Five Practical Product Management Lessons from ProductCamp Boston

ProductCamp Boston hosted its annual conference last weekend – this year’s event had more than 500 ‘Product People’, making it the largest ProductCamp in the world. For me, the most fascinating observation was how Product Managers across all kinds of organizations- enterprise or consumer oriented, small or large, and catering to very different customer segments face a very similar set of daily challenges and can use similar tools to deal with these.

The conference had over 80 sessions catering to different facets of Product Management. Having had the opportunity to attend five sessions through the day, I wanted to share some takeaways that resonated:

1. If you don’t nail internal marketing, external doesn’t matter

The first session I attended had Jeffrey, a Product Marketer from Hubspot talking about their launch strategy. New product launches arguably make for the most exciting times for Product Managers and it was fascinating to see the level of detail and prioritization criteria that Hubspot goes through.

A focus area for this session was around the importance of internal stakeholder buy-in during product launches. Hubspot does this through a collaborative concept called Product Nation, an open communication forum designed to make sure everyone is on the same page around the product value proposition. This principle can be extrapolated to the entire product life cycle as a whole. Often at any stage of a product life cycle, there are multiple internal teams communicating with external stakeholders- individuals from marketing, sales, support, engineering, finance, etc all go through external interactions specific to their domain. It is important to make sure that all of these teams focus on the same crisp message and are equally enthusiastic about the value they are communicating. Without this internal buy-in, convincing external stakeholders gets much more challenging.

2. Don’t awaken the sleeping bear

My second session focused on managing SaaS products. I was particularly curious about this session having spent lots of time recently around SaaS and subscription selling motions.

An interesting takeaway from this session was to not awaken a sleeping 
​bear- subscription software services often run into scenarios where a customer might not be using a product yet doesn’t bother to turn off its billing cycle. This could be for a number of reasons- the monthly costs are low enough to ignore, keeping the product alive for backup or future use, or just negligence. In such cases it is often most beneficial to do nothing- enjoy that constant revenue stream. Poking the sleeping bear might just jolt him into an un-favorable action.

While this specific example applies to inactive subscription customers for SaaS offerings, it represents a broader message. If something is working, don’t try to fix it. As Product Manager’s we constantly feel the need to better or change things- it is just as imperative to recognize the need for inaction as it is to recognize that for action.  

3. Know your hill- Use value maps to make better decisions

Time was flying by and it was almost lunch time. I decided to attend a session on demystifying Product Strategy. This was a fun session where everyone in the room exchanged best practices around strategy and product roadmapping.

Shobhit and Will, both PMs who were leading the session, talked about how identifying your market and focusing on a niche (knowing what hill you want to climb) is the most common PM 101 principle we fail to follow. An interesting corollary to this is how to filter out ideas that do not fit your hill. This brought up the concept of value mapping- making sure any new initiative maps to the product value you plan to drive. A value map not only provides a solid framework to evaluate new efforts but it also enables more transparent communication around pursuing certain features and just as importantly, shelving others.

4. Beware of perverse incentives, focus on the big picture

​Anthony, a Product Manager from Wayfair ran a fascinating session on data driven decision making. Using data to back up your assumptions and intuitions is a valuable skill for every Product Manager and Anthony presented some great tools for this.

My favorite part of this session was a recommendation around focusing on the bigger picture instead of narrow short term incentives. Anthony talked about how poorly constructed goals can potentially hurt overall objectives. For example, achieving a goal to generate more clicks on a particular link is detrimental If the methods deployed to achieve this hurt other links or overall site metrics. Extrapolating this to managing products in general, it is important to make sure that you do not create perverse incentives that help one product but cannibalize other parts of your business in more negative ways.

5. Connect the dots and create communication lanes

My final session of the day focused on creating more cohesion between PMs and Sales. Dan, a consultant at WorkMotives provided some practical advice to create better alignment with your sales teams.

Dan talked about the need to create better integration between an organization’s CRM tools and sales to generate value. Again taking a broader outlook, this message should apply across all functions. A PM needs to act as a connector between various groups. As a PM you will interact with a lot of different groups and are in a unique position to identify value that enabling communication lines between different groups will bring. Often connecting dots and bringing people together are the biggest sources of innovation inside an organization. 

For more information on Product Camp, visit . If you are in the Boston area next spring I highly recommend attending!

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