Behind the Scenes – "Tips from the Trenches" project

Terry Jansen (founder of PSVillage) and her team have produced a book called “Tips from the Trenches: The Collective Wisdom of Over 100 Professional Services Leaders” and giving it away (eBook only) for free on the website. This is an example of a true open source project.

I have watched this project since inception and it is a pure labor of love. A few hundred copies of the book have been downloaded so far.

If you are in the professional services business, you will enjoy the book. There are more than 160 tips from contributed by technology professional services leaders.

The following is an interview with Terry Jansen about the book and what happened behind the scenes during the creation of the book.

1. RS: Terry, for the benefit of the readers of Life Beyond Code, please give us a 30,000 foot intro of “Tips from the Trenches: The Collective Wisdom of Over 100 Professional Services Leaders“.

TJ: First let me start by giving your readers a 30,000 foot view of PSVillage so that I can put the introduction of the book into context.  PSVillage is an online community of nearly 1000 Technology Professional Services Leaders representing over 450 companies.  I founded PSVillage in 2004 to provide a collaborative forum for Professional Services Leaders to share research, best practices, and resources. Surprisingly there was nothing available in the industry that served this particular niche.   The PSVillage site hosts a moderated discussion forum, an on-line magazine, job board, benchmarks, Professional Services Automation reviews, a spotlight of members and a variety of free or low-cost services including webinars, white papers, workshops, research and networking events.  

Tips from the Trenches, which was just announced last week, is a book written by over 100 of our members.  It includes 165 practical tips on how to build and manage a successful technology professional services organization.   From “hire the weird” to road warrior tips for maneuvering through blizzard-impacted airports to incorporating armadillo racing into team meetings, it includes a variety of “lessons learned” from people who have been in the trenches and want to share their experiences with others.

2. RS:  Why is this book relevant today?

TJ: There is a lot of information on the web for pure consulting firms and IT services organizations but there’s a dearth of information that applies directly to Technology Professional Services in a software/hardware company — or embedded services — if you will.  This book is packed with lots of great practical tips that will be helpful to these folks.  Even if they glean one helpful piece of information then it will have been worth the read.

3. RS: This is an example of an open source project. Please tell us how the project was organized and how it was executed?

TJ: Yes, that’s precisely what it is.  PSVillage is a dynamic community with lots of interaction between its members, and to continue that momentum we needed to look for new and innovative ways for people to contribute without it being a major effort or time sink.  These people have very busy lives running projects and services organizations, they travel a lot and have families so they have very  little time for networking or participating in a professional organization.  I wanted to provide a way in which they could contribute that would be significant but would not take a lot of their time, and hence the community book concept was launched. 

I reached out to 10 of our members and asked 4 of them to be on the core book team, and 6 to be on the extended team.  Each of the 10 was responsible for getting tips in from 10 of our members (that would guarantee we’d get at least 100 tips) and they were also responsible for writing a tip.  The core book team was responsible for coordinating the entire process – including working with the extended team to get the tips in by the deadline, editing the tips — or re-writing them if necessary, writing additional tips if we needed them to fill in various chapters, and assembling the tips into the book to ensure the right flow.  We met every Saturday morning for 20 mornings straight to discuss the book’s progress and make decisions as a team.  We managed it as we would any project – deadlines, end date, project plan, etc.  The beauty of it all is that we had a great team – extremely knowledgeable on the subject matter, very committed to putting out a quality product, and fun to work with.  When we started the process, the team members didn’t know each other but by the time we finished the project good friendships had been formed.

We also invited companies to either sponsor the book or advertise in it.  We are using the fees collected for other PSVillage programs and initiatives, and we’re also giving 30% of the proceeds to Schools for Humanity, a non-profit formed by some of our members that is dedicated to building schools in developing countries.

4. RS: What were the challenges faced?

TJ: I think the biggest challenge was getting 100 people to participate in the timeframe we set (4 months from concept to completion), and devising a plan to make that happen quickly and easily.  By enlisting the help of 10 members to reach out to 10 others it really was a very efficient process and worked quite nicely.

Other challenges were getting sponsors and advertisers to sign up when we had no previous history of developing a book.  Luckily, our sponsors QuickArrow and OpenAir, are very supportive of the PSVillage community and they took a chance on us.  We also had difficulty getting the book converted to pdf from Word with the hyperlinks intact.  Everyone who jumped in to help out had major problems where some links worked and others didn’t.  In the end, we got it to work but it was quite a challenge. Another tough decision was whether to publish a hard copy particularly given the fact that we were already making the ebook available for free.  We decided it made a lot of sense to do so and expect the book to be available in 60-90 days from and Barnes & Noble as well as the PSVillage website.

5. RS: What were the lessons learned?

First of all, get the right people on the team.  We were extremely fortunate in that every person on the team brought unique skills that were complementary to the others.  And they all have deep experience running professional services organizations and projects.

Secondly, if you use Word for formatting a book, never begin formatting it until it’s completely edited!!!  We were constantly re-doing our work because every time we changed the words in the document it would throw the formatting off.  It caused us a lot of time and grief, but luckily the folks on the book team were patient.  We all pitched in where we could and the end result was a pretty spectacular product!

Thirdly, never underestimate the desire of folks to get involved but make it easy for them to do so and communicate, communicate, communicate with them so they become active participants in the creation of the book.  Initially we were very concerned we wouldn’t get enough tips in but we were absolutely delighted with the participation of our members.

6. RS: Why are you giving this book away for free?

TJ: The book was written by the community for the community so I thought it was important to make it available to everyone for their personal use.  If companies want to distribute it within their organization, they must buy a Corporate Use License.  Also, by distributing the book for free we felt it would not only help the PS community in general but would also create awareness of PSVillage — that this terrific community exists and it’s easy to join. 

7. RS: If you were to do it over again, what would you do differently?

TJ: You know, Rajesh, there’s really not a lot I would do differently.  Other than perhaps to get sponsors signed up earlier in the process and wait to format the document until the final editing is complete.

8. RS: Where can people download the book?

TJ: The book is available for a free download at  We are in the process of publishing a hard copy version of the book.  If folks pre-order the hard copy by May 31, 2007 they can get a significant discount off the list price.  It’s 150 pages long so for many people that’s a lot to digest on their computer screen or to print out. 

Have a great week ahead!