P-CAMP Unconference for Product Managers

I went to a conference today at YahooNice campus.  It was P-CAMP Unconference for Product Managers. I took alot away from it.  Some learnings:

  1. There is a huge chasm between what serious Agile practitioners proscribe and what most companies who say they are doing agile actually do.  One guy said, “You just have to find the companies that are doing it right.”  I laughed.  I just can’t suspend my skepticism that it just doesn’t exist beyond the 1% of companies.  I am very happy to be proven wrong, but so far, I haven’t met anyone on a personal level who was doing Agile the way they describe in the book.  Not even 50% of the book.  Sorry, I calls em likes I sees em.  Please don’t flame me.  Maybe I am just unlucky.
  2. There is a big chasm between big company product managers and startup product managers.  In one session the woman asked, “How many of you release more than twice a year?  I said, “Do you mean twice a month?”  She laughed and didn’t understand.  We push new code to customers every 2 weeks.  That doesn’t mean all projects are two weeks long.  You can work on something for several iterations, but the code is pushed every two weeks, so you need a private brand in source control for longer projects.  The group with 4-10 iterations per year emphasized documentation and product research.  The group with 10-26 iterations a year, obviously could not produce the kind of documentation required.  The first group looked at us like we were insane and not real product managers.
  3. I am not, nor do I want to permanently be a product manager in a mid-large size company.   I love UX Design, and I want to manage people and product managers.  But I don’t want product research and documentation to be my life.  At work, I am looking for a Product Manager to report to me. One guy said, “You are hiring your boss.”  I completely, utterly disagree.  I think a UX person, like myself could manage a product manager.  At the very least, it’s worth trying.  I will never know if I can do that if I don’t try.

It worries me a little.  What if a company can’t have a UX person manage a PM?  Will I forever be at that UX Architect individual level?  As always, I am eager to grow and evolve and learn.  Who knows what lies beyond the corner?  Life is not just around the corner.  Life is the corner.

Fun conference.  And Free!  Have to love that.

12 Replies to “P-CAMP Unconference for Product Managers”

  1. Glen, I remember some of your comments at p-camp. While I know that many teams struggle or outright fool themselves into thinking that they’re doing agile, when they’re really just using the term to justify chaos, I can assure you that many companies are “doing Agile right” and receiving tremendous benefits. Check out any of the many companies sharing their experiences at the Agile conferences, notably the Agile Development conference. If you need more help I can offer some key pointers (I’d start with BMC software and the VeriSign Managed Security Services team).

    And yeah, if *your* team is just bastardizing agile, and *you* really want to experience what “good agile” is like, go find a company who is doing it. They’re out there, and their ranks are growing.

    Luke Hohmann
    Founder and CEO, Enthiosys

  2. @Luke: I am 100% positive some companies are doing it right. My main question is, “For every 1 company doing it right, there are X companies saying they are doing it and aren’t even close. What number is X?” My guess is 50. I’d be surprised if it was less than 20.

    Your session at the end was great by the way. I will adopt a bunch of the things you suggested about the backlog.

    One note though: Suggesting someone quit their job because they are not doing agile right is kind of retarded. The world doesn’t revolve around the methodology. I like my job and the people I work with. It counts much higher than what kind of project management we use or what kinds of mistakes we might make. Despite our problems, the product we built kicks ass and continues to get better every iteration.

    My world revolves around User Experience. On that score, I am thrilled where I am. Again, I really enjoyed your session and hope to inch us towards real agile because I believe it is the better way to manage a product/project. Although, I am a journeyman and want to leave the door open to learning. Who knows what tommorrow will bring?

  3. Thanks for the kind comments on my session.

    Sadly, I don’t think we have good failure data or process-adherence data across the industry. I do agree that the discipline of agile is inconsistent, even within groups of the same company. Laurie Williams is a researcher whom I respect and admire — I suspect that if anyone has data on process adherence, it would be her.

    I don’t ever think that recommending to someone that they act on their convictions is inappropriate. At p-camp you expressed some pretty passionate frustration about your current work situation relative to agile. I didn’t hear any of the other facets of your job. Frankly, it is great to hear all of the nice things you’re saying.

    If you carefully read my counsel, I never said “quit your job”. More generaly, I agree — as long as the “total good” outweighs the frustrations — great, stay put.

