Unlocking Your Market Potential

March 2009 P-Camp Report:
World's largest free get-together of Product Managers

For those of you interested in the origin of the name P-Camp, follow the link for a short history, but an alternate description is an “unconference” for PMs. Not much clearer? I must admit to a little confusion myself, but the essence of the event is that the conference agenda is determined by the participants themselves. Now normally, if you’re an attendee at an event, the main benefit is that you can sit back, enjoy the presentations, and let everybody else do the work, so there was some trepidation mixed in with the confusion as I wondered how much of a contribution I would be obliged to make.

With an impressive turnout and a palpable buzz of excitement in the air, all apprehension was rapidly dispelled as the format of the day began to crystallize very rapidly. Pre-determined sessions of the more typical corporate presentation style were scheduled throughout the day, four concurrent sessions per time slot. Simple enough. However eight sessions per time slot were up for grabs for the attendees to propose and lead. Just pick up a piece of paper, write your session description in bold letters and pin the paper onto the notice board. Some unconferences let the audience vote on which sessions would go forward, but here it was first come, first served, and yes, the slots were filling up fast. Swept up by the enthusiasm, I duly pasted my own topic on the board

The sponsored topics were pretty mixed, covering Agile methodologies, user interface design, market sensing, using social media and wikis in product development, recession proofing your career, and a Charm School for PMs.

The audience generate sessions included Agile, user design, immersion/customer interviews,”Is enterprise software dead”, in-the-wild software usage research, but interestingly shifted very much towards topics covering the human relationship side of PM, such as collaboration between PM and Product Marketing, managing your boss, managing the PM roundtable, etc. Seemed like people were really taking the opportunity to learn from the experience of their peers.

The session proposers were given the opportunity to announce their topic to the assemble crowd at the start of both the morning and afternoon sessions, enabling the audience to determine their interest on the spot and then head off to their selected sessions. You were also encouraged to move on to other sessions if your first choice wasn’t meeting expectations, but cross-traffic seemed minimum as even the sponsored sessions were designed to engage the audience in the discussion. Round table seating was very much in evidence, and true to the open social theme, live blogging and twittering were rampant with remote tweeters participating in their turn by inputting questions and comments from afar.

As predicted though, the sponsored presentations seemed to gather the most traffic, and although corporate sponsorship helps support and push events along, I’m wondering whether a 100% audience generated conference might be a better way to go. At the large tech conferences, birds-of-a-feather (BOF) sessions and similar Open Space sessions are usually on the agenda but are often poorly attended because of the conflict with the main presentations, and that imbalance was also evident here.

The sessions that I attended, both sponsored and attendee-led, were very collaborative, sponsored sessions thankfully avoiding full-blown product pitches, and whereas attendee sessions were often conducted by consultants interested in getting new clients, they were obviously experts in their field and proved very informative.

And my own session? Working in the field of internet and software usage research I was interested in learning from a range of PMs on how they currently used research, admittedly for the ulterior motive of improving my own business development approach, but I figured PMs would be equally interested in other perspectives from their peers. With the title “Incorporating user research into the prod dev cycle”, I was pleased with the turnout of fifteen people, and the exchange of approaches and experiences was certainly interesting for me, and also provided insights for the entire group. In all very worthwhile.

Bottom line: You are encouraged to participate in BarCamps in your field, whenever and wherever possible. And why not create your own - you’ll get a lot out of it.

SocialText were one of the sponsors of the event, (and incidentally early instigators of BarCamp) and have created a great wiki of the event, which will give you more insights.

Keith Rayner, Kemarra Inc: March 2009


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