This might be a bit of an unpopular opinion, but I think most tech organizations have way too many specific and niched-down roles too soon. Some companies feel like a weird scene from Downton Abbey where there was a different servant to take care of every utensil and minor task. Tiny teams have project managers, five different types of engineers that never overlap in responsibility, a scrum master, various QA roles, and more. Just like the epidemic of teams that cannot get anything done because they have dozens of different microservices four months into the company’s inception, some leaders seem to be thinking the same about their orgs. Perhaps it’s because many come from a history of software engineering, where we come to value concepts such as decoupling and encapsulation. However, your team’s not code!
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
How did we end up in this role-bloated standard? I believe that, like many of the illnesses of the tech industry, this is part of the problem that was “free money.” Teams were growing for the sake of growing. Headcount was a vanity metric that most founders wanted to tout. “We’re in hyper-growth!”
The climate in the tech industry is no longer in support of that (well unless you’re doing AI), and therefore crazy hiring seems to no longer be in vogue. Nevertheless, many leaders who have “grown up” during these years now seem to hold the misconception that these roles are still necessary. That’s more often than not wrong. This is a new era, and it’s time to try and push for less structure, at least in titles.
I genuinely believe that this is a great opportunity for many. I’ve been a strong proponent of smaller teams for years, and now that the market is kind of twisting our arms to do just that, we can learn to live with this happily. Instead of hiring people adamant about only touching code in a specific language or framework, look for people who are not as dogmatic. That naturally makes people more impactful and the team as a whole more productive. You have less bloat, and everyone can move more easily. It’s like all the extra structure in Savile Row suits as opposed to an unstructured Neapolitan jacket that breathes and lets you move more freely (sorry, I’m sartorially inclined).
Having worked with hundreds of teams, I can say you should adopt a simple rule of thumb: don’t add extra rigidness to your roles and organizations until you reach the point where you are aching to add it. Adding structure as a “preemptive move” is rarely the right decision. Stay scrappy, stay foolish.
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