What Is A Cross-Functional Team?

Diversity in thoughts and backgrounds leads to better performance outcomes. But how do you apply this concept to software development where it seems that all the roles should be “tech”? Or should they really?

A joint survey by MIT and Deloitte found that the most digitally advanced companies today are “...those successfully deploying digital technologies and capabilities to improve processes, engage talent across the organization, and drive new value-generating business models — are far more likely to perform cross-functional collaboration.”

So what does cross-functional collaboration stand for and what makes cross-functional teams more competitive than “classic” function-based ones? Let’s zoom in. 

Cross-Functional Team Definition 

A cross-functional team melds together people from different backgrounds, departments, and seniority levels to work on a shared project. 

Thus, there are two key characteristics of a cross-functional team:

  • Diverse skillset
  • But a common goal

While diverse in functions, capabilities, and responsibilities, members of a cross-functional team share a background in the same industry, such as IT. For example, a sample cross-functional team composition for a software development project can be as following:

  • Product manager
  • Customer success specialist 
  • Lead UI/UX design
  • QA Specialist 
  • 2 senior engineers 

Such a unit can be assigned to independently execute a certain project (for example, develop a new payment application) and take full ownership over the product — from ideation to release. 

The Benefits of Cross-Functional Teams in IT 

Given that many businesses rely on microservices architecture, changes in organization structure can help promote the culture of individual accountability over software development sub-projects (e.g. a collection of specific microservices or new software modules). 

Cross-functional teams, in turn, enable such a transition because they are:

  • “Fit for purpose” — the team has a full-spectrum of capabilities to get the job done. 
  • Agile and responsive to change due to its size and special decision-powers. 
  • Innovative as rusty ideas get challenged by outside perspectives.
  • Effective — a cross-functional team is well-managed, self-sufficient, capable of execution at a faster pace. 

The best part? Cross-functional teams can also be blended — with half of the members operating from one location and others tuning in remotely. 

The Challenges Of Running Cross-Functional Teams

Creating a cross-functional team requires certain organizational changes, as discussed in McKinsey’s report:

In many companies “ownership of processes and information is fragmented and zealously guarded, roles are designed around parochial requirements, and the resulting internal complexity hinders sorely needed cross-business collaboration.” 

Thus, when such organizations attempt to adopt cross-functional team management they might run into some challenges. A study published in 2015  even went as far as saying that 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional. Why is it so? 

In most cases such collaboration failed for either of the following reasons:

  • Weak governance support and leadership oversight 
  • Communication silo (as a relic from the previous structure) 

So how do you prevent such scenarios in 2021?

  • Set an end-to-end accountable leader, who’ll drive execution and management for all initiatives, led by the teams. 
  • Ensure proper distribution of roles and areas of responsibilities among team members. A RACI matrix can help with that.
  • Address cultural reluctance to embrace new ways of working — help people ease into the new process. 

What Roles Do You Need on a Cross-Functional Team for an IT Project?

Cross-functional coordination can seem like a tough act, especially if you plan to outsource some of your software development. 

But, it’s the opposite. Cross-border collaboration itself presents a great opportunity for experimenting with cross-functional team management. 

Why? Because you can augment your in-house people with the missing expertise — software engineers. By engaging different roles from your end (for example, product management and sales), you can:

  • Create a more complete list of requirements for the project
  • Ensure more even workload distribution 
  • Prioritize different tasks 
  • Facilitate knowledge sharing
  • Prevent bottlenecks due to lengthy approval process
  • Speed-up the transition for the new team members 

The above significantly reduces outsourcing risks associated with poor requirements definition, timeline, and budget overruns. 

Sample cross-functional team setup for outsourcing projects

Example #

Client

Vendor

Example 1

Product manager

+Marketing team

Project manager

+ Engineers

+QA specialists + UX/UI designers

Example 2

CTO

+ Engineering team

Scrum master

+ Engineers

+QA specialists

Example 3

Product owner

Project manager

+ Managed team of engineers

+Data scientists

How to Decide Who Should Be on Your Cross-Functional Team

The above are sample team compositions. Also, other combos are possible, depending on which outsourcing service model you use and what types of resources you have available in-house. So how do you decide who should be on your end? 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Whose input and expertise do I need to kick-start the project? For example, if you have a CTO, engage them at an early stage to help with requirements definition, especially those around solutions architecture, required frameworks, etc. Alternatively, ask the vendor if they could lead the discovery or provide advisory services.
  • Who will lead the project at your end — ensure workload allocation, plan sprints, and so on? Does the manager have expertise in working with remote and/or cross-functional teams? How can you help them with transitioning? 
  • Who’s the best communicator? Cross-functional teams have people from different backgrounds that don’t necessarily know how to talk well to one another. For example, consider who can assume a facilitating role and focus on aligning different team members. 

Conclusion 

The modern pace of markets dictates the need for greater agility. Cross-functional teams in IT can accelerate time-to-market for new products, due to better alignment on goals, coherence in execution, and autonomy in decision-making.

Extend your software delivery capabilities with a managed team — a cross-functional IT team assembled based on your needs and integrated into your SDLC. Contact us to learn more about this service model. 

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