Kedron Rhodes Thoughts on Design, Innovation & Leadership

T-Shaped by Demand

One of the most fundamental ingredients for successfully bringing a product to market is an effective and diverse team. With all the talk about Broken-Comb and T-Shaped individuals, it's helpful to know how to evaluate what will work best for you and your team.

Pros Cons
  • Skilled at adapting to new context
  • Broad knowledge of available solutions
  • Flexible contributor
  • Lacks efficiency
  • Exceptional quality comes at a greater cost – if at all
  • Deep domain and discipline knowledge
  • Efficiency built on experience
  • Exceptional quality
  • Not easily interchangeable with other team roles
  • Narrow view of available solutions

This isn't a definitive list, but I think it covers the basics pretty well. So how do you decide which is best for your team? I think that depends on the type of work you anticipate accomplishing.

For example, as a consultancy you may want to staff your team with Broken-Combs, which reduces the pain for the sales team (they can sell a broader portfolio of work) and production managers (who have an easier time keeping people billable).

On the other hand, if you’re the product owner, hiring T-Shaped team players optimizes for quality and efficiency.

Savvy customers demand higher quality and lower prices. This demand for quality and efficiency (where many businesses first look to lower the cost of production and distribution) is forcing many people to reconsider the sustainability of Broken-Comb.

There is an overlooked reality when it comes to delivering quality — your average skills plus my average skills don’t produce above average products and services. Granted, you may be able to gain a little ground, but it doesn’t compare to the results of a synergistic team stacked with excellence.

Visualizing the continued demand for quality and how teams have the potential to deliver against increased demand might look like this (fig 1: broken comb, fig 2: t-shaped):

Broken comb skills
T-shaped skills

Stacking your team with T-Shaped teammates comes with a leadership challenge, above and beyond that of a team of Broken-Combs. Individuals with a deep understanding of their craft and domain generally have higher standards and are more apt to defend those standards.

The demand for excellence, by its very nature, demands courageous leadership — leadership that accepts constraints, but never compromises.

For a counterpoint, let me suggest David Cole's article, "The Myth of the Myth of the Unicorn Designer".