Names are important, but it is also possible to get hung up on one too much. It’s important to remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Trying to appeal to every audience - to cater to every taste, or account for every way your name can be twisted, is a foolish way to spend your first days in any kind of startup situation, whether you are part of a business, a non-profit, a community organization, or a band you started in your garage.
When we form a collective, one of the first tasks is to name ourselves. In doing so we determine what we stand for and plan to accomplish. This is, we sense, how to assert a group identity, collecting its participants together beneath a common flag and a critical ingredient to the recipe for good branding and its overshy child: frictionless marketing.
It is tempting to want a perfect name, just as it is tempting to want the perfect logo, a perfect marketing angle, and a perfect brand. But your organization will benefit more from how you use that name as you work, and the reputation and accomplishments that accrue over the whole lifetime of a well-used name. You should not focus on it too much at first. Chances are that you can come up with something sufficient, and swiftly, with just a little bit of critical and creative thinking.
For this website, this blog, and the community we wish to start here, we invented the term “prosigliere.” But just what is a “prosigliere,” and why have we chosen that name?
We’ve swapped the prefix on the word “consigliere”, which has already become familiar to many English-speaking audiences, thanks to Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” movies. Before that, long before those 1970s-era cinematic masterpieces were released, “consigliere” meant a councillor in the consiglio (council) to the Doge (Duke) of Venice. This Great Council of Venice, a legislative body of consiglieres electing and advising the Doge throughout the ascendancy of that Mediterranean medieval merchant superpower, guided the Republic of Venice for over 600 years. In terms of the modern understanding of that word however, “consigliere” took on some additional (and lesser) meanings in the 20th century when it entered public awareness as a crime story told in cinema.
Why choose to work from that word, then, instead of something else more neutral? It should be easier to use something less laden with historical associations, shouldn’t it? Would it not be far easier to build a positive reputation around something less salacious?
For this organization, we wanted a name that conveyed part of what it means to be a “consultant,” but without the transient feeling of impermanence that word suggests to us. And since we’ve arrived here directly from the world of agile software development, and its paradigms and practices, we wanted something that represented how we do our work in software development - which is not just consulting, but something more. The advice from a prosigliere is given with future outcomes constantly in mind, and so there is a need to revisit results and iterate on the objective’s inputs and assumptions again and again. We felt “consultant” suggests a sort of single snapshot approach that does not fit with how we feel prosiglieres build relationships with the organizations they support.
We could have chosen a word like “advisor,” but this is missing large aspects of what prosiglieres should also do - such as implementing, as well as merely advising. What word communicates the fact that a prosigliere should be engaged in a rigorous cycle of determining best practices or their duty to communicate results with clarity on an ongoing basis?
We could find no word that satisfied every meaning we were looking for. No advisor or consultant has the same level of investment in the real outcomes of their advice as the executive organization to which they provided that counsel. Councillors stick around to see the results, and good ones perhaps stick around for a long time, but none of the advisors, consultants, or councillors ever executes anything at all; they are not expected to be responsible for the kind of ongoing reporting or future accountability that any long-term project or relationship requires.
We needed a new word that just didn’t seem to exist in English.
So we looked elsewhere, outside of business organizations at things like schools of philosophical thought and organized religions and schools of art - anything that might have a word that fit how we thought an enterprise mission service should rightfully be done, and described the kind of relationships we thought should be the de facto. We looked at other languages, and then especially at the border friction of cinema and song where other languages cross over into English and absorb English words in return.
After a bit of searching, we found it. Through the vehicle of the Godfather we have inherited a word that means something more than just a consultant or councillor, though not without challenges to its efficacy: the movies robbed the consiglieres of their medieval peers (consiglio), and made him a lone but trusted aide. This dramatized interpretation of the word “consigliere” is a reduction of the medieval word as it was originally meant - eliminating the team, dramatically narrowing its scope, and along with it (in our opinion), grossly reducing any potential impact it might have.
We want to rescue that word, restore its scope and impact, imbue it back with more of its original medieval meaning, and send a cleaned up “consigliere” back into an evolved consiglio scaled up to the Information Age. Of course we also want to leave the mafia connotations behind: by swapping out the executive from a Corleone to a Company we scale up the recipient of our efforts from a single man to a diverse team with enterprise goals, even as we, the mission service, do the same.
So we have flipped the polarity of the prefix, and call ourselves “pro”-siglieres instead. A prosiglio advises teams, not tyrants, and institutions, not underworlds, and it builds out team structures as impervious to corruption, entropy, and age as it can. It does this by problem analysis, best practice determination, and effective ongoing communication to the executive, while adapting and reacting to change by constantly evolving processes and responses. This is something we are continuously doing through the practices of agile software development in our day jobs with our existing clients, and it is these established processes and practices that make outputs from the software development team predictable, transparent and displayed. This predictability and knowable software outputs is something that may be counted upon for the purposes of planning by the large complicated enterprises that rely upon our prosiglio and what it produces. It is this foundation upon which business planning may be done without being constantly sabotaged by slipping software timelines.
A prosigliere is the set of skills and outlooks and knowledge in the form of a single human being who takes part in the proceedings of a mission-servicing prosiglio. While some prosiglieres will inevitably be heroic, and many of them today will be software developers, they are always meant to be part of a larger, more multi-faceted team. The prosiglieres that comprise each group are ideally balanced with each other, in a discovered harmony of complementary skills, to ensure that the output from this prosiglio is optimized, cadenced, and tuned to the needs of the organization whose business mission it services.
Is it a perfect name? No. I think we will always struggle with some of the shadow realm the movies imbue it with. And most people do not learn the glorious history of Venice in their high school history classes, so it is perhaps an uphill battle to use it as part of the organizational brand. But we have adopted it consciously, despite its imperfection, because it lets us speak about how we think our kind of business relationships work, and more broadly how we think they should look. We want to build a library of best practices here, and so it is a good name for us; we look forward to having conversations here and, hopefully, engaging a community who sees these things the same way we do. We have a lot of exciting projects and conversations to start, and we hope that you’ll join us here to share the journey with us. You can be a prosigliere too.