I attended ProductCamp London earlier this month and it brought home to me why I get so much value from this “unconference” style of conference.
So what makes the unconference style so useful? It reinforces that, in the product world, we all face similar challenges, regardless of our industry. No matter how much we talk about empowered, flat and balanced teams, many organisations still hold a single individual accountable for decision-making and priority calls. The person who gets the call when things are not going so well is generally the product person on the team. The product role can be isolating, and ProductCamp shows me I’m not alone.
I am that person who attends conferences and signs up for product demos just to get some free swag. I get caught up in that mania for free stuff – I don’t actually care what the stuff is. ProductCamp, refreshingly, does NOT have this. Instead I found myself using the time to talk to fellow attendees when I arrived rather than racing around the stands. So this is what networking is all about! A much more useful beginning to the day.
No Big-name Speakers
There are no big-name speakers, in fact there is no agenda whatsoever. The attendees spend 30 minutes in the morning creating the agenda for the day. If you would like to talk about something, facilitate a discussion about a challenge you are having, then just write the topic on a card, choose a time slot/room and stick it on the wall.
This is not nearly as frightening as you might think. Your audience is your industry colleagues – people who can share their insights, and who share your perspectives on things. The atmosphere is supportive and there is no expectation of prepared slides, or indeed anything else prepared in advance.
My first “talk” was hosting a discussion about consistent velocity. This was a challenge on my team at that time and I really just asked others for their insights to my problem. It really showed me I was trying to solve a complex problem with multi-layered solutions, and, judging by the number of voices in the room, it is a common challenge. I could stop beating myself up about it, and learn from the fresh ideas in the room.
Attendees Create the Agenda
Everyone uses the wall to make decisions on which talk to attend. If you choose to attend something and find it’s not your bag, you are encouraged to just leave the room and join a different session… no offence taken – this is your time.
The lack of a formal timetable and the request that attendees create the conference agenda leads to an openness that I have not seen at other conferences. It opens up channels for us to talk to each other, to empathise with each other, to help and support our community, and really get to know each other.
Lots of Highlights
In the breakout room there is a jobs board for use by employers looking to fill a role and people seeking something new. Just write what you are looking for on a Post-It and stick it on the wall. Some of my other highlights were talks about stakeholder management, product strategy and discussions about failure, legacy products and a super-fun product quiz!
ProductCamp has a vibe of transparency and just “keeping it real” that I enjoyed: the human aspect of the conference is uppermost at all times, from the introduction in the morning to simple voting for best talk at the end of the day. The whole day revolves around you, the attendee.