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Cross Functional Teams

Example of Small Cross Functional Teams - Jazz Bands
In the early days of a startup, everyone is on one team; they’re all part of the same tight-knit family.
Until the headcount reaches 15-25 – especially if they all share an office – it’s hard for any employees to be misaligned for too long.

Fast forward to when the organization grows to hundreds of people, or even thousands. Then the execs start making choices about how to organize; considerations like efficiency, career paths, dependencies all come into play.

To maintain agility in the company, it’s best to have everyone working together on the same team, reporting to the same manager who is responsible for delivering on the goals.

During my years of delivering software projects, I have noticed that the #1 issue plaguing product delivery is dependencies. When the Program Managers, Designers, Developers and Quality Assurance (QA) Engineers are all on a different team, it requires coordination, scheduling and other things that slow the progress down.

It’s impossible to avoid dependencies, but it’s always a good strategy to minimize them. 

Being physically located together is a big advantage as well. I have seen many instances in which a QA engineer finds a bug and the developer fixes it instantly. Stepping in to help someone out happens a lot more frequently when that someone is a real person; a real person who reports to the same manager and sometimes grabs lunch with you in the cafeteria. On my cross-functional teams, developers continuously help out QA with automation and testing.

The endless back and forth -- the triage and figuring out how to set up the repro environment -- goes away when you can take three steps to look at your neighbor’s screen.


The benefit of a big Developer team having sister QA and Program Management teams is that the company gains efficiencies from these disciplines being together. The Director of QA, for example, can establish the common tools and guidelines. For a company that’s in a more stable phase, that could be the right configuration. This organizational structure also helps employees who aim to move up the management ranks and need a career trajectory for graduating from individual contributor, to lead, to manager to director and so forth.

For most of my life, I’ve been focused on hyper-growth products that needed to move fast with as few dependencies as possible. As a result, I’m a big fan of the cross-functional team model.

-mb

PS: If you liked this post you might also like Three Pillars of Engineering Management and The biggest issue for software schedules.

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