I had a test lead years ago that did a great job at setting expectations for his people. But for himself, his main goal was always stated as “do whatever it takes to ship the product”. This was really difficult to measure him against. But the concept is an interesting one. Many teams fall somewhere in the spectrum between doing-whatever-it-takes and doing only what each individual wants to do (or product-focused vs. task-focused). I could call the latter selfishness, but is there really anything wrong with a person doing what they want to do? If it helps their career or keeps them motivated, then what’s wrong with that attitude? Actually nothing is wrong with it as long as it is in moderation (and not always at the far end of that spectrum). There will always be a portion of the job that isn’t a person’s favorite, but should be accepted and completed so as to get to the more exciting interesting parts. But this isn’t really just about being selfish; it’s about trust within the team. Doing-whatever-it-takes-to-ship infers trust that the rest of the team will do their part. Nobody can do everything, but if a person needs to help out in a non-traditional area or task, why not? If everyone is doing their part, and the team has matured enough that there is trust, everyone should be thinking about how else to help out. Where on the spectrum does your team fall?
There are advantages in making sure people are identified by discipline (such as dev, test, PM, support, etc). Roles and responsibilities are clearly defined which include priorities, ownership and accountability, and clear growth paths. But the disadvantage is that it leaves the team inflexible. The discipline with the least resources or slowest ability to produce results now becomes the bottle neck for shipping a product. And instead of helping out, the rest of the team may blame or sit idle waiting for them to catch up because they are so task-focused.
Doing-whatever-it-takes allows the team to have agility and efficiency. It also builds pride in what the team is shipping. If the team is more focused on staying in their defined disciplines and focusing on their specific enjoyable tasks, then they must not have pride in their product, otherwise they would be doing whatever it takes to ship it. The downsides to this are risks around confusion of ownership, work duplication not managed closely, and some people who are overly enthusiastic about doing-whatever-it-takes may burnout.
My current team is still trying to figure this out, find the right balance, and decide where on the spectrum they fall. How about yours?