Specialized Skills

This content is syndicated from George Dinwiddie's blog by George Dinwiddie. To view the original post in full, click here.

Whether we’re talking about revolutionary new web services, IT systems to automate internal procedures, or products to sell in boxes, there are many different sorts of things that need to be done. We need to envision the product, decide what’s required to be done, design it, build it, make sure it works, and put it into production where we can reap the benefits. Except in the smallest of circumstances, doing all of these things requires the work of multiple people. And, given that we need multiple people, and that we need a variety of skills, it’s natural that some people specialize in some thing and others specialize in different things. But we can take that specialization too far. And if we over-specialize, then we do these different things in isolation. It’s like having a small box of crayons.   One person takes the red crayon, others orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. With that, we try to create a glorious full-color work of art. It’s no surprise that’s hard to do. Colors in the real world flow from one named color to another, without a discernible boundary. It’s a continuous spectrum to which we’ve given names at certain approximate points. You just can’t draw the world as we see it using only six crayons. The typical corporate response is to add more crayons.  And more people to hold those crayons. And more delays caused by passing things from one person to another. And… we still don’t get the picture we want. The more people we have, and especially the more specialists, the harder it is to get a pleasing cohesive picture. We don’t need to eliminate specialization, though. Just blur the boundaries a little. We can get the full-color rendition we want with our limited palette if we blend the colors where they meet. Rather than pass the work from one type of the work to the next, let the people doing those different types of work work together. They might even swap colors with each other from time to time. Odds are, they’ll do a much better job at producing the picture you want.

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