I have not decided yet if he intended that being a commodity was a good thing or a bad thing but it reminded me that I always have a difficult time describing what I did when I was at QuantumPM (or at Pacific Edge too for that matter). At both places I was a project management software consultant (less so at Pacific Edge but that was the general gist of it) I have been living in my community for about two years now but it is a pretty tightly knit small town kind of place so we are still breaking in. I get asked a lot about what I “do”. They know I work from home from their kids talking to my kids but where I live that is kind of odd. (Most families here are related to the timber industry, petro-chemical refining or construction.) How do you explain to someone, briefly, what a project management software consultant IS when their biggest interaction with a computer is likely watching their kids do AOL chats or maybe checking email and surfing the occasional web page and they don't have the lightest idea what project management really is? (Hell, I know executives that have a hard time getting what PM is!) The harder I try the more their eyes glaze over. In the end, when someone asks me I just say “I work with Computers” and that is enough to filter out the ones that would not understand. If they just nod and move on to the next question then I have my answer and they have enough of an answer for them. If they ask for more specifics then they are a computer person and I can get more detailed. Though this problem got WAY easier when I went to work for EA as a trainer. Now I just say I’m a senior corporate trainer for Electronic Arts and the conversation goes straight to video games and the problem is solved! :-)
What this brings up for me are the questions: What does it mean if nobody gets what I do? Does it mean I'm not good at explaining it or just that it is kind of arcane and naturally hard for the non-computer, non-PM person to wrap their minds around? What does it say about it’s value as a product, if anything?
This in turn gets me thinking about how it is even hard to get our customers to really understand what we do. I think there is often a gap in what we think we do as consultants (or what we want to do) and what we get hired to do. We think of ourselves as people helping organizations and teams and individuals get better at managing their projects through examination and refinement of processes. But all too often that is not what we are hired to do. We often get hired to install Project Server or some other enterprise application (PM or otherwise). The true role of the (good) consultant is to do what is best for their clients by bringing knowledge and experience to bear on the client’s problem. But what if the client lacks the understanding of what their real problem is? They think the problem is that they don't have good PM software tools (or other enterprise application) installed and that alone is what is holding them back from a higher greatness as an organization. But their real problem might be (and often is) that they do not have the right kind of communication, organization and management processes in place to support good project management (or other ‘management’ in the case of other enterprise applications).