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August 2013

Product Managers on the Road: DC Summer Edition

It's the end of July and I'm ending the month the way I started it—on a trip to Washington, DC. I'm here to attend the Inside NGO conference, to speak in a couple of panel discussions. A conference in Washington, at the end of July/beginning of August. Other than the possibility of good hotel rates once Congress clears out of town, there's not a lot that's initially appealing about the idea. But you know the Product Manager's code: complete the mission.

Search History Can Tell You a Lot

So herewith are a series of random musings that will give you some idea of how the week went. Let's start where our intelligence agencies would start: my search history.

  • Time in Bonn
  • 1730 rhode island ave nw
  • Washington convention center
  • Crowdsourced funding
  • "siri, how do I get to the Metro?"
  • Clyde's Washington DC
  • Dukem Ethiopian
  • Zaytinya
  • Cisco connected devices

My Dinners with Brian

It's sort of a tradition. Crystal or I visit Brian, he lines up dinners at restaurants he wants us to experience (and/or places he'd like to try), and we pay for dinner. Seems like a fair deal. On this trip:

Zantinaya (link)  Amazing. Jose Andres (I've spent three summers trying to grow Padron peppers just to make his tapa recipe) put a twist on Spanish tapas, featuring Middle Eastern, Greek and Turkish equivalent types of plates. Absolutely amazing. And it didn't hurt that the couple next to Brian and I gave us a bottle of wine to share over dessert.

Dukem (link)  If you've been to DC, it doesn't surprise you to know that there are a number of Ethiopian restaurants. Brian brought me here because Crystal wouldn't go, being unable to disassociate Ethiopian food from some of her more challenging Kenyan meals. You have to get used to the idea that your utensil consists of pieces of a giant crepe. But once you get used to that, the food is quite good.

Kangaroo Boxing Club (link)  A small joint (aren't all great BBQ places like that?) near Brian's house in Columbia Heights. Unbelievably, the signature dish is barbecued pastrami. And of course, it's out of this world. And don't miss the various macaroni and cheese sides—they're worth the extra workout time.

Luke's Lobster (  Shockingly (to hear some of my friends tell the story), I had never actually had a genuine lobster roll. In Boston you didn't bother with the roll, and just ate the whole lobster. I had a few trendy lobster roll send-up's in California, but having missed the family outing to Maine one year, I didn't get to experience the "lobstah" delight. Until now. This was authentic, true to Maine's roots, and completely delicious.

Some Things I Learned at the Conference

  • Why "M&E"—Monitoring and Evaluation—Matters. The "revenue" side of NGO's is the grant money they get from funders like USAID . So it makes sense that they want to show that the grant money was well-spent. For NGO's, no impact means a lower likelihood of obtaining follow-on funding. This also means that data collection is a big deal. No data means you have a harder time describing your impact. And since much of NGO work happens with illiterate people and in Internet-challenged locales, it makes data collection a tricky task.
  • What also matters is accounting. You've got multiple grants, with different reporting requirements and (sometimes) different rules about things like expense reimbursement. Teasing out the sources and uses of funds becomes an important activity.
  • Who exhibits at a conference like Inside NGO? Well, you might not have thought about companies that can deliver fleets of trucks. Or handle security. Or tell you what the going rate for talent in fill-in-the-country.
  • The best leave-behind? The legal firm that set out little "goodie bags" on the tables, with their business card and little chocolates. The chocolates had a QR code on them.
  • I must be good at handling ambiguity. I was presenting on a "future of technology" panel with another person and it was a challenge to get the material together, boil it down, and focus it on a clear set of messages. It seemed like every discussion and slide deck was taking things further and further toward perfect entropy. But we were actually able to focus on some key topics and bring the material back around to support those topics. We talked about order and chaos as one topic, and invited the audience to guess which of us represented each quality. Great fun!

More Random Observations

  • Picked up Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In (buy it here) as a presenter gift.  Now I can see what all the buzz is about in Silicon Valley.
  • Brunch and happy hour: two Washington traditions.
  • Bocce league. Because nothing says, "I'm ready to drink with my friends!" than a game of Bocce.
  • Redskins mania is in full swing. There are multiple on-site stories from… Redskins training camp.
  • Apparently you can measure the state of the economy by the level of indifference exhibited by the bar/restaurant wait staff.
  • Yes, I actually saw a man pulling a cello across the street. The cello had a rubber wheel attached to the base. Very interesting photo opportunity.
  • The conference had a jobs board (the old paper kind) located right next to the entrance to the exhibits.  That seemed a little awkward: "hey, Jim, what are you looking at?"
  • While enjoying a "half smoke" sausage from one of the street vendors outside George Washington University, I see the classic Washington casual outfit for the summer: tan slacks, penny loafers, a blue blazer, blue pinstripe shirt and a tie. Sported by more than one of the high school students on some kind of college immersion program.
  • Live jazz combo at the airport – that's a nice touch.
  • Ordered a burrito in the Dulles Airport. Clearly I am desperate. Perhaps I should've followed Brian's advice and gone to Wendy's.
  • We're delayed an hour, waiting for thunderstorms to clear. I discover this after waking up from my nap, which started the moment they started reading the pre-flight emergency instructions at the gate.
  • Kid behind me spills his drink all over his seat cushion (not much a flotation device now!) Flight attendant asks us to swap a spare seat cushion for the soaked one. Throws in some free wine to seal the deal. Works for me!

Another good trip. I got to spend some quality time with family and friends, met some folks I'd only talked to on the phone or via email, and had great feedback on the panel discussions. And the heat/humidity wasn't bad at all. Either that, or my visit to Houston (link) has forever increased my tolerance level!