Specialization – Against Mediocrity

Worker with a hammer

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Only differentiated companies grow and outstand. Mediocre companies fight even to survive. What attributes can a company address in order to differentiate itself from the crowd? Just about every relevant business component may be explored with that purpose: products, services, logistics, recruiting, training, communication, information systems, and work environment are common examples.

Is there a sure way to help a company differentiate itself in the market? To do things better, different? The answer is professional specialization. Physicians learned this centuries ago; so did the construction business. Manufacturing areas seek it tirelessly, and even sports teams play by these rules. Curiously, however, this is not the norm in technology departments within companies of various sizes – often some of the most complex and dynamic in the market, for which something that is important and relevant today will tomorrow become obsolete.

Many IT organizations still test software with unqualified people, have software configuration managed by untrained staff, manage projects with people who have never managed teams, have non-DBAs/DAs taking care of important databases, and have business processes analyzed and reviewed by those unfamiliar with the processes at hand. In practicality, if a company wants good designs, it had better hire a designer. Or an infrastructure architect if it needs a sound technical infra-structure. Or a good software architect for well architected applications.

We don’t go to a dermatologist, no matter how competent he may be, for a cardiac surgery. We also don’t entrust the architecture of a dream home to a carpenter. Similarly, we should not have technology-related tasks performed by people who have not been prepared for the job. A generalist professional will not have the technique, the proper personal profile, nor the experience of specialists. Therefore he will not be able to operate at top levels of refinement and creativity. Although there are professionals who can excel in more than one area of expertise (Da Vinci certainly succeeded), these are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Obviously, applying specialists is not always easy or feasible, yet trying to do so is always the best first step. Routine, high volume activities will easily justify hiring such specialized professionals, while low volume jobs may require approaches such as using contractors or shared services.

How then can surprising, simple, rich, differentiating IT solutions be conceived and implemented? Very much in the same way that fantastic surgeries are performed, gorgeous buildings are raised and stunning moves are performed in sports–through people with specific abilities and profiles, applying proper techniques, after a lot of practice. Although managers tend to prefer when things are simple, it is worthwhile to remember what Einstein said. Things should be made as simple as possible, not any simpler. We should respect the complexity of current technologies, methodologies, and tools and have people who possess the right expertise do each job. Moreover, we should avoid the risk illustrated by a child wielding a hammer: everything becomes a nailhead.