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Taking Agile to the Next Level with Cross-Functional Teams

Taking Agile to the Next Level with Cross-Functional Teams

Agile isn’t enough on its own – it requires a dedicated team to make it work. Despite all benefits that this approach offers (speed, stability, security, etc.), it’s often impacted by ineffective communication structures which in their turn influence the way software is designed, tested and delivered to clients. In this situation, a cross-functional team may be the solution your organisation needs.

Defining Cross-Functional Teams

Cross-functional teams (CFTs) can be defined as “groups that are made up of people from different functional areas within a company.” These teams consist of members at the same level of the hierarchy who are empowered to make customary decisions and handle the entire scope of a project from start to finish.

Benefits of CFTs include:

  • Ensure diversity of experience, expertise, and knowledge
  • Increase creativity and problem solving
  • Help avoid groupthink
  • Encourage the development of new features and new ways of looking at a project
  • Help minimise delays and task switching
  • Help minimise defects
  • Save time (no need to communicate project goals to members outside the team)

Cross-functional teams are not without disadvantages. It may take more time to reach an agreement between team members with different experiences and backgrounds. So the leader has to manage the team very carefully to mitigate conflicting interests.

Taking Agile to the Next Level

According Conway’s Law, “any organisation that designs a system will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organisation’s communication structure.” In other words, your teams naturally develop software that is reflective of your culture. This software, in turn, has a significant impact on the existing culture.

Going cross-functional is one of the steps to make it easier to design a truly Agile code. However, it’s important to remember that when putting a diverse team together, you will have to either provide an excessive number of members (overstaff) or allow the team to underperform in the short term in order to expand their knowledge and then achieve long-term benefits.

Mistakes to Avoid when Starting a Cross-Functional Team

Two mistakes that are common among cross-functional teams are:

  • Poor team structure: Being a truly cross-functional team is not just about having all necessary skills to move a user story to completion – you must learn to keep together from project to project. Members should be willing to grow and challenge each other as they become familiar with everyone’s skills.
  • Fear: One of the biggest fears is the fear of commitment. Team members often under commit because they are afraid to be responsible or blamed for failure. Strive to create the environment of trust where, in case of failure, the team can examine the problem without scapegoating and finger-pointing.

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