The caliber of presentations for the recent Product Camp Minnesota remained second to none. The turnout was smaller than in past years which meant more one-on-one opportunities for attendees. The keynote speaker was Tom Evans from Compelling PM. He discussed the popular topic of “All the Responsibility, but No Authority – Get Over It & Lead” and shared some tips to help product managers (PMs) earn andestablish authority (versus “given authority”) within their organizations.

After the morning keynote there were a few different sessions available. I selected the session by James Payne, Senior Product Manager at Best Buy, titled “That’s Product Management? Then What’s Product Management?” It was an interesting conversation around attempting to define what product management is and what kinds of products and industries are served by product managers. The ideas brought forth regarding definitions and which products/industries are served were as diverse as the audience. Some possible solutions to answering the primary questions did rise above others. The concept of considering functions or having the definition based on tasks involved, as well as, management goals or, perhaps, there are broad classifications/types of PMs. Conversation around the value of PM as well as some speculation as to what would be useful to learn via research (survey, interviews or focus group) rounded out the session. It will be interesting to see the results, if the research challenge is taken up.

The next session I selected, “Waterfall to Agile: The Tale of a Journey”, was with Elizabeth Beck, Director of Product, Syncada/US Bank. Having recently moved from a waterfall to agile development methodology in the last year, Ms. Beck shared successes as well as challenges around the change. As seems to be a common case, the shift from waterfall to agile included changing processes, but also people’s jobs and ultimately the corporate culture. In fact, she stated that the change was predominantly a cultural shift. Key to the journey was the hiring of an agile coach to provide scrum and product owner training. Requirements and planning changed significantly with the introduction of story writing and utilization of a points system, along with the internal calibration across the teams. Overall, there is a steep learning curve in moving from waterfall to agile, however there were more good than bad outcomes and the work continues.

After an open forum session discussing challenges for product management, the last session I selected was presented by Curt McNamera regarding “A Summary of Key Innovation Practices.” Definitely an outside the box type of a session in that many of the examples came directly from nature via examples of biomimicry. This session covered the overall concept of innovation, idea generation sources, communities, adoption, radiant thinking (mind mapping), the long tail and modularity. It was truly a jam-packed session.

After five years of Product Camp Minnesota, the presenters continue to deliver at this excellent “unconference” learning experience!

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