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  • Writer's pictureMark Rajpal

Are T-Shaped Skills Really Necessary?

Let’s say you have an Agile team that is composed of team members with only I-shaped skills. Doesn’t sound good, does it? But collectively these I-shaped individuals have the all the skills necessary to deliver their stories. Maybe they do a great job of handing off work to one another. Starting to sound better? In this situation, it seems like T-shaped skills are more of a nice-to-have and the team is just fine with their I-shaped skills. Here are a few questions to ponder: ·       What happens when a team member is sick? Maybe this isn’t a big deal. ·       What happens when a team member is on vacation for entire sprint of more? Uh oh. ·       What happens when a team member leaves the team or the organization? Oh no!!! All of  a sudden, the team doesn’t have all the necessary skills to complete their work. Incorporating T-shaped skills is a great way to address current and future problems. For instance, a team of I-shaped individuals require handoffs (within the team) to complete their work. But if they had T-shaped skills they may be able to eliminate some or all handoffs. This can be accomplished by incorporating pair programming/mob programming/training/etc. The loss of a team member is likely to affect any team regardless of how they good they are. The inclusion of T-shaped skills essentially addresses risk and allows the team to progress even though it might be at a slower rate. But what about E-shaped skills? Should Agile teams aim for that as well? While E-shaped skills are great to possess, it simply isn’t for everyone. It requires lots of dedication to become really good at multiple technologies. Learning on the job is not enough. Time and effort has to be spent acquiring knowledge. The good news is that most Agile teams don’t require team members with E-shaped skills although it doesn’t hurt to have 1 or 2 that do. However, there are exceptions. For example, some squads at Spotify require E-shaped skills. That’s because a particular squad may be responsible for implementing a feature on the Spotify web site. Then that same squad will implement the same feature on iOS. And then they’ll do the same on Android. So, if your team consists of all I-shaped skills and you intend on proceeding that way, just understand the risks involved. Also, if you are moving to T or E-shaped skills, the choice between the 2 completely depends on your team (i.e. purpose/makeup/desire).

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