Last week, we held TAS UNIFY 2017, our third annual user conference, in Providence, RI. This year’s event was very much a grand experiment. After listening to users, we decided that the traditional conference format with speakers and limited Q&A was not what our customers were looking for. Instead, they expressed a desire to tackle issues that were facing their industry and their specific roles, in a highly collaborative and intimate setting.
To accomplish this, we decided to make TAS UNIFY an unconference, where those who speak and those who attend the event are one in the same. Unconferences are certainly not new, but they were certainly new to most of us at TAS. However, after doing some research, and borrowing some ideas from other unconferences we came across online, we forged ahead with a new vision for UNIFY.
The results of the experiment were overwhelmingly positive. Our one fear was that attendees, also largely unfamiliar with the unconference format, would be hesitant to dive in head first and drive the direction of the conversations. As you can see from the images below, we were happy that wasn’t the case.
Attendees spent thirty minutes or so visiting idea boards, adding questions, thoughts, questions, and talking points to a series of foundation topics that included cross-company and cross-department collaboration, sales forecasting, retail disruption, and more. Then, the conversations began. We ran two concurrent sessions, giving attendees a choice of where they wanted to focus their attention.
Even though the purpose of the day was to talk about topics that impacted the attendees directly in their everyday roles, we set some time aside towards the end of the day to talk about what new features and functionality was coming to TAS. To help facilitate that conversation and feature request feedback, we decided to have a little fun. We thought what better way to learn what users want is to perform an autopsy on our products. And that’s exactly what we did…sort of. We employed our most valuable inflatable extraterrestrial employee, Karissa, and used her as a foundation for attendees to post feature requests, which were reviewed as a group at the end of the day.
Considering this was our first attempt at an unconference, the initial feedback from attendees was more than we could have hoped for. However, there are definitely elements we can improve for next time. Yes, there will be more of these types of events. We’re not quite sure when or how frequently, but the one definitive takeaway was that our users will always cherish an opportunity to discuss ways they can excel in their roles and learn from each other’s experiences in retail real estate. And if we can provide an environment for them to communicate, collaborate, accelerate together, we’ll be a better company for it.