Last week, one of my colleagues asked me if we were going to do "Ask the Product Managers" again at Lotusphere 2012. After this year's debut of the session, I was pretty sure I wanted to repeat it...until I was asked to reflect upon it.

On the positive side, the session was a good opportunity to meet many of the product managers across the IBM Collaboration Solutions team. We also used it as a way to start punctuating the conference, by having each PM mention something about the conference they were particularly happy about. We had some very good questions, and it served as a relief (pre-lief?) valve for questions that normally get asked during "Meet the Developers". Overall, lots of goodness.

On the downside, there were a few things about the session that I didn't like. First, the buildup lead to much apprehension from the product management team, worried they would be pilloried for one last time before we all headed for the exits. We did a pretty good job of taking some questions "off the table", things that couldn't be answered by the group assembled on the stage, but there were still some of the stinkers that we simply can't ever give a good enough answer for in public. And then there were the "peacock" questions -- questions that had already been asked in sessions, labs, and meetings during the week, but the person asking the question was trying to get attention for their cause in front of a larger audience.

It was this last category that has lead some of my colleagues to request that we not repeat the session at Lotusphere 2012. By the time Thursday afternoon rolls around, we've had enough about whether there will be 128-bit Linux versions of the C API for Notes R5 (Answer: No, still). If "Ask the Product Managers" simply becomes a venue for playing to the crowd, we aren't accomplishing anything by doing it. The product managers know what the relative demand/interest is for any particular cause or concern; it is rare in more than 12 years of doing product-related work that someone has come to me with a genuine requirement I haven't considered before (and I am usually quite open when such an idea comes forward as to its newness to me).

If we are going to do the session at Lotusphere 2012, I need to allay some fears. I thought about having a set of voting buttons in the room, where each question could be rated on its merit -- is it a peacock, a ringer, a dead horse, or a legitimately good question? That crowdsourcing could make things really interesting, though in practice using that technology never seems to work as easily as it should.

So, what say you, the Lotusphere-going public? How can we format this session to be successful from both sides of the equation?

By the way, this is my first Lotusphere 2012 post, so it is also worth mentioning that the Lotusphere 2012 call for abstracts is now open. We are taking session proposals over the next two weeks.

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