp in your city, there really are no excuses left.  ProductCamp has proven itself to be the ultimate grassroots gathering for Product Management, Product Marketing, and Marketing pros anywhere.  Austin’s third edition had a some valuable highlights:

  • Participation continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  The first PCA, we had 90 show up.  The second, 160.  The third – over 300!  In just over a year, we’ve experienced over 300%+ growth.  Many businesses would be envious of that kind of growth.
  • We’ve managed to maintain the spirit and character of the event as we grow it.  We do a post-camp survey after each event, and for the third consecutive time, our “customer sat” metrics were off the charts great.  98% of our participants would recommend ProductCamp to a peer.  For the third PCA in a row, we scored a perfect 100% on the question “Would you come to ProductCamp again?”  That is a testament to the team we’ve grown around this event.
  • Sponsorship is increasing.  We run ProductCamp on a shoestring budget – less than $10,000 not included donations such as venue.  In the beginning, we had a big sales job to get national level sponsors like AIPMM and Pragmatic Marketing interested.  Now, all of the major national product management sponsors are involved: Pragmatic, ZigZag, and Sequent Learning.  Local companies such as SolarWinds and AustinVentures are also taking notice.  SolarWinds used ProductCamp as a recruiting tool – it makes sense, since only the most motivated, passionate people are going to give up a Saturday to geek on on Product Management topics with their peers.
  • We’ve (re)validated Austin’s corner of the world.  Austin’s tech community has always perplexed me.  There are so many of us here, and we are so disconnected.  Austin doesn’t have the pulse that Silicon Valley has, and we definitely don’t have the density.  We do have passion and strong leaders in spades.  This third PCA proved that we can drive huge turnout here, and outside of the Valley can claim to put on the biggest ‘Camp.
  • ProductCamp is spawning leaders and building a critical mass.  We’ve built a great core team: people like Colleen Heubaum, Mark Suchanek, Bertrand Hazard, John Peltier, John Milburn, Roger Cauvin, and Scott Sehlhorst (and many others) have all contributed to the planning and execution of multiple ProductCamps.  This team makes me believe that we have established momentum.  It will be exciting to see the next generation of leaders step up, and the established team can work with them and mentor them to keep ProductCamp fresh and exciting.

Gaining critical mass has been a huge undertaking for ProductCamp Austin.  Setting up and tearing down the leadership for each event, twice per year, is a massive undertaking in manpower and logistics.  One consitent piece of feedback that we’ve heard from the ProductCamp participants is that they would like to continue the ProductCamp experience between the semi-annual ‘Camps.  In Austin, we don’t have a strong central Product Management and Marketing networking group like in other areas of the country.  That does not mean that we have to settle!

To fill the gaps between ProductCamps, the team that brought you ProductCamp Austin is introducing a new flavor of the ProductCamp experience: ProductPotluck Austin.  ProductPotluck is a mini-version of ProductCamp: instead of an all day event, it will be a happy hour plus a one hour session.  Instead of many topic areas and dozens of potential presentations, ProductPotluck will have 2 topic areas of focus, and a handful of potential presentations (or roundtables, panel discussions, or workshops).  Just like ProductCamp, ProductPotluck is by and for the participants – we will still have participants voting on which sessions make “the cut,” and the majority of sessions will be offered by the participants themselves (we’re leaving a little wiggle room to bring in distinguished guests, too).  We’ll cap the whole thing off by providing more time for drinking and networking, which is always popular.  As always, ProductPotluck is FREE; your only cost is your participation.

Austin’s first ProductPotluck will be October 21st, at the AT&T Conference Center near the University of Texas campus.

Happy Hour will be in Gabriel’s Cafe, which is located in the lower lobby (Level LL), to the north inside the University Avenue entrance.

ProductPotluck Sessions will be held in Classrooms 101 and 103.

Parking is available in the AT&T Center underground parking lot.  Pay for parking in Gabriel’s Café during Happy Hour and receive the $7 discounted rate.

1900 University Avenue
Austin, TX 78705
(512) 404-1900
www.meetattexas.com

Agenda:

5:30-6:30pm  Sign-in, Networking Happy Hour, Final Sessions Voting – Gabriel’s Café

6:45-8:00pm Marketing and Product Strategy Presentations – Classrooms 101 & 103

8:00pm -?? Networking Happy Hour – Gabriel’s Café

The two topics we will focus on this month are: Marketing and Product Strategy.

In true ProductCamp spirit, the participants determine which sessions are ultimately presented. Here’s how it will work: five Sessions have been submitted for voting consideration.  See the PPA wiki for detailed descriptions of each Session.

