Tasktop Presents at Product Camp Austin

Posted by

I’ve been at Tasktop for just over two years and I can assure you, I’ve seen quite a bit of change. My fellow Product Manager, Mara Puisite, started here full time on the exact same day. This past weekend, we had the privilege to present some of our learnings and process improvements at Product Camp Austin.

Product Camp Austin bills itself as the ‘un-conference’. There’s no audience, only participants…well, and presenters. This is the 3rd time I’ve attended, but first time presenting. It’s a bit different than other conferences because you don’t know what the talks are going to be until the morning of the event, anyone can propose a session, and the participants vote to see which get selected.

Mara and I proposed a talk to help explain how the Tasktop product team has built process to make our quarterly release process a well oiled machine. Even more important, we wanted to show how we’ve embraced the unexpected in our processes and use them to our advantage. How is it that we’re able to predict what we can deliver in 3, 6, 9 months and still react quickly to urgent customer requests. Our talk was titled “Water-scrum-fall: Making Agile Delivery Predictable in an Unpredictable World“.

It all boils down to a couple things: 1) our cross-team Quarterly Release Cadence, 2) our new request process and 3) communication. It’s amazing how it took our team almost two years to solidify those three little things. And we did it without asking permission, so you could say, that’s the 4th thing. Just do it and let others follow.

If I could change anything about our talk it would be to set the stage better. Tasktop is a B2B organization that releases quarterly. Our processes work for us precisely because we’re structured to sell to large enterprise organizations and roll out new features four times a year. Our processes in their current form likely won’t work for a B2C SaaS organization. Mara and I did try to explain that we’re not prescribing our solution, only what works for us. It took some audience questions to help us realize our mistake.

Prod-camp1The talk went quite well. We had about 25 people attend our session, which considering the overall size of the event and that we were in the last time-slot of the day, this was a pretty good turnout. It was apparent that our talk struck a chord with many of the participants based on their questions. We spent almost a third of our time on our Quarterly Release Process because of questions. People really wanted to understand how we could plan a full release and still deal with unexpected customer requests. Mara and I live in this world so to see the curiosity and interest in other people was very inspiring. I don’t think I really understood how unique and fine-tuned our release process is until I was able to stand up in front of my peers and explain it to them.

So would we do it again? You bet.

We had a great time presenting and more importantly, we feel we were able to help other Product Managers take something back to their organizations. Tasktop is about helping organizations build better software. Part of building better software comes from your tooling, but much of it comes from your processes. Start with good process and I promise your product (and customers) will thank you.