Work overspecialization by requesting knowledge instead of service

Just writing down a small and simple idea I got while looking John Seddon

Overspecialization is extremely common, and expensive to overcome once established. It has often grown to the extent that everyone in the organization feels helpless in front of it. Changing this requires widening both roles and knowledge.

Culture and knowledge are accumulated from small real incidents. The following could be one practical piece in building wider knowledge and new culture by small steps.

Overspecialization is supported by the basic assumptions of the culture, like:

  • it is more efficient and safe that people do only things they know already (realized and expressed)
  • bottlenecks are handled by external resource planning (realized and expressed)
  • features delivered is value, knowledge and quality is not (realized but denied)
  • avoiding conflict to keep people (=me) happy is more important than organization’s needs (realized but denied)

Overspecialization accumulates by repeating automatically the pattern:

I as the designer with skills limited to MyArea need to implement something that touches YourArea. I add a request to Your backlog and wait. I work to get priority in Your queue. Then you make your change and it hopefully works with mine. Maybe some iteration is needed to finalize.

Result eg.:

  • I own MyArea, you own YourArea
  • I learned the external behavior, “interface”, of YourArea
  • Maybe the changes in YourArea were done more safely and efficiently from YourArea perspective. Maybe.
  • Waiting, handovers and other stuff familiar from lean studies

The key idea is to request knowledge (created together), instead of service (created by You):

I own the change/feature, also what happens at YourArea. I request consultation, advice, knowledge, pair work etc. from you. We need to schedule the co-work. There is however more flexibility in adjusting the interaction and how much effort is needed from You.

Result, eg.:

  • creating new knowledge
  • more short term cost (?assumption?), but even more value
  • overlapping ownership
  • I learn more
  • more possibilities to optimized solution
  • small risk investment, owned by designers

In a similar way, when the business and the team work together with critical details, it creates understanding of the others’ perspectives and values.


One Comment on “Work overspecialization by requesting knowledge instead of service”

  1. Jukka Aakula says:

    The problem is great especially when some disruption happens in the technology. The MyArea changes due to the disruption in a way that my expertise in the area becomes questionable and I feel threatened.

    My question is how to handle that kind of situation.