Wednesday, November 3, 2010

From ProductCamp Newbie to Groupie @ProdCampSea

Three months ago I started a new product position in Dallas after leaving a position that took me to Minnesota from Dallas most weeks. The frequent travel made networking in my field a bit challenging. Now back in the DFW area, I am looking to connect locally with other product professionals on a regular basis.

If you are in product management or marketing and reading this post, you may be just like me – lacking a network of support and understanding for the challenges in this field. Like me, you want more than the once a month gathering. You want a local, concentrated, and free event where you not only network, but also share and learn on relevant topics in the area of product management and marketing.

My search for such an event introduced me to ProductCamps (“PCamps”) or “un-conferences” where attendees (“campers”) are expected to participate in some way – present, speak on a panel, show off a project, or ask a lot of questions – but never give a sales pitch. I found PCamps scheduled in Austin, Toronto, SoCal, and yes, even Minnesota. Figures, I am finally back in Dallas and there is no ProductCamp Dallas!

Why does such a large market not already have a ProductCamp on the calendar? Dallas is home to many types of businesses and industries and is one of the largest markets in the US. So I began tweeting. Graham Joyce from Pragmatic Marketing referred me to Joyce Schofield, founder of DFW ProductGroup and fellow PM professional. We linked up and I learned she was already brainstorming ideas on how to bring this to Dallas – soon.

Joyce attended the very large and energetic PCamp Austin earlier this year (over 500 campers in the 3rd year!), but I am still a newbie.  And since I am not one to blindly help coordinate something I had no experience with, I set out to attend one myself – ProductCamp Seattle. My objectives were to participate, learn, and get ideas for PCamp Dallas. But along the way I noted some helpful tips for other newbies.

PCamp Newbie Advice #1: Do some pre-PCamp networking

My tweets about ProductCamp Seattle registration caught the attention of other campers (love hashtags). The networking had begun, and I already felt part of the PCS10 community, though it was still a couple of weeks away. By the time I landed in Seattle, not knowing a soul in the area, a DM (direct message Tweet) from another out-of-town camper was waiting for me, inviting me to pre-PCamp dinner. We met up and ate Sushi Mojo; they talked to me like I was a sorority pledge headed to initiation. Instant friends, I thought. For this reason I advise all newbies to do pre-PCamp networking, although I really consider it mandatory for overall experience success.

PCamp Newbie Advice #2: Get there early and start talking

My new friends told me to arrive 30 minutes early and start talking – don’t be a wallflower, but reach out and introduce yourself to as many people as you can, they said. More great advice for newbies.

On the morning of PCamp, driving on the Microsoft campus, I took in the contemporary architecture, quiet neighborhood, and the cedar-scented air. Once I arrived at Microsoft building 92, a PCamp volunteer greeted me, pointed me in the right direction, and my experience began. I met up with my new friends who had arrived long before me to help setup. From there I quickly started introducing myself to others, grabbing coffee and a breakfast snack along the way.

Just before 9am presentation idea postings appeared on the voting wall. Volunteers went by each table reminding all campers to contribute to the wall with their own topics to be voted on. With voting stickers in hand, I scrolled the postings.  My votes went to topics on managing global distributed teams, presentation karaoke (huh?), the politics of product management, and martial arts and product management (ok, it sounded intriguing).

PCamp Newbie Advice #3: Understand your PCamp experience is up to you

The opening speech was primarily about the PCamp format, but I remembered these two important points:

·         You are responsible for your own PCamp experience. The volunteers will make sure you know where you are going, have food and drink, and can answer questions, but you are responsible for your own success and learning at PCamp

·         Campers follow the “two-foot” rule. If you think you could benefit more from another session, you are free to use your two feet to get up and move to another session at any time.

Once the more than 100 campers completed voting, it was time to see which presenters and topics made the agenda. Microsoft donated conference space for six concurrent sessions in four conference rooms. The final agenda included topics for all types and experience levels of product professionals. And off to the sessions I went.

PCamp Newbie Advice #4: PowerPoint Karaoke is a MUST-DO

Some of the sessions were entertaining (PPTK – PowerPoint Karaoke – I will come back to this one), some were very informative (Managing Products Suffering from Recession Neglect), and others were thought provoking (Martial Arts and Product Management). But clearly, for me, the most value came from the time in between sessions, at lunch, and after the conference. I created a mini-network of like-minded professionals that I can reach out anytime, via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and at other PCamps.

Going back to PPTK, I want to highlight this session as another important action for all newbies. Throw a bunch of random slides on the wall for three minutes and talk to them, with the lesson focused on presenting a slide deck on a topic you have never presented on before (but these slides were random!). With 10 minutes left in the session, and after seeing the oh-so-subtle tweet from my new friend (“interesting obv …ppl are expected to present, yet no one wanted to 'volunteer'") I took the hint. I participated… and LOVED it.

I chose “teambuilding” in my mind then raised my hand to “volunteer” as the next victim. The first couple of slides worked well for my theme, but the theme quickly became comically challenging. The three minutes of ad lib seemed like an eternity. Once the timer went off, I was relieved, but my adrenaline was pumping. I did it, I took the risk and felt like a fool, and it was very rewarding. No longer will I fear static foreign slides.  

PCamp Newbie Advice #5: Stay for the after party

Yes, there was an after party, not listed on the registration site, but sponsored and welcomed after a day of listening, talking, thinking, tweeting, and learning. I reconnected with folks I met earlier in the day about their experience. I exchanged business cards and Twitter handles and promised we would connect again. And I hope we all will, in Seattle next year perhaps.

But I also stayed for the after-after party, meeting with organizers about how PCamps happen. All of these takeaways can be found in Pragmatic Marketing’s article ProductCamp Best Practices.

Going From Newbie to Groupie

So there it ends - my PCamp Seattle newbie experience. Remember my helpful tips for your first PCamp, and then blog some tips of your own:

1.       Do some pre-PCamp networking
2.       Get there early and start talking
3.       Understand your PCamp experience is up to you
4.       PowerPoint Karaoke is a newbie MUST-DO
5.       Stay for the after party

But it is only the beginning of PCamps for me. At the after-after party, listening to the bittersweet end of day chatter amongst the organizers, I’m inspired get back to work and take action.

I can immediately apply many of the creative new ideas to product challenges and opportunities I face today. PCamp real time agendas ensure fresh perspectives on timely and relevant topics because campers choose – social media, recession neglect, global distributed teams, Agile teams.

Seattle’s drizzly, cold weather will not keep me from re-experiencing ProductCamp Seattle in 2011; however, my next steps include getting back together with Joyce on the announcement of PCamp Dallas and getting to another PCamp.  


  1. Great post! It was great meeting you at #pcs10. I hope to see you there again next year. If you're interested, there's a video of powerpoint karaoke from #pcs09 If you wanted to show your readers what it's all about.



  2. Thank you, Kirsten, for such a great post. I'm delighted and honored that you traveled to help make #pcs10 great. I'm especially pleased that you enjoyed and endorsed PowerPoint Karaoke!
    The new site looks good. I like the subtitle very much.

  3. Thanks for the shout out to my and John's best practices article. ProductCamps are fun and you've accurately captured the first time "user experience" perfectly! Glad you had a good time in Seattle and hope to see one in Dallas soon.