What is Professional Services?

On occasion I would get stopped at customs and asked "what do you do for a living?"

In my early years, I would answer "Well, I'm in professional services". I quickly learned that answer sparks more follow up questions, usually "What? What IS professional services? Is that software development?"

I've worked in some type of professional services capacity throughout my career, and when asked to describe what professional services is, my answer has never been as clear as someone being asked "what does development do?" But why is that?

Professional services is hard to describe because it means different things to different people. Some PS organizations write code, while others consult. Many deal with some level client management while some are strictly focused on project management. What a professional services organization does really depends on how the company offers its products and services to its customers. There are, however, three commonalities across every professional services organization. They are:

  • Every professional services team works directly with clients
  • Every professional services team works internally with almost every other team in an organization
  • Every professional services team bridges the internal (development, product, marketing, legal, management, etc.) and the external (clients)

After many years being in the discipline, I've perfected my "10 second customs officer explanation" on what I do: "I work with teams in my company and with clients to solve their technical problems". The answer is certainly much longer than "I sell things" or "I write code", but then again, professional services isn't as clear cut as other disciplines.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to have a lengthy coffee chat with anyone to get them knowledgeable on the discipline I'm most passionate about. That's what this guidebook is for.