People love labels. As soon as you meet someone they instantly want to classify you. Web designer? Gen-Y? Level 50 Shaman? Shffft – you’re labeled.

Same thing happens on software projects. Whenever we form teams we naturally want to know the role each of us is going to play: Developer? Analyst? Tester? PM? Bam – you’re labeled.

Labels are fine, but they can stop you from thinking. ‘It’s not my job’ to worry about how the application works, or that there’s a bug with the print screen. QA or someone else on the team will pick that up.

When you think you are defined by a role or a title you are.

But we all know the most valuable members on our teams are usually those who can where multiple hats.

It’s the developer who has a passion for testing.
The tester who can code.
The analyst who thinks about design.
And the designer who has a passion for the business.

As agile gets more mainstream, I think we are going to see more and more of this style of work.

The rise of the generalist.

Where no single team member is limited by a role or title. Multiple people simultaneously where multiple hats. Much like a startup.

Dan Pink sums it up best in Drive: The Surprising Truth Behind what motivates us.

If we are truly going to empower our people, and let them do whatever it takes, then we better get out of their way and support them in playing whatever role(s) they need to play.

So don’t let a title or role stop you from serving your customer. Use whatever innate skill and ability you’ve got.

And if this subject of how agile teams work is of interest to you, come see me speak at Agile 2011 in Salt Lake city where I will be presenting a talk titled The Surprising Science Behind Agile Leadership and what really motivates us.