I need to admit I have some wicked hobbies. One of them is spotting absolutely ridiculous job positions/functions on LinkedIn, just for kicks'n'giggles. Some of them are absolutely bonkers & it's super-hard to imagine what sane person could come up with an idea for such a role. I planned to put here some examples, but you know how it works - there'll always be at least one person with hurt feelings, derailing conversation from what's really important. Which in this case is ...

... my idea of introducing yet another role, even crazier than whatever you can already find on LinkedIn. Yes, even the "Scrum Master". Without further ado, I believe every organization should appoint a ...

Grim Reaper

Let's structure it properly - by defining a (role's) goal and some mission statement. Grim Reaper (GR) has a solo purpose in the organization - identify, question, confirm, & mark for decommission everything that:

  • is not needed
  • doesn't bring any value
  • waters down the necessary focus

Examples? Here we go: processes to be simplified or eliminated, FIFO gate-keepers who slow things down, post-factum manual checks that could have been preliminary automated ones, features no one uses, even whole roles/positions that "have always been there" but no one remembers why, initiatives that serve only personal purposes (e.g., self-promotion), all these layers of operational hamster-like wheel-running - crap that adds no value, only complexity.

Why do we need such a role? Oh, for numerous reasons: the human tendency to see value only in added content/processes/features/etc., "parenthood" syndrome (our emotional weakness towards whatever we've fathered/mothered ourselves), inability to acknowledge the sunk cost - it's just the tip of the iceberg.

But how would a Grim Reaper work? It sounds like a dangerous role that could potentially turn out ... toxic?

I see it as a full-time job. GR has got a mandate to be everywhere & question everything. Obviously not by claiming straight away that everything is stupid, but by asking good questions & being relentless in diving deep into answers received. The contribution of such a person would be measured by how much waste has been identified & flagged as such. If you're familiar with the Amazonian concept of Bar Raiser (BR), the idea here is very similar. But while BR's mission is typically narrowly defined (recruitment, product envisioning, writing), GR is a free-roaming role driven by lean principles & search for value.

Would that person do the decommissioning her/himself (e.g., cancel a project, withdraw a feature)? No. Their accountability is to raise identified waste (with a properly documented justification based on facts & metrics) to people authorized to make such a decision.

This is EVIL

Wouldn't people be scared of such a person? Her/his job is basically questioning their work 100% of the time. That sounds like the best way to create new conflicts, antagonize folks & build an unhealthy everyday work atmosphere - especially if someone thinks the criticism is personal.

I can imagine that would be an intuitive, subliminal reaction to the new role - but that's ... OK. It's our (leaders') role to convince people that this role is not aimed to criticize them personally but to make sure we all do only what truly matters - ain't that one of the key motivators we share at work?

I think defining some expectations here would be helpful - e.g., I don't imagine GR being 100% right all the time. There's a lot of value in questioning itself, even if it ends with the statement: "Leave it be; it's valuable stuff we should keep." Another question mark is related to only some deficiencies being worth pursuing - according to the Theory of Constraints, we should always focus only on the bottlenecks (on the critical path). I used to follow this literally until I stopped ... - ignoring deficiencies (because they are not at the top of the priority list) has a significant detrimental effect on the company's culture. Shit becomes a new normal (so we all end up surrounded by stock-piling crap).

Isn't it OK to be wrong (sometimes)?

Wouldn't such a hunt for inefficiencies be a hammer on all innovation & experimentation? In some cases, the evolutionary approach (think: pivot or persevere) is a way to go, but decent results do not pop up until late in the game. What to do to make sure GR does not butcher the hen before she lays golden eggs? I strongly believe it's all about having a proper experimentation framework with the necessary structure & governance: clear metrics to measure, timeboxed execution, WIP limit, and regularly assessed progress. In such a case, Grim Reaping is an inherent part of the process - it can be put to a good death if it's stalled, there's no visible progress, and there's no idea of how to get it back on track.

Shouldn't we all be Grim Reapers?

In one of my previous blog posts, I criticized the enterprise trend for creating positions aimed at taking care of narrow, particularly troublesome organizational problems ("Do you have a pain point you struggle with? Create a dedicated managerial position - it's someone else's problem now!"). To be frank, GR seems like following that exact path - if we have a problem with focus, organizational scrappiness & everyday effectiveness, shouldn't we make GRing everyone's part-time duty? Isn't that the correct way to fix our organization's culture?

That sounds like an excellent idea, but it also misses an essential point (mentioned at the beginning of this blog post) - we actually do look for someone else's perspective here to ensure we don't get stuck in our biases (e.g., confirmation bias).

Half-baked? Yes, but there is potential

I'm not saying I've just handed you a ready-made recipe. Like any other role that's basically designed to eliminate itself (if executed properly), it's hard to define & implement correctly in just one go. It also requires a very special kind of personality: crystal-clear communication, open-mindedness, strong analytical thinking, and a lot of tenacity. Not everyone can play this role. But I still see it as a worthwhile effort - can you think of a better mechanism to eliminate the (in)famous "elephants in the room"? It's also a high-impact role that can deliver lots of measurable benefits, as well as a healthy dose of satisfaction from a job well done.

P.S. Contrary to what you might think, Elon Musk did not inspire the role of GR. Yes, after reading the great Walter Isaacson's latest book, I have to admit that he fits the description in many ways (just look at his "algorithm" ...), but I actually designed this role (yes, it was called GR) a few months ago, with different inspirations in mind.

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