In many organizations, teams are not connected to each other and function in silos. Their planning is not coordinated, and efforts are not synchronised, which could result in a chaotic situation where the marketing team is aggressively promoting one product, while the sales team is planning a flash sale on another, and the content team is sending out social media messages on something entirely different! If only all these teams could coordinate their efforts, they could together achieve goals and build the business in a cohesive way.
This can be streamlined and better organized by introducing the concept of cross functional teams. A popular concept in Agile methodologies, a cross-functional team is the lifeblood of an Agile project. What does the term mean, and how does it add value to the work done? How do such teams help to build better products with quicker turnaround times? Our article helps you find out!
Scrum Teams are cross-functional, meaning the members have all the skills necessary to create value each Sprint. - Scrum Guide
Let’s start with the definition of a cross-functional team. As the name implies, the team comprises members who are well-versed in different functionalities and come together to work toward achieving a common goal. Such a team is usually non-hierarchical and includes members from all levels of the organization. An Agile team that is cross functional could include developers, designers, testers and product managers.
Let’s take an example of a company that works in the old-fashioned, traditional way. Teams work in silos, and typically no one on one team knows what the other team is doing. Now picture the plight of a customer who has to find out something about a product and makes a call to the customer queries department. He is continually put on hold or transferred to another department, simply because there is no one who has the complete picture and can answer the customer’s question!
This would never happen in an organization that works with cross functional teams. There is complete transparency on all processes, daily meetings where pain points and progress are discussed, and every team member is completely aware of every bit of work that is being done to roll out the product. Cross functional teams work together to multitask on the work that must be completed. In doing so, they optimize time, money and effort and meet goals in a collaborative manner.
In traditional waterfall development, each team works on a specific set of requirements that are then handed over to the next team, and there is very little visibility into the work done by different teams. There are severe information silos and overall lack of transparency which often results in costly mistakes or technical solutions that are overly complex.
Cross functional teams avoid such gaps, working with technical agility to pool resources and come up with optimal solutions. There is a team approach to test innovative solutions, proving that many heads put together work better than one. The result? Much better products that are built quicker at lower costs, and with less rework.
As companies find that cross functional teams consistently check all the right boxes, this approach is growing in popularity. Some of the benefits of deploying cross functional teams include the following:
Cross functional teams are well aligned on goals and objectives and catch up during daily meetings to discuss the progress made the previous day, tasks lined up for the day ahead, and any impediments that may be hindering work progress. These meetings are highly productive and are time-boxed to keep them short and effective.
Agile teams always have the customer in focus. The user stories are created with different user personas in mind, and the product goals are created from the point of view of the end user. When the team is comprised of people with different skillsets, those who have UI/UX expertise will give their inputs and contribute at early stages of the ideation, resulting in improved user experiences.
As cross functional teams are made up of members with diverse skills, they can brainstorm and innovate, and get each other’s feedback at critical junctures. Any changes needed can be rolled out quickly instead of waiting for outsider feedback. This helps to save on precious time and resources, as rework is minimized.
Cross functional teams have all the skills within the team, and outside dependencies are reduced. This allows them to iterate quickly and increases productivity multi-fold.
Agile approaches using cross functional teams are easy to scale. Every area of expertise is available within the team itself, and there is no need to hire additional resources in order to scale across a large project.
Agile fosters innovation and nurtures out-of-the-box thinking. People with diverse skills will view the product from their own perspective, and when many minds are put together it sparks creativity and new ways of thinking. Agile teams often bring fresh ideas to the table and get to have their opinions heard at every stage.
When people with diverse skills and perspectives work together, the risk of failure is mitigated. If something is not going well, it’s very easy to course correct and turn things around. Agile works on the concept of incremental product releases with quick turnaround times. Any bugs or issues that arise as the work progresses are quickly addressed, instead of waiting till the final stage to undertake the testing.
While there may be many other roles on the team, which will vary depending on the project, a cross-functional agile team always includes a Product Owner and a Scrum Master. These two roles are critical to the success of the project.
The Product Owner is the voice of the customer on the Scrum team. Product Owners have a deep understanding of the product itself and elicit the requirements from stakeholders which is then conveyed to the team members. They create the product vision and prioritize product requirements and features to help maximize the value.
The Scrum Master is the true leader of the Scrum team. As someone who dons multiple hats, the Scrum Master acts as a servant leader, motivator, agile coach, facilitator, problem-solver, thinker and mentor, all at the same time! He or she serves the team, the product owner and the developers, and also has responsibilities toward the organization. As a Scrum expert, the Scrum Master helps to implement Scrum and iron out any obstacles to progress.
The Developers do the actual work on the Scrum team and can complete sprint goals without any external dependencies. The rest of the team may comprise software engineers, architects, coders, analysts, system admins, quality experts, designers and testers.
It has been proven that the most productive teams have what is called T-shaped expertise. What this means is that each team member has in-depth expertise in one area, but also has a wider skill set that supports the main skills and is valuable to the team. These so-called T-shaped people have sufficient knowledge to collaborate and give inputs on other areas too and can speak the same language as other team members who have deep expertise in a supporting domain.
Let’s wrap up!
As the pace of industry innovation continues to accelerate, more and more companies are turning to Agile to keep up with the change. Coordination and collaboration between teams can make or break a business. The concept of cross functional teams is embedded into the Agile mindset, where all team members are equally important and equally accountable for project success.
An organization that has a primary working structure comprising cross-functional teams is better coordinated, able to come up with innovative ideas, and can significantly reduce production cycle times. Cross functional agile teams are engaged deeply with the work, feel a deep sense of ownership over how the project progresses, and are much more likely to come up with products that capture the pulse of the market and meet customer needs.