Founding a Product Management Association

By Bob Levy January 31, 2008

Augmenting oneself by developing close ties with those who complement our skills and abilities is a compelling vehicle to overcome professional challenges. This was the fundamental premise motivating my co-founding of the Boston Product Management Association (BPMA) and service as President from the group's inception in May 2001 to January 2003. I offer the following guidance so you may share in the leverage such a group affords.

The BPMA has expanded significantly with nearly 800 members as of fall 2003. You can learn more about the organization as it is today by visiting http://www.bostonproducts.org. Success factors during the group's early growth included:

  • quality speakers and content
  • content aligned with group interests
  • clear vision
  • focused networking opportunity

Begin with the assumption that you can obtain the essentials you need for such a group to thrive free of charge and/or via corporate sponsorship. For example, one member's workplace will undoubtedly have meeting space, another will have contact with quality presenters, and the online tools you'll need can be used free of charge as you'll learn in this article.

A successful kickoff meeting requires awareness and appeal. Pragmatic Institute kindly distributed a succinct announcement to alumni of their training program in the greater Boston area to help seed awareness of the BPMA kickoff meeting in May 2001. Steve Johnson of Pragmatic was in town for the inaugural meeting of the BPMA and presented his popular ?Dynamics of Influence? to help local PMs understand how to best get the ear of executives.

Allocate 20 minutes during your kickoff meeting to elicit topic content ideas. You can use a flip chart or laptop/projector with word processor or other tool to facilitate and capture this brainstorming. I have enjoyed strong results using 'mind mapping? software called MindManager for group brainstorming exercises.

If your team lacks non-profit experience, allocate 20 minutes during your kickoff meeting to brainstorm next actions and roles. While not every volunteer will stick to their commitment, many long-term volunteers will have been those who suggested an idea you promptly insisted they implement. Given the scope of actions needed to succeed vs. volume of work on any of our plates in the day job of Product Management, delegation is a prerequisite of success and will be supported by those who buy in to the basic premise of the group.

Begin spotting candidates for your leadership team as your kickoff meeting winds-down. Be sure to socialize after this first meeting to begin the recruitment process. Attributes required of a successful association leadership team include:

  • contacts of interest to the group
    • thought leaders
    • authors
    • academics
    • professional speakers
    • press / promotional venues
  • execution skills
  • attentive note taker
  • shared desire to grow
  • enjoy time together
  • several level-headed diplomats

Aligning future content with group interests is best achieved via periodic online polling of the topic content ideas you will have collected. Yahoo Groups or other online polling tools are adequate so long as you promote and reinforce polls during your meetings.

Establish an online community early. While the BPMA has since graduated to a professionally developed site, Yahoo Groups is free of charge and meets early-stage requirements:

  • email discussion group
  • online polling
  • ability to post files (nice to have)

Consistency of timing and venue helps maximize the value of word of mouth and facilitates retention. The BPMA has established tradition of meetings being held on the third Thursday of each month except August and December when members are most inclined to take vacation. These meetings are usually hosted in the IBM Rational Primary Conference Center at 81 Hartwell Ave. in Lexington, MA.

With the above legwork to justify the group's value proposition, word-of-mouth has proven the single most effective marketing vehicle to generate in-person attendance at BPMA monthly meetings. Runners-up include posting meeting detail in local trade publications.

Leadership of a nonprofit challenges our most basic assumptions as professional product managers. My early experiences with the BPMA suggest that authoritarian leadership alone would have been inadequate to retain interest. Volunteers including speakers and sponsors are unpaid so motivation to fuel accomplishment must be derived from less predictable sources including:

  • topical interest
  • access to difficult-to-target group of product managers (avoid spam)
  • desire to gain visibility / employment
  • scarcity
  • intrinsic need to create / altruism
  • reciprocity
  • friendship / fun
  • ego
  • mentorship
  • consistency

Be sure to develop a leadership pipeline to ensure the growth of your association. As you recruit volunteers, consider that you will undoubtedly help elect one of them to assume the job you are currently performing so be sure to coach and mentor appropriately.

The success factors shared here should help regardless of if you aim to found a new product management association or join the leadership team of an existing one. The online community you develop will serve your most pressing need to develop new knowledge as you uncover new professional opportunity. Be mindful to iterate alignment with your membership as it evolves via periodic brainstorming and polling. And most of all, have fun in the process!

To close, I would like to thank the many volunteers, speakers, sponsors and attendees who have made the Boston Product Management Association the success it is today. I offer special thanks for the effort of my fellow co-founders Michael Salerno, Curtis Bingham, and Susan Amsel, and Steve Johnson for his support and encouragement.

© Bob Levy 2003

Categories: Leadership Roles & Activities
Bob Levy

Bob Levy

Bob Levy works as Product Manager for IBM Rational Software where he leads six products spanning the product lifecycle including award-winning Rational Robot. He has served as President of the Boston Product Management Association from its May 2001 founding to January 2003, currently serving in an advisory capacity on the group's Executive Committee.

His business acumen has been honored with the Goldberg-Schulich award for Entrepreneurship for cost structure innovation driving his successful venture, Virtual Developments Inc. Mr. Levy has earned a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and an MBA from Dalhousie University in his birthplace of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Bob can be reached via email at boblevy@us.ibm.com

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