Today’s insight focuses on the very core of Agile culture – the people and team dynamics, some of the most important success factors

The best preface for this article can be found in the concept introduced some 50 years ago by Melvin Conway, american computer scientist and programmer, known today as Convay’s Law:

“Any organization that designs a system (defined more broadly here than just information systems) will inevitably produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.”

Essentially, this means that people who work closely together and communicate frequently and effectively will create software and products that reflects this concept, and vice versa. This is also one of the biggest challenges for companies that used to have organizational silos – breaking the silos and creating a cross-functional teams that work in sync.

Lean & Agile mindset are based on the culture of constant feedback, agility and adaptability, quick response to change, respect and collaboration with customers (customers being also your coworkers who consume your work or decisions), and the best environment for these values and principles to flourish is within a cross-functional team. As a matter of fact, rallydev.com points out that poor team structure is one of the most common mistakes that a new Agile team can make.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most influential definitions of cross-functional teams.

Kenneth S. Rubin, the first Managing Director of the worldwide Scrum Alliance, in his best-seller Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process, defines the cross-functional teams as follows[1]:

neomobile_cross-functional-team_kenneth-rubin

 

Similar definition, with an slightly bigger emphasis on team’s motivation, is provided by Henrik Kniberg, Agile/Lean coach, in his insight “Is your team cross-functional enough?“:

 

neomobile_cross-functional-team_henrik-kniberg

 

As both authors point out, cross-functional team members do not have to know everything, but they should have the so called T-shaped skills. This concept referrers to deep skills in preferred functional area or discipline combined with the capability to work outside that area in order to help out the rest of the team. [2]

This insight also brings a workshop technique with a team building effect that can be very useful to determine the teams gaps and strengths and help find the most adequate solutions.

Understanding the concept of cross-functionality is just the first step towards a sharing, collaborative and learning environment, but when you take it, you are on the right path! And don’t forget, we often focus exclusively on technical problems or impediments, forgetting that teamwork and good communication are actually the pillars of any successful project.

 

Sources:

[1] Kenneth S. Rubin, Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process, Addison-Wesley, 2013, page 200

[2] Id., page 201-202

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