Saturday, June 22, 2013

Safety for specialists on cross-functional teams.

For many organizations, cross-functional teams are something new (even those claiming to be using Scrum as a framework).

"The Scrum Team consists of a Product Owner, the Development Team, and a Scrum Master. Scrum Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional. Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team. Cross-functional teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work without depending on others not part of the team. The team model in Scrum is designed to optimize flexibility, creativity, and productivity." 
Source: Scrum.Org Scrum Guide.

Consider the specialist who has found themselves on a cross-functional team in an organization that is unprepared for this reality and is wondering "Is my job safe?"

Clearly, this could be a frightening position for these highly valued team members.

Let's consider a few situations;

  • I want to do Scrum but am afraid for my job
  • I am willing to give it a try but I am skeptical
  • I hate Scrum and I don't want to work on something other than my primary skill

This post is intended for those who want to do or are willing to try Scrum as a Framework.

For others, perhaps Agile or Scrum is not for you. That's OK. Here's a post about this topic:  Cross-Functional Teams are not for everyone.

Please do not pretend the person's fears are inappropriate, especially in a new adoption or transformation.  

There can be a legitimate fear for team members in a company transitioning to Scrum (or any cross-functional team based framework).  You (like me) may believe in how Scrum can help an organization but that does not mean the organization is ready to do the mind-shift quickly.  This puts a specialist in an awkward position.

Consider a method I call 'EARS'.

Explain the purpose of Cross-functional teams. Explain the ability to "pull" or "absorb" the next most valuable work or "User Story" from the Product Backlog and have potentially ship-able software come out the other side of the Sprint.  This is not feasible without the appropriate complement of people to do the work.

Acknowledge that the current state of the backlog may not yet be in a "format" appropriate to cross-functional teams.  It may take some time until the organization learns to deliver work to a team in this new and in many cases "foreign" approach.

Re-assure the person that it is normal for them to be called upon to do work outside of their primary skill set for the team. The reason they are there is because they have a valuable part to play in that team's success.  After all, they might not be there if they were not good at their primary skill.  James Heidema recently made a great post about this concept.  Click here to read Jim's post..

Sit quietly and let the person think about what this means and answer any questions... Truthfully.

The reality is that if the management is not in alignment with the concepts of Scrum and cross-functional teams, the team members's job may be at risk.  At a minimum, it may be that Scrum is at risk.  People are perceptive.  No matter what you say, they can see for themselves what is happening around them.  

The best you can do is confirm to them the intentions and mechanics of the Agile framework you are using.  I find that often, just knowing it is normal in the framework is enough to already put someone at ease.  Most people want to make sure they are contributing effectively.

You may offer to open up channels of communication with their superiors to find out where they stand.

Don't make up information about what the company thinks!

If you do have management support for cross-functional teams, put extra effort into ensuring work comes to the teams are "slices" through the system that "Need" the complete skill set of a team.  It won't always work out that way, but the discussion needs to take place.

You cannot just build a cross-functional team and continue to give that team work in a traditional way.  This will ultimately fail.

If you are a change agent or consultant, please address this during your transformation or change.  People need to know they are safe in a cross-functional team environment.  This is especially true as the teams and organization learn to work with a cross-functional mind-set.

If someone comes to you with a fear about this, be smart about it .  Use your EARS.


Cross-Functional Teams in Scrum -  Scrum Guide