Agile Cross Functional Teams: What they are, Why They Are Important

What is an agile cross functional team?

According to Wikipedia, a cross-functional team is a group of people with different functional expertise working toward a common goal.  One of the primary goals of Scrum is to create teams that can self manage to higher performance.  One of the best ways to get faster, higher quality product is to have a faster, higher quality team.  One of the best ways to improve the quality of your team is to make it cross functional.  A cross functional team has all the necessary skills to turn an idea into a working product.

 How does it relate to agile?

Cross functional teams are one of the key ingredients that help make scrum teams successful and productive.  Cross functional teams have more flexibility, can react faster to changing needs, and can better handle ongoing support and maintenance.  Agile cross functional teams not only means that the team itself is cross functional, but also that each team members can play multiple roles as well.  Being a specialist does not mean you know one thing at the expense of knowing other things, it means your talent profile is T shaped, in that you have depth in your area of expertise, and breadth across other areas, just not as deeply.  A cross-functional team is not just about areas of expertise but attitude towards getting things done. The members step up and take on the tasks at hand. You don’t hear, “That’s not my job.”

Why Scrum Cross Functional Teams are Important

With the diversity of perspectives, you also get diversity of interpretations, approaches, strategies, mental models, and preferences.  Diversity of interpretations gives you the ability to understand how different people would interpret different items in your software product, whether it be copy, layout, or choice of functionality.  Also, when people from different backgrounds approach problems, they take different strategies.  I have seen this in my training classes, when for a given task or exercise, the team of managers do it one way, the team of designers do it another way, and the team of engineers analyze it to death… just kidding.

All this diversity is in service to better outcomes.  That is to say the diversity of perspectives gives you faster solutions, better solutions, and greater innovation

This post is partially adapted from Ken Rubin’s excellent book, Essential Scrum

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