Daniel Miller

Product Camp

Yesterday I participated in Product Camp Dallas, an unconference for product people.

Product Camp was adroitly led by a product manager at Modern Message, Adam Rose.

I presented on “Design Sprints, but with Middle Schoolers”. Apparently, I did a bad job pitching my idea. Only 4 people showed up for my talk. I hope I wasn’t added to the schedule just because of my connections.

You can view my slides here. There are some speaker notes that will help you understand the deck without me speaking over it.

My few takeaways observations:

  1. This is a known thing, but product management is a broad, often ill-defined discipline. It crosses user experience, design, development, and project management; but still heavily the latter. There was talk about scrum and being a certified scrum master, a title, that for me, conjures as much meaning as webmaster.
  2. There was talk about getting developers to work faster, but also bemoaning the mistakes developers make (bugs, not sticking to the spec, etc). Software development, at least that which pertains to creating real products (as opposed to e.g. an example of using some language’s framework du jour), remains a black art. How does one manage a black box, into which go good intentions and out of which appears (hopefully) working software? Who are these people inside this box, and why do they appear insane?
  3. Despite the above, there was a lot of understanding and empathy for developers. I was part of a technical debt discussion, that while short on actionable magic incantations, did demonstrate a deeper understanding of the issue by those present.
  4. Product management has its own tribe, which is very different from the software development tribe. They have their own uniform, their own language. I am not part of this tribe, despite being a self-described product-focused technology leader.
  5. As a practice, product management (and this is probably due to #1 above) is highly contextual. There were some big company people talking about a “company-wide adoption of agile” and I wondered just how they were getting developers closer to customers. (They did talk about needing to hire 50 product managers, apparently that’s what it takes to adopt agile.) It’s hard to accomplish in a small company. As long as agile remains a series of processes and not a set of principles, it will be a religion without a higher power.
  6. Finally, and speaking of process…these are process people. They love process. It actually gets their blood pumping. And good for them.

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