    Good luck, and again, I’m glad you enjoyed the event and my presentation.

    Hopefully, for me, tomorrow willbring kids who sleep in past 6AM :-).

  4. I think the reason there was general negative response to your “UX manages PM scenario” is because the general perception of the product management process is that a PM is responsible for the totality of a product, whereas UX is focused on one just aspect of a product. So to have UX managing a PM seems ass-backwards.

    Frankly, I do think at some point you are going to have to make a choice between focusing on UX and moving up the management chain (if that is what you want).

    There are some alternatives — you could keep working in small companies, or maybe land at a company that has consolidated UX into a standalone group. And I could be wrong, of course — maybe you will find a way to do both. If anyone can pull it off, you could. 🙂

  5. @RLux: I completely disagree (no surprise). Product Management should be focused on the health and development of a particular product. User Experience is NOT the design of that product. It is the design of the entire UX across all products as well as the support experience. UX is MUCH bigger than one product.

    This is what is wrong with most companies. Products don’t synergize, they don’t harmonize. Support looks like (because its true) it was built by different teams with no overriding vision of experience.

    A UX person should be in charge of product management in my opinion. I certainly am going to try to make it work.

  6. Glen, are you saying that UX professionals are skilled in all of the domains necessary for effective product management. Consider some of the of the following items commonly associated with product management:

    – market segmentation, sizing, and needs assessment
    – business model development
    – value analysis
    – value exchange models
    – pricing models
    – licensing models
    – rights enforcement models
    – profit engines
    – customer facing ROI / TCO analysis
    – channel design and management
    – technology in-licensing negotiation
    – deployment architecture choices
    – BOM development and materials handling
    – identification and management of releases

    I’ve really enjoyed working with some stellar UX professionals. But I don’t recall that they had the experience or desire to manage these aspects of the product management process.

    I can certainly see the value in the UX team being encouraged to take a holistic view across all of the products. But to have product management actually report to UX is not something that I can support.

  7. Are you saying that a manager has to know how to do everything that their reports do?

    In general, I think you have pointed out a list of tasks that a product manager has to do. This says nothing about what this person’s boss should do or what their skill set should be. I am hiring a person now in that position. I believe that User Experience is much broader than all of those things you pointed out.

    Start a product with your list, then build the UX. Or start with the UX world and then do your list. The latter will result in a much more successful product. This is my point of view.

    I am not asking for your support, but thanks for the “can’t do” attitude.

  8. “UX is MUCH bigger than one product.”

    Actually, I agree with you on this. If you’re developing a family of products, then unified UX across them is a big plus and a goal worth fighting for within an organization. And your point about integrating the UX of ancillary services like support along with the actual products is a good one.

    Where I disagree with you is how your vision is going to stand up to reality.

    Let’s say your hypothetical situation comes to pass, Marketo grows significantly, and you’re managing a team of five PMs, each charged with running a product. They are going to be coming to you as their manager for help with a huge range of issues that have nothing to do with UX, and expecting you to give them support — like channel partner negotiations, decisions on pricing, analyst briefings, underperforming products, recalcitrant vendors, and a host of other business problems.

    And at the risk of repeating myself — I think that if you do find yourself in that situation, you’ll be spending very little of your time focused on UX.

    There are other solutions. For example, you could build out a matrixed organization, and UX would be able to impact across broad swathes of the business without having to bear the burden of running the business aspects of product development.

    If you want to have some coffee and chat about this stuff one weekend, give me a call. Katie has my number in her cell 🙂

  9. I missed the P-camp (sounded like a great experience!)
    Glen – in some way, I could relate to you, I’ve been both product manager and interaction designer for many years (from startups to huge corporations). And it’s hard to do both roles well. It’s like asking someone to be director of marketing and engineering in a mid to large size company – it’s not going to work well. Being a product manager is like being a mini-CEO, you got all the accountability to ship the product to market but you don’t really have the direct authority (no engineers or ux people really report to you – in most companies at least).

    Delivering a successful product def. needs great user experience – but it’s not the only driving factor. You also need people with expertise in sales, legal, support, marketing, technology, operations, etc. It helps to have background or experience in these areas. If that UX person that successful background/experience in various disciplines (especially in business and engineering) – then I don’t see any reason why PMs can’t report to UX person. But in reality, I don’t see this happening much.

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