A Journey to Cross Functional Teams: Best Practices to Ensure Success (Part 2)

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Implementing cross-functional teams, as we’ve learned throughout years of applying Agile frameworks, is one of the most effective ways to work with different kinds of businesses and their products, due to the teams’ ability to adapt and implement fixes in the middle of processes. As discussed in our article covering the Three Strategies to Build Cross-functional Teams and Why You Need Them for Agile, there are always advantages and disadvantages when moving towards a cross-functional environment. As we know, roadblocks are practically inevitable, but learning to work through them will ultimately result in stronger teams, as well as produce better results for team productivity, transformation processes, and reduction of time and cost. In this article, you’ll learn about best practices teams can adopt in order to tackle and avoid roadblocks that pertain to each of the following strategies for building cross-functional teams.

1. Progressively move people from team to team

Some best practices when implementing this strategy are:

Ensure team visibility by using a Kanban Board

When applying the strategy of “moving people from team to team,” be aware that visibility is key, as adding new team members may create a learning curve. To avoid losing team momentum and motivation, and improve organization and communication, you can use a Kanban board as a reference for how the team works.

Kanban boards are a great way to visualize a team’s progress, as everyone can instantly see how tasks are flowing. Improved visibility and team collaboration enables members to identify bottlenecks, roadblocks, and make improvements to the process.

Kanban boards also help integrate new members by allowing them to focus on a single task at a time. As team member transitions might take time to fully materialize, Kanban boards help them work on small deliverables and understand the team’s cadence at the same time.

Use tracking tools such as Gantt charts

Be aware that each time new members are added to the team, flexibility may change as individuals adapt to new practices. Remember, new members mean new ideas, proposals, and solutions. A new pair of eyes can bring more collaboration and reduce waste.

Tracking tools such as Gantt charts can help teams evaluate progress. A second chart can be used to compare expected vs current behavior and define suggestions for any identified adjustments.

2. All-In approach

Some best practices to follow:

Identify leaders, implement check-ins, use visual charts 

It’s highly recommended to identify emerging team leaders, not only in terms of those with the greatest knowledge but also those who are considered change agents. This can help overcome the common roadblock of resistance to change. These team members should be ambassadors of successful practices the company is looking to implement with the migration towards cross-functional teams.

Identifying this first wave of leaders could help organizations to guide by example. Strategically assigning one or two of these team members to each squad will provide stakeholders greater insight to group and individual dynamics.

Team check-ins are also necessary, especially during times when people might feel confusion or uncertainty towards the organization’s next steps.

Maintain visibility with charts to share company improvements, achievements, missions, visions, etc. When team members feel they belong to something bigger than themselves, it often increases productivity, empathy, and trust within the company.

Present clear numbers to stakeholders 

Budget can be a sensitive topic. However, determining transformation costs could help stakeholders decide if transitioning to cross-functional teams is viable or not.

Use of visual materials helps both stakeholders and team members consider how close they are to the goal. Planning and execution of a distributed budget will give everyone an idea of how it will be used. This can surely provide confidence to stakeholders.

To avoid investment doubts or concerns, presenting clear numbers is a priority.

3. Create a few teams first, then inspect, adapt, and grow

Some best practices with this strategy: 

Create a solid transition plan with checkpoints

Be sure to start your transition with a plan, including milestone projections and expected outcomes. Without a plan, it may be difficult to provide visibility on dates and prepare accordingly. Remember that changing team structures may result in delivery slowdowns initially, but as the teams and their members get used to the new way of working, results should improve fairly quickly. 

Think about which teams will make their transition first, who will be on each team, and, as mentioned previously, which leaders will serve these teams. In larger organizations, transitions may be slower, and you might need additional resources (coaches, leads, sponsors) to speed things up. Map all of the above when presenting plans, and don’t forget to highlight potential risks and impediments the transition might encounter. Communication is critical, and the sooner challenges can be identified, the faster the organization can respond to negative impacts. 

Consider that some of these impediments might be financial. If, for example, you need coaches, but the organization can only provide half of the number requested initially, you will need to update your projections and present them so that powerful players and organizational decision-makers can understand potential slowdowns. Present comparisons of projections with the right amount of resources and include some models with a lower budget. Spending more at the beginning could be met with some doubt initially, but can provide significant gains in the mid-long term.

Accept failures, be transparent about the challenges, and celebrate success

Failure is an intrinsic part of software development. Engineers understand this, so it’s up to the organization’s mindset on how to deal with failure. Remember that Agile does not reject failure, it’s just another gear, on the whole, Inspect and Adapt cycle. This message must be understood and shared widely, especially with sponsors that support and believe in implementing cross-functional team best practices. Managers, leaders, directors, and any other roles that have expectations for this strategy must also embrace this perception. 

Be open about the potential challenges of a newly formed cross-functional team, and provide safe environments for people to share ideas on how to do better moving forward. These conversations will provide a smoother road ahead for future cross-functional teams.

Keep track of the challenges, the actions taken, and their results. This data will be fundamental when building new cross-functional teams and will help increase confidence within the organization

One final tip is to celebrate your successes and share key team achievements. This will trigger a morale boost and can create some synergy and enthusiasm around adopting cross-functional team best practices. Ideally, your success will influence other teams to try something new with their team’s skillset and structure, which can further improve delivery, results, trust, and most importantly, happiness!

Wrapping Up 

Finding the right balance between a team’s composition and effective delivery may not always be easy. The journey might be bumpy from time to time, and that’s expected. Move forward and don’t be discouraged. The great thing about small but powerful steps is that results will surface organically, and it’s difficult to discredit success. 

Whatever your organization’s approach might be towards applying cross-functional team best practices, pay attention to before and after comparisons. Success will be reflected in the results: faster delivery, increased quality, and better interactions among individuals.

Remember, there is no end state in Agile, so continue learning and pivot as needed to keep teams and individuals fresh and motivated. Discover your way!

 

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Pedro Araya

Pedro Araya is a Scrum Master and design thinking leader with a background in project management. He is experienced in Agile transformations and has been an Agile coach for the implementation of Scrum, Kanban, and DevOps frameworks.

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