Allowing for Cross-Functional Teams

A home entertainment provider called me in to facilitate User Story writing followed by release planning. The business unit had not tried either activity before. Leadership had been replaced and the new General Manager and Vice President of Technology decided to invest in the group’s burgeoning Scrum effort.

The organization followed a structured work breakdown approach with tasks functionally derived. People were willing to approach product definition in an Agile way and wanted to experiment with User Stories. We discussed the vertical nature of Stories and that teams were formed orthogonally, based on the architectural stack. A few people pointed out that teams were split by functional area.

The group understood that co-located and dedicated teams fit the Scrum model. Yet voices grew stronger that teams were not set up to autonomously deliver end-to-end features. We talked about the merits of the cross-functional team and folks insisted that the group could not afford another reorganization. One of the Vice Presidents had declared that no “dotted line” relationships could be formed to create virtual teams. She found that such an approach diluted the commitment of individuals and made the process opaque.

We got in too some passionate discussions over the once taboo subject. I continued on with Story writing. We later revisited the team structure with executives prior to release planning. The decision to not allow virtual teams stayed in place. Release planning was put on hold for about two months and then they asked me back to finish. The VP had relented, and kept her job.

When I got back, the business unit could work in a matrixed organizational structure. Virtual Scrum teams had been created without going through another Human Resources led reorganization. We were able to proceed with release planning. The teams were organized where they could implement the features independent from each other yet stay coordinated. This helped increase their production rate while increasing the quality of features as well.

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