The ProductCamp San Diego Experience, Small Tasks and Backup Plans

We held our first product camp in San Diego a couple weeks ago. It was a great event. I was impressed by the turnout and quality of discussions.

A product camp is an “unconference” for product marketing, management, design, development or related topics. An unconference is a participant-driven meeting. Modern unconferences have been around since the late 1990’s and the first product camp was held on March 15, 2008 in Mountain View, California.

Typically, at an unconference, topics are suggested by the attendees at the beginning of the event. Attendees vote on topics and the top vote getters form that day’s agenda. The sessions are usually led by the participant who suggested the topic, but they can easily evolve into group discussions, panels or whatever the attendees of the session want to do.

We had a few hundred attendees at our inaugural product camp with a long list of suggested topics. The top voted topics were relevant to the challenges on our minds today. One session I attended on personas and user stories was a dynamic discussion with insights from all corners of the room.

After the event, I had the opportunity to catch up with Jessica Sweeney, the Founder of ProductCamp San Diego and “ringleader” of the event. I asked her what her secret was for having the conference go relatively smoothly (it had its hiccups but recovered quickly every time).

Jessica shared with me that she broke down all the event’s activities into the smallest possible tasks. That way, if anyone failed at a task, it had a small impact. Jessica also had backup plans in place, just incase certain things didn’t go as planned. It worked! There were a few things that didn’t go as planned but since the task was so small it was no big deal – or there was a backup plan in place as an alternative to keep things moving.

As an experience architect, I can’t help but notice these things. As a person, I know things don’t always go as planned… and as a participant of the event, I appreciate the thoughtfulness that Jessica had given to keep the event moving forward with her “small tasks” approach and backup plans.

I am looking forward to next year’s ProductCamp San Diego and am telling everyone I know.