The “T” shaped concept is not new, but it is foundational to worker productivity and success for organizations trying to meet the challenges brought on by the speed of disruption. Simply put, rapid change can be devastating. It brings obsolescence in a short order (think RIM), but with that devastation comes accelerated growth opportunity (think Facebook all of 10 years old).
Large organizations under the typical hierarchical management structure maneuver like the Titanic in the best of times and like glaciers in the worst of times. To deal with the “melting sun” of disruption, these “glaciers” are flattening, a.k.a. empowering teams to drive product direction and make critical decisions in order to shorten time to market. Some call this self-directed teams; others employee/team empowerment. Whatever the moniker of the day, it can’t happen without building “T” shaped workers.
For over a 100 years (since the industrial revolution), we’ve lived under a basic organizational philosophy: workers produce and managers think/direct/monitor/report. Call it micro-management if you want, but the basic tool to drive productivity was the manager finding efficiencies in the system, workers, or both. The worker just had to be good at the task performed. The “thinking” beyond that task was done for them. In order to grow, the worker developed deeper and deeper expertise on their role and work. When things don’t change or change slowly, this model works. But if change happens and compounds, it gets messy quick.
Sound familiar? There is a significantly high potential you are still working in this model. As a worker, you grow by building technical/work function expertise. You are building out your bottom of the “T”. Bottom of the “T” skills are critical but very limiting, especially if you are faced with making the move to manager under this structure. You make the move, yet you will hardly ever go back and use the bottom of the “T” skills. What you require in the new manager role is top of the “T” skills.
The top of the “T” skills center on the “art of business.” The skills include problem solving, curiosity, negotiation, presentation, critical thinking, domain knowledge, and diplomacy to name a few. It is one thing to know how to do something. It is another thing to know how to get that something done. The bigger the company, especially hierarchical ones, the harder it is to get something—or for that matter get anything—done. This article from Psychology Today digs into the top of the “T” skill set.
As a Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) professional, you are at the center of this evolution in management. The very nature of your position requires both a strong set of technical/work skills plus an ability to work with people and get things done in your organization (one element of domain knowledge). This is true whether you are a business analyst, project manager, tester, developer, architect, or systems analyst. Naturally, based on 100+ years of servitude to the hierarchical management system, the tendency of SDLC professionals is to focus on the bottom of the “T” skill set. Get the function done, but don’t add to the bigger goal, because that is the role of someone else. Two things have spawned from this: outsourcing and agile.
The reasoning for outsourcing is simple: to see when you think about the above. If you do a functional task, based on basic economic principals, I can get that task done cheaper in a country with a lower standard of living. The skill is the skill. If you have it, you can do the work. So value is now in the cost it takes to get those services. Off-shore outsourcing provides cost value because of different standards of living. Let’s just hope you have some very strong top of the “T” skilled managers.
Agile, on the other hand, focuses on valuing people, not the cost of people. Agile as a way of working drives the self-organized team model as a cornerstone principal, working hard to throw away the hierarchical model. It demands fully “T-ized” workers. There is NO value in outsourcing within an Agile environment. Let’s just hope you have enough “T-ized” workers.
Inside or outside an Agile environment, the writing is on the wall for the hierarchical management style. It was built to drive unskilled or semi-skilled process work. It is demoralizing at best, life sucking at worst when used to direct skilled and creative workers. Companies trying to compete as well as drive the productivity goals required to keep stock prices high are seeing their own path is toward employee enablement. So you just don’t think this idea is in a vacuum, here are a few links to review:
But all this comes at a cost for the employee and the company. The cost is in establishing and executing a human capital plan that is fully “T”. If you are a worker who isn’t fully “T”, there are long-term risks of outsourcing or replacement. If you are a company, you can train to fully “T” your organization or hire to do so. Either way costs money, but your other alternative is to do nothing and risk devastation by disruption. This cost is really an investment with a significant return for companies and employees. For the employee, you significantly increase employability; for the company, you significantly increase the potential to stay in business. To me, both are great returns on investment.
About the Author
David Mantica is president of the ASPE, a division of Fortis College, family of professional training companies. His career as a business leader in the training industry spans almost twenty years. As a specialist in business-to-business continuing education, David brings deep experience to roles in executive, product management, marketing, and operations capacities. He has led or conducted product management efforts around more than 300 training courses.
This post was originally published on the ASPE SDLC blog.