Are you T-shaped?

t-shapedA common problem in increasing the flow of work through a development pipeline is over-specialisation. The bottleneck might be in getting the analysis done, yet we have plenty of developers who have nothing to do since they have no analysis skills. Then the bottleneck moves to the front-end development yet we discover we have plenty of back-end developers but none who know how to code the front-end. And so on. Enter the T-shaped individual which is a common lean-agile practice applied to address this issue and increase throughput through the development pipeline.

What is a T-Shaped Individual?

A T-shaped individual is not the same as a generalist. He or she has deep expertise in one area but is able and willing to turn his/her hand to other things.

How can I promote this approach?

Teams I have worked with that have been committed to this practice have found the following helpful:

  1. Hire people who want to develop outside their specialism An expert in, say, workflow, is not going to get an opportunity to learn just about workflow. In developing T-shaped individuals, the learning opportunities might be in rules or service bus, business analysis, performance testing etc. New hires have to want this.
  2. Organise around the flow of value If the team are not organised around the flow of value but instead around developing components which are only part of the whole, then there will be little opportunity to develop skills outside one’s own specialism.
  3. Actively manage the skill map One way of doing this is to identify all the different skill areas required to produce value. Then the entire team score themselves against this in one of 4 ways. This skill map is then used helping the team decide who does what and for managing skill development. This also enables team members to learn and develop in the areas that interest them and helps with minimising dependencies on key individuals.


I can teach others
I can do the job with help from others
I can do the job alone
I am eager to learn


Fig. 1. A simple rating of skill level


Would T-shaped individuals help improve the throughput of your delivery pipeline? Are you willing to make any necessary changes to your hiring practice and organisation?

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