ProductCamp Austin 14 reflections

ProductCamp Austin 14 reflections

On Saturday March 7th, I joined over 300 other product management and product marketing professionals for the 14th edition of ProductCamp Austin. It was a tremendous opportunity to network with new peers and to learn from others' valuable experiences. Read on to learn more about what made it unique!


The Un-conference

The ProductCamp movement is growing across the country, delivering a very different experience from any other gathering of its type. In fact, it's so different it's known as the "un-conference". The un-conference is all about you, the participant. It costs nothing to attend but you are encouraged to volunteer. Sponsorships from well-known product management organizations such as Pragmatic Marketing and many others make this possible. 

Sessions for ProductCamp come entirely from us, the participants.  Session ideas are posted online a week or two before the start and everyone votes for the sessions they want to follow at the start of the day. 

Session voting

After session voting concludes, we all join together for the kickoff meeting. Ours was led by an exciting catalyst named Thom Singer. Continuing with the un-conference theme, a few points are highlighted:

  • There are no attendees, only participants. We are encouraged to talk, bring ideas, challenge and add value. I found this to be the case throughout the day.  
  •  Use your two feet. If you start a session and you figure out it's not what you thought it was, get up and go to a new session. 
  • Network, network, network. There are no strangers. Introduce yourself every chance you get. Find and discuss your common ground.  

After all the voting as tallied, the following sessions were selected:

Final ProductCamp Austin agenda

Incredible networking

Go to ProductCamp with plenty of business cards (or your favorite electronic equivalent) because you will meet more product people like yourself here than anywhere else! I met quite a few people that I have been following on Twitter, including Jose (back to him in a moment). This was my first ProductCamp, so everyone I met was new to me -- but I was not alone; approximately 40% of those in attendance were attending their first camp like me.

Of the many people I met and spoke with, several things are worth mentioning:

  • Many product managers do not build software, and many are not in high tech. Intuitively we imagine this to be the case, but I was impressed with the number of people that are building products of all sorts. I met a business owner that manufactures hospital scrubs, a traffic engineer, multiple product people affiliated with the energy industry, and many UX designers.
  • Most product managers have less than 10 years experience, and many have less than five. Not all come from engineering backgrounds either. They come from backgrounds as diverse as law, arts, and psychology (especially the UX folks).
  • Product managers that are introverts by day become extroverts at ProductCamp. Everyone wanted to talk about what they are building and why it is important.

One of the best connections I made was with Jose, mentioned above. When I posted on Twitter that I am starting a Houston ProductCamp, Jose found me through Twitter to tell me he too was at camp and just moved to Houston. Before that he was in Dallas and started a camp there, and now he wants to help with the Houston camp.


Insightful discussion sessions

Here are some tidbits I took away from the various sessions.

  1. To develop new ideas and products, follow these strategies:
    • Follow where money is being spent ("follow the money").
    • Follow your industry leaders (what are they doing and saying?).
    • Analyze frustrations with current products in the market. Consider the example of Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix.
    • Search for convergence. This could be two needs, likes or dislikes shared by a common target persona. You can find great product opportunities this way.
    • Connect and interact. When you have ideas, meet up and discuss them. Ideas grow as you debate.
  2. Thinking differently to resonate and communicate with your audience. When you need something from a stakeholder or constituent, follow these ideas:
    • Earn a place at the other side of the table by using systems thinking.
    • Practice more system 1 thinking than system 2 thinking initially. This helps them connect with you.
    • If you do not know about systems thinking and how it can help you, read more here.
  3. Another session on decision making was based on the book The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions, and Results.
    • To build great products, you must understand that you are dealing with the complex realm of problem solving.
    • In the complex realm, what you know is incomplete and distorted and what you try will not go according to plan the first time.
    • Understand and manage your gaps as you determine your plans:
      • In planning, you have a knowledge gap
      • In command, you have an alignment gap
      • In execution, you have an effects gap



 Top prize at the raffle!

Top prize at the raffle!

These are just a few of the many great takeaways from my first ProductCamp. I met one of my awesome goals in terms of getting help with the Houston ProductCamp. I even won the top raffle prize at the end of the day -- a Texas-sized and Texas-themed gift basket full of goodies and a certificate for a free course from Agile Velocity.

In short ProductCamp Austin 14 was great and I am looking forward to the next one to be held in August. If this blog piqued your interest in attending your own camp, there are many across the nation. Go to and learn more. Participate, and if you dare like me, start one! If you live in the Houston area and want to help us with our new camp, email us at info at productcamphouston dot org or tweet us at @pcamphouston.