N. a loosely structured conference emphasising the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured programme of events.
It all felt a bit like a magic show. We were on edge.
The blank canvas of brown paper caused audible discomfort early one Saturday morning.
People stared at it and whispered to one another, some swaying from side to side. Others, sipping cups of coffee with anticipatory flair.
Ninety or so product managers had streamed into our offices that morning for the first ever ProductTank Unconference.
But… There was nothing on the agenda.
ProductTank is a global community of people working in Product - that new-age function defining technology businesses the world around.
Over the last 10 years, product teams have matured in their ways of working and relationships with business leadership, engineering and design. We were there to discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with leading and managing tech-based products.
Bruce McCarthy, who we were lucky enough to have attend, distills these into five core principles of Product culture:
Leadership over management
Team over function
Technology is a core asset
An Unconference, as per the definition above, involves a lot of post-its and discussion. As the first event of its kind in New Zealand, more than anything, it aimed to stimulate discussion.
Three sessions were structured across six spaces around the office and we began the day with setting the schedule.
The crowd moved from discomfort to action fairly quickly with a line of people suggesting topics on the schedule. 18 suggestions later and we had an agenda.
Topics ranged from the “Return on Investment (ROI) on Beauty” as suggested by our Design Lead, Stephen Horner to “New Zealand vs. the World” and the “Responsibilities of Product vs. other functions”.
It was a vote with your feet type of affair and after some inspiration from our friend Mr Caffeine, we hustled our way into different sessions.
Across the sessions, key themes emerged - proving the case with data, how to work successfully with engineers, how to structure research programmes when your customer base is abroad highlighted the many challenges associated with everyday Product teams.
In the round up, the key takeaways for many was how energising the day was.
That can sound very cheesy but is so important when you consider the role of Product in organisations today. You need to play the long game with your business leaders, understand the tech stack and its constraints with engineering and empathise with your customers and your designers.
It can be a lot, but if you get that mix right - magic happens.
Here at RUSH, we’re looking forward to hosting many other events like this.