George Dinwiddie

Guest post: Specialized Skills

About the Author: George Dinwiddie is an independent software consultant and coach working for [his own business] iDIA Computing. I first “met” George on the notorious Scrum Development email list where I was impressed with his well-reasoned opinions, delivered at a measured pace. In his own words:

I am a software development consultant and coach with over thirty years of experience creating software ranging from small embedded systems to corporate enterprise systems. With a strong interest in lifelong learning, I have pursued more effective ways of creating software at the technical, interpersonal and organizational levels. My specialty is helping teams become more effective while helping them accomplish their current project. I practice consulting, coaching, mentoring, teaching and training.

You should check out more great articles by George on his blog at

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. Stamp with 6-color Crayon Box 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 credit: XKCD used under Creative Commons license 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. credit: BenSpark used under Creative Commons license 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 Painting Palette 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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3 Responses to Guest post: Specialized Skills

  1. (@boostnewmedia) (@boostnewmedia) May 2, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    Guest post: Specialized Skills | via @Scrumology #scrum #agile #pm

  2. (@boostagile) (@boostagile) May 2, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    Guest post: Specialized Skills | via @Scrumology #scrum #agile #pm

  3. Charlie Cheng April 25, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    Thanks for the article. I had exactly same idea but it has been hard for me to tell other people. Thanks

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