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“T-Shaped” vs “I-Shaped” People – Fielding is an Attitude

This is the first of two posts that looks at a sport management idea and attempts to apply it to agile working practices.  Never let it be said that this blog would miss an opportunity to draw sporting analogies.

Fielding is an Attitude

I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of kids who grow up dreaming of being a cricket player, dream of becoming a star batsman, bowler or even a wicket keeper.  Hardly anyone dreams of becoming a star fielder.  Fielding ability may be a consideration when picking a team, but it is a secondary consideration behind a player’s ability to bowl or bat.  And nowhere near as glamourous.

And yet despite all the efforts of the run-making batsman and wicket-taking bowlers, often it is fielding that makes the difference when it comes to winning or losing.  There is even a saying in cricket –  “catches win matches”.   There are many tales in cricketing folklore of the batsman dropped on a low score who then goes on to make a match winning total.  Or the miracle catch that removes the opposition’s key man and turns the match.

Early last year England’s cricket team appointed a new manager, Trevor Bayliss, a man with a fielding obsession.  He describes it as an “attitude”,  an attitude that needs to be instilled and adopted by every player.  One of his first acts as manager was to take the players away to a fielding boot camp that yielded great results a few months later.

T-Shaped vs. I-Shaped People

This struck a chord with me.  I have become obsessed with the ideas of “T-shaped” people vs “I-shaped” people.  In an agile environment, it helps to break down role-based silos.  In order to get things done, the developers may on occasions need to get involved with QA, support and releasing software.  They maintain their depth of knowledge in their core skill-set – the long vertical part of the “T” – but help keep the flow going by getting involved in areas elsewhere – the horizontal short part of the “T”.  

This is in contrast to an “I-shaped” person who offers depth in one area and nothing else.  The developer who codes a story, then moves directly onto the coding part of another story.

A common complaint is that in order to be efficient, the developer needs to be freed up so that the majority of their time is spent on developing.  Free up the business analyst so that they only do analysis.  Lean thinking shows us that this is optimising the individual at the expense of slowing down end-to-end delivery.

Finding or developing “T-shaped” people is an important consideration if teams are going to achieve agile maturity.  And if this is to happen, it is important that the teams realise that this behaviour is an attitude.  It is better for this to be coached rather prescribed.

If the team achieves this, their ability to deliver value and quality with a regular cadence will be greatly enhanced.

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