ProductCamp is where it all started for me, and I get a particular feeling of joy when it comes around each year.
These are the things I love the most about it:
The Open Agenda
When I tell someone about an upcoming ProductCamp often the first question they ask is “Who’s speaking?”. Most events have a defined speaker line-up that’s been curated for the day. While this approach has some definite benefits, it’s nothing like the unique approach to having no agenda until the day of the event.
This is how it works: At the beginning of the day at ProductCamp, you’ll be welcomed into the main space at the Etc Venues building, where we find the biggest, blankest wall we can find, and lay out the schedule grid. Throughout the course of the day, there are eight session time slots, as well as a couple breaks and a lunch slot. At 25-35 minutes each, the day runs from about 10am to 6pm. In the venue, there are six break-out rooms, ranging from a small room that will fit about 12 people, to a range of larger rooms, holding up to 60 people.
The six rooms, available at each of the eight time slots, means that there’s room for up to 48 sessions to happen across the day.
So who’s speaking?
Well, that depends. Everyone can speak if they want to! In fact, attendees are encouraged to get up and host a session. Some people come prepared with a slide deck and a story, and quickly claim a room and timeslot for their talk. Other people start the day with nothing prepared, but over the course of the morning, realise that they’ve got something to share and so will add their name to the agenda later on in the day. Either approach is fine! ProductCamp is all about attendees sharing and learning from each other.
To run a session, you just need to add your name and a topic to one of these discussion cards, and then Blu-tack it to the wall.
At the beginning of the day, it’s typical that only a handful of brave souls put their names up for the first sessions, but over the course of the day, the wall fills up with great session topics! At any one time, there might be three, four, five, even six concurrent sessions. Some will be formal presentations, others will be informal discussions or panel-style talks.
The wall is open, and the rooms are open. We provide projectors, whiteboards, flip charts, sticky notes and markers, so product managers have lots of ways to express themselves.
This might seem hectic and all a bit much, but it really works. It’s really only possible in part because of the next unique rule at ProductCamp: the two-feet rule.
The Two-feet Rule
The two-feet rule helps everyone keep moving, in and out of the sessions and conversations that are most interesting to them.
It goes like this: If you’re in a session but decide you want to go to one of the other sessions, or grab a coffee instead, then use your two feet to pick up and move on to where you want to be.
With up to six sessions happening at once, and invariably great hallway conversations to jump in on, there will always be something else to be doing. Sometimes a session doesn’t turn out to be what you expected, or you know that there’s another good-sounding talk across the hall and you wanted to catch both. With the two-feet rule, you can move on between sessions with zero guilt.
And if you’re like me, and you want to catch a bit of all of the sessions, you really can.
As a session presenter, the two-feet rule means that if you see someone popping out during your session, or some new faces coming in, don’t sweat it! It doesn’t reflect on your session at all, but just means that the person is curious enough to go and see what else is happening.
The two-feet rule helps make sure everyone can get the absolute most out of a jam-packed day.
After all, it may not even be a session that you want to be in… Outside the breakout rooms, there’s a lot of ProductCamp happening, it’s just part of the environment.
The main room is where all the action happens outside the sessions themselves. When you arrive, you’ll be greeted with coffee and breakfast nibbles, and a chance to start meeting the other product people around you.
Lots of discussions go on in the hallway between and during sessions, so you’re free to pull up a chair between breaks and continue your chats. The growing session wall is a hot place to congregate while you eye up the next sessions to go see, or chat to your neighbour about what you might add to the wall next.
A hot lunch is provided, as well as all the coffee and tea you’ll need to power through the day.
The Product Job wall is always a hit. We pre-populate it with the featured jobs from the MTP job board, and also let any attendees add their own product and UX jobs to the wall. Throughout the day, everyone has the chance to nip by and see if there’s anything worth applying to. Since the job poster is usually in the room, we’ve seen lots of ad-hoc interviews begin on the spot! I don’t think there’s ever been a ProductCamp that didn’t result in someone getting a job.
In fact, one of my favourite moments came out of a ProductCamp. Someone attended one of our early events and by the end of the day, realised that she WAS a product manager, but didn’t have the title. She went back to her boss that week, presenting what she’d learned, and got a promotion. She wrote about it here.
The whole day is informal, but there’s just a slight edge of competitiveness to it: there’s a prize draw at the end of the day. We give each person sticky dots and let them vote on their favourite session of the day. The winner gets a £100 gift certificate from Amazon, while there’s usually a few (sometimes signed!) books going around for second and third-place prizes.
Many of us are exhausted by the end of the day, but it doesn’t stop us from heading onwards for some drinks and continued conversations at the local pub.
All in all, it’s such a great day for learning and development for product people of all types. It’s free (except for the £20 deposit you get back when you attend or if you cancel at least a few days before), and on a Saturday, so you don’t have to book time off work, you can hardly get better value for your investment.
So hope to see you all in April at ProductCamp London!