Why T-shaped people?

Jason Yip
4 min readMar 24, 2018

A T-shaped person is capable in many things and expert in, at least, one.

As opposed to an expert in one thing (I-shaped) or a “jack of all trades, master of none” generalist, a “t-shaped person” is an expert in at least one thing but also somewhat capable in many other things. Alternate phrases for “t-shaped” include, “multi-skilled”, “generalizing specialist”, “icicle-shaped”, “paint drip”, and “broken comb”.

I-shaped vs generalist vs T-shaped

T-shaped people is about adapting to varying demand.

Product delivery teams get asked to do a lot of different things, each of which require different skillsets.

Stuff to do vs what we can handle

We have two general ways to respond to this. The first is to adjust what gets scheduled to balance against what we can handle, aka demand-leveling.

Address variability by shaping demand

The second approach is to make our response more adaptable through T-shaped people.

Address variability by being prepared to adapt

Use experts to clear bottlenecks.

Let’s imagine we have an incomplete task that is blocking overall progress due to dependencies. In this case, the best person to work on the blocking task is the person who can complete it the fastest. The word we assign to people who can complete a particular type of task the fastest is “expert”. Experts are most valuable to clear bottlenecks.

Leverage experts to clear bottlenecks

Use non-experts to free up expert time to clear bottlenecks.

Not every task requires an expert. Offloading non-expert tasks to non-experts frees up expert time to be available for bottlenecks. T-shaped people…

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Jason Yip

Senior Manager Product Engineering at Grainger. Extreme Programming, Agile, Lean guy. Ex-Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl