ProductCamp Melbourne 2010 Wrapup

ProductCamp Melbourne held on Saturday 3rd July 2010 was a sensational hit! We had a most enthusiastic crowd of participants from a range of different backgrounds. They were Product Managers, Product Developers, Business Analysts, Entrepreneurs and Marketing Consultants. The event was generously hosted by Experian Hitwise, jointly sponsored by Agilebench, 280 Group & Pragmatic Marketing, with Brainmates as the lead organisers.

Nick Coster kicked off the day with the first session, defining Product Management. It gave us a common thread to discuss the various goals and the role of a Product Manager throughout the day. We also covered what value product management brings to a company.

Jake Andrew, Product Strategy Manager from Australia’s number one employment website SEEK, gave the most inspiring presentation about how SEEK has successfully remained focused on delivering long-term customer benefits over its history of 13 years. The participants were amazed to hear that as a company, SEEK does not get sidetracked by short-term revenue opportunities. Rather, from the top down, they consistently make business decisions based on what makes their primary end-user, the job applicants happy, as well as delivering value to their secondary end-users, the advertisers. Since its launch, SEEK have clawed their way from the No. 2 position to No.1, and killed the previous leading competitor in the meantime. After being blown away by the inside story, we all now want to work for SEEK as a product manager (incidentally, SEEK are currently looking for a Product Manager. Checkout their job ad for details).

Internet Consultants Jen Leibhart & Steve Roberts, lead two separate interactive discussion groups about whether domain expertise was necessary to have credibility as a Product Manager. This interactive session tackled the thorny question of whether employers would hire a PM who doesn’t have industry knowledge for their product? Or, does a PM armed with great analytic and strategic tools actually have a better chance at encouraging product innovation and fresh thinking. After much debate, the two groups came up with the same conclusion, that whilst domain experience was important, the detail isn’t as important as functional knowledge as a Product Manager. In fact, one of the key aspects of hiring a Product Manager is cultural organisational fit. If the PM doesn’t hold the same values and beliefs as the organisation, no amount of domain or functional knowledge will make the PM a successful hire.

After networking over lunch, we headed off to a parallel track of breakout sessions for the rest of the afternoon.

Paul Gray from Brainmates & Veronica Figarella co-presented on one of the key elements of product management and marketing – how to develop killer value propositions by using value curves. Together they outlined that differentiation alone is not enough. Products must be ‘better’ than competitive offerings, provide true value to customers and be based on core competencies that the organisation is strong in. Paul talked us through how to craft a value proposition and Veronica shared an example of she had used value curves in her job.

Ex-PWC consultant Tim Bull shared his recent entrepreneurial experience with his 6 month old startup Tribalytic and how they’ve pivoted from an enterprise-focused expertise location system to a marketing focused Social Market Research tool.

Mark Mansour from Agilebench, shared his knowledge of Agile methodology, in the context of Product Management. The group discussed the benefits of Agile. Some of these include the transparency of the development process, calculating and articulating project costs. Mark also highlighted a weakness of Agile. He said that Agile does not clearly identify product value. We also discussed the role of the Product Manager within an Agile environment and it was agreed that Product Managers must continue activities that uncover and define the customer problem. In terms of documentation, Product Managers must provide a set of product features whilst Business Analysts write the user stories for each of these features.

Nick Coster and Richard Brearley lead a session about “Sales vs Marketing” in the context of how both roles have evolved in past five years and what the current challenges are for both professions when working together. The participants discussed and outlined ways in which these professions can proactively cooperate and shared examples and cases of where sales and marketing worked to deliver outstanding value for customers.

Daniel Kinal of Sensis facilitated a roundtable discussion on competitive analysis and what the challenges of doing this within the context of B2B and B2C industries. The group shared ideas and ways on which to unearth information about competitors. Useful tools were discussed that help product managers keep an eye on the competition – while remembering to keep the main focus on the customer.

Veronica Figarella lead a session about the “Fuzzy Front End: How to Prioritise Product Features”. Veronica defined the stages of Dr. Robert G. Cooper’s concept of “fuzzy front end”, the stages of ideation in the product management lifecycle, and showed us examples of how she’d used his priorisation tools in her work. It gave the group the opportunity to discuss the subject that Jake had covered earlier in the day, but in greater depth, focusing on the tactics that can be employed in the prioritisation process.

Alex Levashov shared his experience as a user/fan of Redmine, a flexible open source project management web application and also gave us a demo of the interface.

The Redmine discusssion was a nice lead-in into the one of the other discussions, Software Tools for Product Managers, a discussion lead by Jen Liebhart and Carie Lowther, where all the everyone in the group shared some of their favourite tools for making their jobs easier. This useful list has since been shared by those who attended Product Camp, as well as those who couldn’t join us. Keep sharing the love!

Did you attend ProductCamp Melbourne? Please share your thoughts, comments, key learnings and suggestions below.