Week 43, 2021—Issue #175
Value Creation: Makers, Managers, and Mechanics
Each week: three ideas on the future of work. This week: three ways to create value in organizations. Originally published in the WorkMatters newsletter on October 29, 2021.
I’ve written previously about the virtues of role-based organizational structures. I’ve shared Paul Graham’s distinction between Makers and Managers. I’ve covered Naval Ravikant’s thinking about leverage. And more recently, I’ve come across the following visual while reading about “orchestration” and the rise of disciplines such as DevOps and DesignOps:
These are career paths in modern design organizations. And as you can see, there are three of them: People, Craft, and Operations — three entirely different ways to add and create value in teams. It’s a structure that is both simple and profound. And as I hope to argue below, it’s a structure applicable not just to design teams but to organizations at large.
Let’s dig in.
How do you create value in your organization? If you’re like most people, you are probably an Individual Contributor or IC for short. And assuming you are a knowledge worker, you’re probably what Graham would call a Maker — a person focused on deep work and mastery. You don’t have a lot of leverage. Indeed, the value you provide is in direct proportion to the expertise you possess. You’re either an artisan or a specialist or on your way to becoming one. You are on the Craft track.
You can choose to remain a Maker for the duration of your career, or you can choose to branch out and go into management. If you do, you’ll invariably take on more shallow work (e.g., meetings, emails, and phone calls). But that might be OK because you also gain leverage. As a Manager, you primarily create value by serving others. That is, you’re a servant leader responsible for attracting, motivating, and developing talent in individuals and teams, respectively. You are on the People track.
Management might not be your thing, however. If not, you might consider an alternate route that allows for deep work and mastery and leverage — all at the same time. You can become a Mechanic — a technocrat that creates and maintains the tools, technologies, and processes that others need to be productive. Depending on your starting point, you can be an Agile Coach, a Scrum Master, a DevOps or DesignOps professional, etcetera. Either way, you’ll be on the Operations track.
Note that sometimes it can be hard to draw a clear distinction between these tracks. Most positions contain aspects of two or three tracks at once. One is usually dominant, as is the case with an engineer (Maker) with DevOps skills (Mechanic) that also acts as a team lead (Manager), but it can get… complicated.
This is where a role-based organizational structure can help. In such a structure, each person fills multiple roles, each with its own way of creating value. These roles then combine into positions — positions that can be tailored to your strengths and your way to add value.
That’s all for this week.
Until next time: Make it matter.