Points of view: an interview with Bob Light

There’s a relatively new software tool on the market – a tool which had it’s funding pulled after failing to make it big in 6 years, and was rescued from the rubbish bin by someone with practically no project management knowledge. Sounds like a disaster? Actually, Bob Light sounds like just the kind of person we need in the crowded software market.

I spoke to him about why he took this company on and why he thinks CrossPoint still has potential.

How did you get involved with CrossPoint?

It’s a long story cut short, but the CrossPoint tool was originally developed by a company called Intersect Software, between 2000 and the summer of 2009. I came to Intersect in May 2007, from IBM, which had recently acquired the software company I had been working for. The connection came out of the fact that my old software company and Intersect were located on the same floor of the same building, and I had met and come to know the CFO of Intersect. As timing worked out, Intersect needed a full time finance person, and while I was OK working for IBM and they asked me to stay, I seem to prefer working at smaller companies. That and IBM was going to shut down that office and move it into one of their facilities further away, so I was able to keep my commute short…

In the end, one of my biggest motivations is to prove that the engineers who worked so long and hard on the tool created a good one, and that ultimately they were failed by an outdated sales/marketing strategy.

It sounds as if this has become a labour of love. What makes CrossPoint worth working on?

Wow, a simple question, with many complex answers! The simplest is probably that after working part-time to shut Intersect down and transfer the IP to a new owner at the end of last year, I really needed to find a new challenge, and during a talk with the new owner, we decided that the reason why Intersect failed wasn’t the CrossPoint product. As he had no specific plans for it, he graciously offered me the opportunity to set up a business to bring it back to market.

That said, here is why I think it is worth it.

  • I always believed that a market exists for a good project management tool. One of my tasks in shutting down Intersect was contacting the existing customers, and hearing their disappointment and favorable comments about the tool only reinforced that.
  • I had the opportunity and pleasure while working at Intersect to talk to the developers of the tool, a number of whom had worked on it since day one. Their dedication and vision in building a good product was greatly overshadowed by the unfulfilled promises of sales/marketing. The opportunity to validate the work of those individuals is a great motivator to me.
  • Finally, working on CrossPoint allows me to continue to learn and grow and to build a business and share that success with people I chose to work with who share my ideals. I know very little about project management, and honestly, CrossPoint is a powerful tool, with tremendous flexibility that I am still discovering, and that is exciting. I am in a position where I have to learn marketing and be a salesperson, which definitely is out of my comfort zone, yet the challenge is as invigorating as it is scary (like any new business can be).

Hmm, you confess to knowing little about project management. That’s a bit odd for someone who now runs a project management software company. What have you learned about project management since taking on this new challenge?

I’m borrowing from a recent conversation I had with a PM consultant, but I have learned that project management, like many disciplines, is both a science and an art. Most practitioners learn the science part as denoted by degrees and certifications, but not all have the creative bent to understand the art. Unlike accounting, which (in theory) has very specific rules to govern actions, project management can take many forms, and each form has many variations. However, like accounting, the base metrics of measuring success are limited. In project management, they are: was the project delivered on time and on budget. Some add on quality as well to that equation, but that is probably more subjective and less easily measured.

Bob, don’t say that to a PRINCE2® Practitioner! And what about scope? Anyway, what else have you discovered?

Based on responses I have read in some project management groups on LinkedIn, as well as what I can pick up via some excellent blogs, project managers also tend to be a passionate group about their profession!

One thing I already knew was that while tools can make the job easier, they are only as good as the person using it. I’d be remiss in my sales duty if I didn’t point out that the better the tool, the more that can be accomplished in the right hands and under the right leadership/management. Still, in the end, I realize that what I bring to the table is not the feast, but the china, silverware, linens etc that make the dining experience easier.

That’s certainly true. And training helps a lot too. What’s your approach towards training and support?

It is all about training and support. I wish I could claim that CrossPoint was bug-free, or did everything in the best or most logical way, but it doesn’t. So, in the absence of perfection, it comes down to how to solve problems with customers. Ideally, your customers are more like your partners, and you can openly and honestly communicate about the product, including the good, the bad and the ugly. Educating users about the tool helps in this regard, as well as not being afraid to admit mistakes or errors.

From a business standpoint, that means I need to listen to my customers and prospects, to make sure that I understand their issues, and that they understand how CrossPoint can help them manage their project, programs and portfolios better and are willing to change their processes if necessary to leverage the benefits of CrossPoint. I need to make sure that the training I provide is delivered in the right way at the right time, with as much flexibility and as cost effectively as possible. Most people learn best by repetition, and in my opinion, dislike change or new processes. Good training and support helps to overcome and knock down those walls.

Good project and change management helps overcome some of that resistance to change when we see it on projects too. Thanks for your time, Bob, and good luck with the venture!

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