Product Camp Atlanta 2011 Notes

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I attended Product Camp Atlanta for the second time today.  As the website says its a ” collaborative, user organized professional conference, focused on Product Management and Marketing topics.”  As with my first product camp, I enjoyed my time today and it was worth giving up a Saturday to find time to network, collaborate, share, and learn.

Enclosed are the notes I took from the four sessions I attended.

Session #1 – Driving Sales with Compelling Messaging
Russell Scherwin (@rscherwin)
  • Use relevant examples with items that people can relate to and understand.
  • Make sure the example is relevant to the environment/industry.
  • Use a reference customer where appropriate to make impact.
  • If you don’t have a reference customer, get one (may involve giving a product away, but make sure to get commitment of involvement. from them.)
  • The goal of a product message is to create a position and value. (relevant, differentiated, defensible)
    • example: Inception (movie) is about planting an idea that can grow on its own
  • Marketing starts with the product. Sales starts with the audience.
  • Sales needs to know why specific topic will help them drive relevance and differentiation.
    • Help sales gain credibility.
    • Up-front credibility reduces cycle time and competitive threats.
Session #2 – Transitioning a service into a product (small group discussion)
The speaker for this topic was not able to make it, so a small number of attendees stayed to have a round-table like discussion on the topic.
  • Thought: How do I make a service that I have provided to be scalable?
    • How many people are needed to execute in a predictable / consistent manner?
    • One thought might be to use a partner program
    • At what level do you move from solving a problem for one customer to something that solves problems for multiple people?
    • The process to create the service is a template
    • Selling blocks of hours is not a product as a service because its not repeatable. Meaning that if you are selling blocks of service it’s more like consulting.
  • What about value based billing for services? Service fee is based on value of results?
  • billing hourly – in this model the payee pays more less competency
  • billing based on value means payee doesn’t pay for any learning curve and gives risk mitigation against low performing results.
Session #3 – Deciding WHAT to build
  • Dennis Stevens (@dennisstevens)
  • Fedex logo – do you know of the secret symbol (arrow between E and X)?
  • With the The “how” trap – People are focused on the how but this is irrelevant to the what.
  • If we focus on the how, the effort expands faster than value
    • Over analyze and over design
      • focus on the next highest increment of value
      • goat path – a story that defines the absolute minimum required to walk a happy path of an activity from one end to another
        • Each successive level defines more (gravel road, paved road, super highway)
      • start with the simplest thing that might possibly work
      • reduce risk early with as little investment as possible
      • be focused on small specific objectives
    • Delivery is over-engineered
      • The runway is more important than the road-map
      • Make work ready so the next most important thing can be worked on
      • Establish context and delivery early and frequently (establish value early)
  • Customer value vs business value
    • What the customer perceives as important and is willing ot pay for (customer value)
    • Decrease costs, increase revenue, increase service (business value)
  • Revisit the road-map frequently
Session #4 – Great Groups: Building sustainable high performance product teams
Richard Cullom
  • People need a reason to believe
    • The company they work for
    • The person they work for
    • The people they work with
  • The epic – people need to be part of something bigger than themselves
  • Servant leadership –
    • Build community
    • Foster teamwork
    • Get the team to care about each other
    • Be the moral backbone (they take on your philosophy)
  • Risk Mitigation for the team
    • Remove bad apples (PDQ)
    • Mentor and promote the people who want to move
    • Be the steward of calm and happy
  • Know what people want to do
    • Career goals
    • Personal goals

Learnings and Takeaways from Product Camp Atlanta 2010

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I attended Product Camp Atlanta last weekend hosted at the Georgia Tech Research Institute Conference Center. Product Camp AtlantaIt was my first product camp, so the only knowledge of format and content I had going in was from the description on the web site. The topics of the conference focused on product management and marketing which are the two primary areas of my career experience and interests.