Marketing

  • Applying buyer personas to marketing strategy – Mike Boudreaux
  • Top 10 Ways to Use Facebook to Promote your Business – Christopher Sherrod
  • Error 404: The Panel You Are Looking For Does Not Exist – Jonathan Gesinger, Alex Jones, Amanda McGuckin Hager, Jason Sugawa

Product Strategy

  • Help! I work for an engineer who knows nothing about Product Strategy – Jeffrey Eversmann
  • From customer centric design to customer centric marketing to customer centric companies (Enterprise 2.5?) – Andreas Voss

At the PPA October 21 meeting, the five sessions will “face off” during the 5:30-6:30pm networking Happy Hour in Gabriel’s Café.  Each participant will be given one vote to place on the session of their choice.  The top session in each category will be announced and will run in parallel in Classrooms 101 and 103.

To get all of the details, please go to the ProductPotluck wiki.  We’re looking forward to seeing you on the 21st!

ProductCamp Austin Summer 2009

ProductCamp Austin Summer 2009

ProductCamp, the free unconference for marketing and product management, is teaming with the McCombs School of Business to return to Austin for its Summer edition!  ProductCamp is a must-go event for marketing and product management professionals.  ProductCamp is a free, collaborative,  gathering for interesting, smart people to network and learn from one another.  ProductCamps have been held in Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston, New York City, Toronto, Atlanta, with more in the planning stages.  This is Austin’s third ProductCamp, and will be one of the largest in the country.  If you are in Austin, or can get here, ProductCamp will be well worth your time.

ProductCamp Overview

If you’ve never been to a ProductCamp before, you’ll need to wrap your brain around a few new concepts.  First, ProductCamp is an unconference, meaning that everyone participates in some way.  For some people, that means offering a traditional lecture style 1-hour session on a relevant topic.  For others, it might mean being on a discussion panel, facilitating a roundtable, participating in a workshop, helping with planning, volunteering for venue setup, doing marketing activities, or managing the budget.  At ProductCamp, there are no attendees, only participants. Second, there is no direct monetary cost for ProductCamp to the participants.  The only cost is your investment in time and effort.  Third, the trappings of a traditional conference are gone.  There is no keynote speech, no thinly veiled sales pitches, and very little B.S.  As a peer-to-peer event, ProductCampers bring their very best stuff – and we keep each other on our toes.  ProductCamp is sponsored by corporations who enjoy supporting the marketing and product management communities, and often offer sessions of their own.

How ProductCamp Works

The first thing you do is register.  You’ll fill out a form asking you how you want to participate and what topic areas are the most interesting to you.  Next, check out the ProductCamp Austin website, and list of sessions offered by people like you.  Based on what you marked, you’ll be contacted by one of the ProductCamp Austin planning team leads to get your help.  For people interested in Marketing, you’ll post about ProductCamp Austin to your blog, or retweet @PCAustin‘s tweets.  You’ll receive several emails over the next few weeks from the PCA Planning Team, and on the day of, you’ll stumble out of bed early on a Saturday to come to the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas for your first ProductCamp experience.

When you walk up for registration, you’ll receive a badge, some goodies, and three small stickers.  A volunteer will take you to a wall where all of the sessions being offered by your peers are listed; there may be dozens of them.  You’ll be asked to “vote” by placing your three stickers under the three sessions that interest you the most.  This helps the PCA Planning Team understand the interests of the group and assemble the schedule.  When you’re done, you can grab a coffee and head into the auditorium for the Intro session.

In the intro, I will explain to you what ProductCamp is all about, and we’ll play some icebreakers to set the tone for the day.  Soon, the schedule will be done and posted on the website and on the walls, and you’ll go to sessions throughout the day, stopping just to grab one of the box lunches we provide.

At 3PM, everyone gets back together for a quick closing session.  Then we head to the bar to burn through any extra budget we might have!

During the day, expect to network with a ton of people.  You’ll meet product managers, product marketers, social media experts, marketing greybeards, executives, startup junkies, big company people, developers, agile experts, finance and ops people, and everyone in between.  You may leave with a stack of business cards, and should bring a stack of your own to give away!

ProductCamp Austin Details

When: Saturday, August 15, 2009

Where: The University Teaching Center (UTC) at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin (map)

Who: Anyone willing to participate!

How: Register Now! (space is limited)

Cost: FREE!

To learn more: ProductCamp Austin, Follow ProductCamp Austin on Twitter, ProductCamp Austin on Facebook

We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

Webinar – To Startup or Not to Startup

On Friday at 10-11AM Pacific, John Milburn of Pragmatic Marketing and I will host a webinar on Product Management in a startup. John is a true expert, and has been in the Product Management game for 20 years from companies as big as IBM, down to being the founder of a company in a startup. My experiences come from making the move from a Big Company (Cisco) two years ago, to a small startup, and building the Product Management and Marketing functions from the ground up. This should be an interesting and fun hour, so please join us for the discussion!

If you haven’t seen the original article that we wrote for the Pragmatic Marketer, go give it a read, we will expand on these themes and toss out some ideas about how to succeed in a startup.