Boy, that escalated quickly
At the end of 2017, Ian Johnson and I had the idea of running an internal Open Space event. We did that, and it went really well! One thing led to another, and now on the 6th March we’re running an all-day conference at Duxford Imperial War Museum.
In this post, we’ll look at the journey so for for Redgate’s first product conference.
The unexpected benefits of naivety.
Our journey begins before Christmas, when we discover that the conference facilities at Duxford are reasonably priced and that booking them would be super-fricking-cool.
With the carefree innocence of people who haven’t run a conference before we break out the credit-card and book the venue. How hard can it be?
The collective delusion that it’ll be alright on the night continued until mid-February when we realised that getting 80 people to a conference facility and keeping them entertained all day might be every bit as hard as it sounds.
Keeping to the spirit of bike-shedding, we thought we’d tackle the conference name and logo first.
Nailed it! (our marketing team are amazing, and I should mention they are hiring).
Finally getting serious
But now the more serious stuff begins. We love the Open Space format, but since this was going to involve everyone from the division, we felt that more structure was necessary. How’d you balance the creativity and openness of an unconference, with some level of structure?
When some people hear “L&D” they think of passively consuming content made by other people. Some people look for topics that will make them individually more knowledgeable or marketable, not to address the business challenges they’re facing at the time. Take training sessions and conferences: too often they’re only mildly interesting, slightly misaligned with what you need, and don’t have much impact on how you work. That kind of training is more like edutainment, and that’s not what our first conference is about.
Redgate’s Product and Foundry Division Conference is built around sharing, not teaching. It’s a mix of different formats (workshops, open spaces, and lectures) to match individual learning styles. This also gives the best chance of learning taking root and being ready to use in your teams.
To keep some focus on the important things, we’re theming the three tracks around the Product divisional objectives:
Outcomes (aka understanding the impact of our work).
This is L&D with purpose. It’s also made for teams to use not just individuals to feel more skilled.
We harnessed the collective mind of Redgate’s product division and created a space where we could learn:
- What can you share?
- What’d you want to learn?
- What problems should we tackle?
Fast-forward a week and we had great participation from every role within Product Division to create a HUGE set of ideas.
Once the ideas were generated, we organized theme across three themes that are important to Redgate this year:
- Scaling. Redgate’s a successful, growing business. How do we best prepare the Product Division for these challenges?
- Excellence. In order to scale, we need our teams to have the tools, practices and capabilities to do great work.
- Impact. We need to improve our ability to connect the work we do to the impact it has.
We also had space to run a track on “Things to Decide” and “Other”.
We voted across the division for two days. Each person had six votes (representing the maximum number of sessions they’d be able to attend).
We then had the happiest problem in the whole world. There was a huge number of highly voted sessions. We briefly floating the idea of running a 5 day conference, but quickly snapped back to reality and focused on picking a small subset of the awesome topics to be represented in our first conference.
We soon realized it’s impossible to make everyone happy. If there’s multiple interesting presentations/workshops on concurrently then that’s actually a great problem to have.
After plenty of shuffling, we’ve ended up with the conference program below.
I’m hugely excited by this. We’ve got a great set of sessions that really reflect the challenges Redgate faces over the next year.
Now all we have to do is run some fab sessions, prepare speakers, make sure everyone gets there and a million and one other things I’m sure we’ve forgotten.
Look out for more information on the journey so far next week.