Overall I was pleased with my decision to go to the all-day camp. Time was given to the sponsors to introduce themselves since they provided the financial backing to make the event possible. However, it was very non-intrusive to the day and didn’t come off as a sales pitch.  Participants voted on a list of possible break-out session subjects that were submitted by other participants.  This allowed the group to discuss a variety of topics over the course of the day.  Each hour there were four choices so that participants could pick a session that matched their interests.  In my opinion, the best sessions were those where the speakers facilitated a discussion rather than giving a presentation.  I say this because my understanding and expectation in attending the conference was that the sessions would be more collaborative and discussion oriented. For the most part, I felt speakers honored this conference format.

Here are four random takeaways that I recorded during the sessions:

1. Value of business cases

  • Removes pet features
  • Keeps discussions on merits of the features
  • Removes emotion

I liked this thought because typically businesses case development gets a lot of groans and whining when people mention the topic. It’s not easy to complete a business case, but it does provide and important function for the business to adequately allocate resources to work. This bullet list provides a quick and easy-to-understand value for the effort expended on the business case.

2.  The voice of the customer is more relevant than your individual job tenure, experience, or credentials

The context of this quote came in a discussion about how a cultural shift is needed to take learnings from the classroom to the operations of a business. When we attend conferences, take classes, or receive training we often come back to our organizations with great ideas and learnings. But implementing these ideas is another story, especially if we are the only member of our business to receive the new knowledge.  It requires a cultural shift to implement learnings.  Tools that give us an insight into the voice of the customer are readily available, but often overlooked.

3. Google Wave was not in use by most of the attendees

Well, at least for those attending a break out session on this topic. The tool holds promise as a format for real time collaboration but needs to overcome concerns related to security of information to gain wide acceptance in a corporate environment. It should be noted that the product is still in Beta at Google and it hasn’t been publicized widely. Google is using a viral marketing technique to create awareness about wave. You have to be invited by an existing participant to join.

4. Solve for competing priorities by using a percentage based resource allocation strategy

In one session we discussed various methods and techniques for resource allocation and project prioritization. One way to complete development team resource allocation is by dividing the time against development areas on a percentage basis:

  • x% new development
  • y% architecture
  • z% support/defects
I liked this thought because its easy to overlook the need for architectural updates and support items in favor of new development. This is especially true for mature software products where the architecture may no longer be new or the list of defects may have grown with the passing of time.
I’m looking forward to the next Product Camp in Atlanta.  It’s a great time for sharing, learning, and networking.

2 examples of business learning maturation in our culture

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Two events on my schedule this week revealed to me a maturation of business learning in our culture. It’s pretty exciting for me to see these transformations, and I know they’ll continue to evolve in the future.

The first event was high school orientation for my daughter. She’s a rising freshman and we were invited into the local high school for a brief overview of the curriculum. What surprised me the most was the abundance of business related electives that are now available to students. At our local school there is a full department named Business Education. Some of the course areas include engineering, marketing, video production, and computer science. I don’t know which of these might appeal to my daughter yet, but it’s really great to see the options available. Kids can really benefit from this because they can try things in college to see if they have a passion for it. For my age group, we didn’t really try things until college. It can be an expensive decision to experiment with classes in college not only due to the class fees, but also because of any rework associated with changing majors.

The second event is one that I’ll be attending tomorrow called ProductCamp Atlanta. The website provides a good description of this that I’ll quote here:

ProductCampAtlanta is a collaborative, user organized professional conference, focused on Product Management and Marketing topics. At ProductCampAtlanta everyone participates in some manner: presenting, leading a discussion, showcasing a best practice, or sharing their experiences. Others help with logistics, securing sponsorships, organizing sessions, or setting up/cleaning up.  This is a self organizing collaborative event that is designed be a fun, rewarding and a unique experience.

The product camp follows on recent business book themes about Tribes and Crowdsourcing.  It’s different than traditional conferences because it’s not about vendor booths or sales pitches. It is about collaborative learning and knowledge share. I’m looking forward to spending the day with others in my tribe and sharing some thoughts and insights in my writings on this blog.