I’ve been talking to an increasing number of people who struggle to answer the question “So what do you do?” These are UX designers who end up tackling a large part of development, developers who find themselves running strategic efforts at their job, and other jack-of-all-trades people who run the gamut of job responsibilities.
These people are often uncomfortable admitting they don’t know exactly where they fit in within their organization. I’m here to tell you that’s ok.
I think job roles can be broken into two categories: bricks and mortar. Both bricks and mortar are required to make structurally-sound walls, even though they play different roles.
Bricks are solid, reliable, and have clear shapes and boundaries. It’s absolutely important to have team members who are bricks, like the dependable backend developer who’s passion is server setup and management. Or the dedicated project manager who’s sole job is to keep the project on track.
Everyone loves bricks. They conveniently fit into Excel cells, and project managers love that. But while it’s possible to build walls only using bricks, they’re not going to be as stable as they should be. This is what happens at rigidly-siloed organizations. Can brick-only organizations launch projects? Absolutely. Can these projects afford to be a lot sturdier? Absolutely.
It’s important for projects to also incorporate people who serve as mortar. Unlike clearly-defined bricks, mortar peoples’ job responsibilities are murky. They fill in the gaps. They can float between high-level and in-the-weeds work and work with different disciplines. And while they might have a core concentration (the stem of the T), they have a solid understanding of most areas of a project (the cross bar of the T). Mortar people serve as the glue that helps hold the bricks together, which leads to sturdier projects.
These people are harder to hire, and harder to place neatly into a project plan’s spreadsheet. But they’re just as essential to a successful project as bricks.
Because mortar people are harder to place, they need to fight for autonomy or else they’ll be pigeon-holed into the role of a brick. This leads to frustration and dissatisfaction. Been there, done that.
Build Solid Walls
Our websites are fluid, so our processes and workflows need to match. The trend away from rigid waterfall processes provides an opportunity for organizations to better incorporate mortar people into their projects.
I’d say it’s a great time to struggle to answer the question “So what do you do?”.