How product managers do their camping - Productcamp 2013

by Rasmus Voigts - 17 Oct 2013

What sounds like yet another article about one of our team events, is actually a report dealing with this year’s Productcamp Berlin 2013 - an (un)conference where Product Managers shared their knowledge and experience.

What is it all about?

The basic task of product managers is specifying and prioritizing new features of their product, and managing the development - for a more detailed definition take a closer look here. Besides the need for solid technical knowledge and social skills, it is also about being good at managing the development of software products / projects, which exactly was the scope of this (un)conference.


The goal behind this (un)conference is that each visitor is not only a passive listener, but also able to play an active role by engaging as a speaker and/or organizer of the so called "panels". The event was attended by those within such job titles as: product managers (owners), project managers or scrum trainers. Thus a wide range of professional expertise was present. Obviously, most of the attendees were encouraged to foster discussions about topics they know best about.

Before the Productcamp really started, topics were gathered by filling up a schedule with the introduced panels as shown in the picture below.


Many of these panels or sessions dealt with techniques and best practices used in daily tasks in product management. For a better understanding, I would like to provide a closer look at two of my favorite panels of this day. Both involved managing planned features on roadmaps whilst not losing the ability to handle bugs, incidents and feature requests, as well as staying agile.

The first panel was held by a product manager who gained a lot of experience helping famous Berlin based start-ups by bringing their "product" live. As Zalando is still a rather young company itself, this session was very inspiring in terms of fast-tracking product innovations. The session was called "Scrum vs. Kanban" and it emphasized the separation of "feature-pools" of medium/long-term planned features and incoming bugs or urgent requests in highly dynamic environments. Such requests can cause huge backlogs. The idea is not simply to separate the pools, but also treat them differently in terms of management principles. The first one is meant to be managed by a known "SCRUM sprinting" principle and the other one by a "KANBAN pulling" principle, where developers can choose tickets from a prepared backlog. When using these concepts, it is possible to eliminate huge backlogs without affecting the development of planned features.

Productcamp Session

The second panel was more an open discussion about the merits of roadmapping in an agile development. In the past, software development was often managed by the so called “waterfall models”. This means steady phases have to be finished until the next phase could be started. These methods might fit for a steady and structured development and in return a good commitment to deadlines is possible. Nowadays, however, in order to act faster, more agile and iterative, other software development methods like the Scrum principles are used. Roadmapping is a challenge here. The best credo I have heard in this discussion about working in an agile environment was: “Take roadmaps as a planning, but never commit to deadlines”. Now, the only challenge is telling your stakeholders. After all, there is one truth: you’re not agile anymore if you have a fixed long term planning. :)

Productcamp 2013 Foyer

So what are the learnings?

Personally, I think the Productcamp 2013 was worthwhile attending, even though it was on a Saturday - and not just because of the after show party!! The bottom line is, that it was a free transfer of knowledge with the ability to meet some interesting people. It also showed that the work in product management and development principles here at Zalando Technology are really more than “state-of-the-art” compared to others in software development. Talking about how problems and developments are handled in other companies revealed just how highly efficient and sustainable Zalando really is in developing our ZEOS (find more information here). Actually getting things done without loosing time in fixed organizational structures is just one of the reasons why working here is a lot of fun. And even if it might get complicated from time to time - the useful experience of other product managers may help. So this is why we are looking forward to next years product camp - would you like to join as well?

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