Are Job Titles Important?

Every organization uses job titles as a way of describing the contribution of an individual employee. Titles are important within an organization for employees to understand their role and their relationships with other employees. But titles are often meaningless outside a particular organization. When someone is looking for skills training or professional development opportunities for their role, it is sometimes difficult to match a job title with a skill description.

Agile Organization’s Use of Titles

This is becoming even more challenging as agile practices become more popular. Agile approaches don’t value titles and instead refer to everyone as a “team member.” There may be a team leader (e.g., ScrumMaster) and a business representative (Product Owner), but outside of these named roles, other participants are not clearly differentiated. The idea that everyone on a team helps is a great philosophy, but we still need to have named roles or titles that describe our unique skills and the value we bring to the team.

Benefits of Using Titles

In the software development industry, we have spent the last 40 years trying to figure out what skills are needed and who best performs different types of work. Industry organizations like the Project Management Institute (PMI) have helped define roles and skills for professions like project management, where titles are now more consistently used and understood. In our complex environments, one person cannot know everything. Specialization allows an individual to contribute in a very specific way to the team’s product. Managers who assemble teams need to be able to make intelligent assignments based on the needed skills.

Employees need clear direction about the expectations for their contribution. I’m not saying that a Project Manager can’t help out with software testing when the team needs it, but when he or she performs testing it should be obvious to everyone that this is not his or her specialty. Hopefully, a Software Quality Assurance Analyst will be leading this work and using his or her expertise to make sure the tasks are completed correctly.

Importance of Titles

Titles are very important for knowledge workers like Business Analysts. On an agile team, the Business Analyst works with the Product Owner to make sure the highest-value product features are prioritized first, and then works with the developers to create working software that can be presented to business stakeholders for refinement. The work of the Business Analyst on an agile team is less visible (requirements may not be formally documented), but is nevertheless critical to the success of the project. Many agile approaches have missed the Business Analyst as a critical role because of the difficulty of “seeing” analytical thinking and problem-solving tasks.

To be successful, a team must have individuals with the specific skills to build the business solution. Understanding the needed skills and being able to identify individuals with these skills is the management challenge of today. Titles ARE Important.