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Why does Agile recommend Cross-Functional Teams?

As an Agile Coach, I often see organizations that create multiple teams and have the teams work on different parts of the products. These are referred to as component teams. In Agile we recommend using cross-functional teams instead. A cross-functional team can do all the work needed to complete the product development and testing. Agile coaches also see individuals take on multiple types of work at once in the hopes of completing more than one item in a shorter amount of time. As coaches, we recommend focusing on building one product increment first, before taking on another.

I’d like to offer an everyday example that you might relate to and proves why cross-functional teamwork is more efficient.

I’m usually the last one to go to bed at home. I take my final walk though and “shut down” the house before I call it a night. This means closing and locking four doors, rolling down nine shades, and turning off sixteen light switches in five different rooms of the house.

What is the best way to complete this work? There are two ways I can go about it. First, I lock all the doors in the house, and then shut all the blinds, and finally turn off all the lights. This would be a form of parallel work because all the rooms are being worked on at once. In other words, they are all work in progress. I tested this way of shutting down the house. It took me 13 minutes to complete the shutdown. This included the time I had to walk from room to room. This could also be considered a form of component work where the doors, for example, are one component of the product. It can also be considered a form of task switching since I’m not focusing on any one room at a time.

An alternative is to focus on each room, locking the door to the room, then shutting the blinds, and finally turning off the lights before considering that room done and walking away. That sequence took me 3 minutes and 40 seconds to complete the tasks by working this way. That’s almost a 10-minute difference in time! Much of it has to do with the distance I have to walk from room to room, the distraction I find along the way, and orienting to work in each different room. This way of working can be considered cross-functional work, where I was able to complete all the work necessary to create one increment or one room.

So, the next time you are considering how your team should work to produce your product increment, consider creating a cross-functional team. The team can work on all the aspects to produce it and focus on completing one increment at a time instead of taking on multiple items that will end up as “work in progress” instead of completed work.

*I used to have to do the same with the thermostats, but I have since installed smart thermostats and automated the functions. But automation is a topic for a different article. Stay tuned.


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