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Cost of Cross Functional Teams

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Cross functional teams are the teams in which all members work on delivery of the same business value. It could potentially be the same feature or the same product. Though, Agile recommends cross functional teams due to a lot of inherent advantages, there are some caveats that organizations need to be aware of

Jurgen Appelo suggested that though the cost of cross functional teams is lower than the teams built around functional silos, but there is a cost nevertheless. According to Jurgen,

However... when you build teams across the functional silos, and not inside the silos, the interaction penalty is lower, but not zero!

He mentioned three main problems with cross functional teams.

  1. Sub-optimization at the project level
  2. Inefficiencies due to lack of coordination across projects
  3. Reduced expertise because of limited knowledge sharing across specialists

Jurgen also mentioned that, cross functional teams are usually too engrossed in the project that they are working on. This might lead to the scenario of doing major optimization on their own project which may or may not be in the best interest of the organization.

Cross-functional teams tend to optimize for their own projects, which can also hurt the overall performance of the business. For example, there may be problems when different project teams all decide to choose their own architectures and 3rd-party components. This increased variation of technologies makes it very difficult for the organization to support all those projects. And I’m sure that, when I allowed all our project teams to purchase their own computers and install their favorite operating systems and development environments, our friendly team of system administrators would skin me alive. With a screwdriver and a soldering iron.

Rick Maurer, suggested that the cost of cross functional teams is high especially in those organizations where either such teams are built without proper diligence or they have a half hearted endorsement of the management.

Likewise, Tom Mochal mentioned the need for effective management of Cross-functional teams. According to Tom,

Managing cross-functional resources is a result of working in a matrixed organization, where project teams are staffed, in full or in part, with resources that reside in other functional areas. The project manager needs to be very proactive when managing cross-functional resources.

Though cross-functional teams may look like the best solution in the Agile scenario, however there are important considerations like effective diligence, knowledge sharing amongst specialists and increased communication cost across projects which should not be overlooked.

Joan Lloyd and BNet shared some tips on building effective cross-functional teams.

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