ProductCamp London was held at the etc Venue Marble Arch in London on April 16th, 2016. I’d been to ProductCamp in Berlin, but this was my first one in London, and I really enjoyed it.

Format

ProductCamp pitches itself as an “un-conference,” where there’s no pre-set agenda and people volunteer on the day to hold sessions. At ProductCamp London this took the form of writing down your session topic on a piece of card and sticking it to the wall under the time slot and room number you wanted.

This setup was slightly less efficient than ProductCamp Berlin, which invites people who want to speak to pitch their ideas to the assembled crowd in the mornings, and asks for a show of hands. This gives the speaker a view of the number of people who might want to attend, which is a good thing to know when you’re trying to choose between the small-capacity room and the large one! Nevertheless, the inefficiency wasn’t a big deal, and I only attended one session that had to switch from a smaller room to a larger due to oversubscription.

Sessions I gave

Choose Your Founder Wisely: a PM’s guide to picking a startup founder you’ll actually enjoy working with

As a veteran of 6 startups, I firmly believe that the quality of the founder or founding team is the biggest determining factor of whether you’ll have a great time at a startup, or whether your tenure will be one of misery and despair. My top tip? Look for someone who treats you as a human being throughout the interview process, and is willing to collaborate with you and alter their opinions when faced with contrary evidence. How do you find that type of founder? By being the type of person who treats others as human, and by being willing to collaborate and alter your opinion when faced with contrary evidence. Empathy and reciprocity! See how that works?

How to Turn Around a Failing Team (reviewed here by Hope Thomas)

This session was a case study about the situation I found myself in at Auctionata, where I was brought in to pull the mobile team out of a deep hole. The team had been hired 2-3 months before me and left with no mandate or direction, the stakeholders couldn’t agree on the target market, and an endless corporate rebranding process left the team dealing with change request after change request on an app that we had to launch in 3 months – or else. What saved the day (at least until we were all sacked due to cost-cutting)? Empathy, humility, and the art of listening to people. Auctionata is still one of my favorite projects because by the end I loved my developers like brothers – and we put out a truly great thing in the time it takes most companies to even agree on what to build.

Sessions I attended

Roadmapping Tips – Roman Pichler

This was the first time I’d ever seen Roman speak in person. In general I agreed with his advice: to focus on goals rather than features, derive the backlog from the roadmap, be clear on who owns it, and to involve the high-interest, high-power players in creating the roadmap from the beginning to ensure their buy-in. We disagree somewhat on whether a stakeholder-facing roadmap should include dates, however. I’ve seen too many stakeholders hold the team to promised dates no mater what else they try to shoehorn into the backlog in the meantime. Bad, bad stakeholders.

The Four Laws of Software Economics – Rich Mironov

Rich definitely spoke from the heart here about the many ways he’s seen companies fail. The classic one, which I’ve also seen to often, is that companies pursue the solution to the wrong problem. Other structural issues like poor quality or late delivery or inadequate marketing can be recovered from, but solving the wrong problem or creating the wrong solution for a user’s problem really can’t be.

Hilariously, someone managed to get a picture of me looking super serious in this session. There I am on the lower right.

Design Sprints – C. Todd Lombardo (deck here)

This was a great general-purpose overview of design sprints. Todd is a great speaker and very engaging, although this particular session probably would have been more useful if I hadn’t already run design sprints and read a couple of books on the subject. Near the beginning of his talk Todd recommended the IDEO Educators’ Toolkit, though my personal preference is for their Field Guide. Either is worth reading.

The PM Interview – Rich Mironov

Much of the advice Rich gave should be (though isn’t, from my experience of hiring people) common sense, and applicable to nearly any role:

  • Research the product and use it if possible before the interview.
  • Know something about the market and the competitive landscape for the product.
  • Research the hiring manager and form a hypothesis about his/her needs.
  • Position your defects or weak areas as counterintuitive strengths.
  • Reframe the interview questions to talk about the hiring manager’s business problem.
  • Think of yourself as a product that does a job, and position yourself accordingly.

If you’ve been a freelancer or consultant for any length of time, you’ve either learned to do all of these things in interviews or you’ve starved. However, Rich has interviewed hundreds of PMs, and in his experience very few do this. (Hell, I’ve interviewed tens of PMs and devs and designers, and I agree.) What I wanted to get from the talk was something beyond the common sense advice, though, and that was lacking a bit.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I had a good time at ProductCamp. The conference seemed to be pitched a bit more towards more junior or mid-level product managers, and I certainly met a lot of people who were trying to break into product management, and came up to me in the breaks to talk a little more about my experience in startups. I really go to these things to meet people and hopefully help them, and based on the feedback I got from my sessions and the folks I talked to, I accomplished that goal.