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So, what do you do for a living?: A BA/Product Managers guide to surviving cocktail parties

I used to dread hearing the question, “So what do you do for a living?”  This was often usually asked by a family member or other acquaintances not familiar with the software development lifecycle, IT, or business processes in general.  For business analysts, product managers, and other software requirements types, it’s difficult to give an answer without being convoluted or sounding like Tom Smykowski.

This great post expresses a similar insight beautifully, but many of us struggle with good, one-sentence responses to what it is we do everyday in simple English.  I thought I would plagiarize some ideas that I’ve heard from colleagues over the years and compile them here:

  1. “We help businesses figure out what software they need to build to solve business problems.”  This is a personal favorite of mine that I stole from Marc (who posts under mtalbot on this here blog).  It’s especially relevant to IT consultants/contractors.  Just about everyone knows what software is, and a lot of people understand that just about every business runs on some sort of software to solve business problems.
  2. “We help communicate the business needs of a system in a language software developers understand.”  A variation of this is, “We translate from business to geek”, although I am less fond of the second version because it veers into Smykowski land.
  3. “We make sure the right software is being developed at the right time, for the right people.”  The emphasis here is on the right software.  This response is nice because it allows you to segue adeptly into a discussion about business objectives.
  4. “We help the business get the most value out of their development dollar.”  This response stresses the fact that you are not just a scribe or secretary writing things down, formatting them, and delivering them to the development staff.  You are helping make the tough decisions on which features to cut and which bugs to fix, and quantifying those decisions in terms of dollars and cents.
  5. “We work with the business to find the appropriate scope of a software development project and ensure that what is built is what the business expects.”  Whenever I am asked the dreaded WDYDFAL question, this is what almost immediately comes to mind.  Sometimes I fill in the details of working with pictures to help model current business processes (and desired business processes).

So how about all of our readers?  What answers have you come up with?  Do you dodge this question altogether, or do you sound like a fumbling Smykowski?  Hopefully we can all help each other find good answers to this question.  After all, you never know when you’ll be in a meeting with “The Bobs” and the pressure will be on!

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