Week 223: Responsibilities

| Hans Gerwitz

A year ago I wrote about our resistance to roles.

Since then, half of the team is new but the character of the studio and our work has remained remarkably stable. I’ve been reflecting on roles again lately.

Our growth has been slow as we insist on hiring and truly integrating people. It is normal for agencies to use freelancers to grow and shrink, but this is not conducive to the sort of atmosphere we want to work in. And of course our integrated approach makes finding compatible people a challenge.

In our last search, the most promising candidate asked to “discuss my role a bit more in detail.” It always requires some effort to make a position here legible to someone who is weighing offers that map to well-defined boxes.

Articulating an answer this time, I found myself discussing responsibilities over roles. Even without clearly defined roles, our project process is not an ambiguous soup. We concern ourselves with responsibility for specific outcomes. Though assigning responsibilities is common in project management, mapping to individuals rather than abstract titles is not. At The Artificial, though, it’s difficult to imagine putting anyone neatly into a single contributor role.

Aligned with this, Shannon uses a maturity model that helps frame growth towards taking on more responsibility rather than arbitrary levels. This is more effort but much more empowering than the “does a manager think you seem senior” games that titles engender.

Our aforementioned studio manager, Nathalie, started last month. I scrambled to create a plan for sharing responsibilities, which has been more flexible than blunt job definitions I’ve utilized in the past.

In my life as a software architect, I might have said that we manage with fine-grained contracts instead of large interfaces, but that’s a pretty oblique metaphor.