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8 Tips to Improve Cross-Functionality Within Your Scrum Team

Scrum-based development relies on a cross-functional Scrum team, as it ensures that the team, as a whole, is capable to deliver the project as per expectations.
May 4 · 5 min read
Learn how to improve Cross-Functionality within your Scrum Team

Scrum methodology relies on three basic pillars to ensure successful outcomes for any given project you may have. These are transparency, inspection, and adaptation. The dynamic and flexible nature of Scrum means you can adopt an incremental approach to optimization and management, allowing your organization to work efficiently, not exhaustively. For Scrum to succeed in your organization, you need to have a capable and communicative Scrum team.

Your Scrum team is a group of talented individuals who come together to deliver the required products. The team usually consists of 5-10 members who work in different 'departments' but excel at working as a whole team. There is a high level of communication amongst team members, ensuring that they work towards the same goal, respect certain rules and guidelines, and maintain a professional working environment. Typically, a Scrum team is cross-functional and consists of a Product Owner, a Scrum Master, and the Development Team. So, what makes a cross-functional team better than a typical one? Let's find out more about it and discuss some key tips to improve cross-functionality within the Scrum team.

What is Cross-Functionality and Why Does it Matter?

A cross-functional team is a team that includes members that have a variety of skills across the board, instead of distinct members with separate skill sets. It means that everyone who is needed to complete the project will be involved, whether that means managers, UI/UX designers, engineers, or more.

Typical teams, i.e., functional teams, have everyone working in silos. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if different team members are needed to complete different tasks. However, it's so much more efficient and productive to remove the silos and have cross-functionality, where everyone can bounce ideas off of one another and collectively improve the project outcome.

Cross-functionality is important because it teaches team members both ownership and autonomy. In traditional organizations, for example, product development teams are responsible for research and testing, whereas the marketing team oversees advertisements. These tasks would have clear bifurcations, with both teams delivering on their tasks separately. Not only would this cause misinformation, but it would likely delay the launch. However, an organization that uses cross-functional teams would be much better off since its team members would be delivering their tasks together, communicating with each other, and sharing responsibility.

8 Tips to Improve Cross-Functionality within your Scrum Team

To succeed with the Scrum method, you need to know how to build a self-regulating cross-functional team. Here are some of the tried and tested ways to improve cross-functionality within your Scrum team.

1. Host a Refresher Workshop

The team needs to stay aware of what each member is working on. It's also important for members to have multiple skills that they can use to refine and optimize the delivery process. This is why you must organize a workshop that either introduces team members to a new skill or a refresher course that helps your team brush up on existing skills. For example, an "Intro to Design" workshop would be excellent in that it would familiarize the entire team with basic graphic design skills. These could come in handy during the project.

2. Pair Them Up

Sprints are a great way to exchange skills or introduce your team to new concepts. Everyone is motivated and excited to be productive. Your next sprint session can be a teamwork activity, where you pair people up according to skill level. The best way is to pair up a member who is an expert at a certain skill with another who is either still learning or is unfamiliar with said skill. This will ensure that both team members learn efficiently.

3. Surprise Sprint

This one is particularly fun but also sufficiently challenging. Your next sprint can have a surprise element, where you challenge your team to complete a task that's removed from their knowledge base. They will work together to deliver interesting results that can later be discussed in the debriefs. In the debriefing, everyone can share what they've learned, opening up new skills and opportunities for each team member.

4. Be Transparent about Decision Making

Even though cross-function teams sound like a perfect team, certain issues may arise. One of them, as you might have guessed, is chaos. It sounds great to have multiple members with multiple skills on the same team, but it can be a bit hard to manage in reality. This is because members might get in each other's way or try to take ownership for tasks they aren't involved in. The best way to combat this is to familiarize them with a clear decision-making model so everyone knows who's in charge of what. Once they know, your cross-functional team will be cohesive instead of chaotic.

5. Set Down Clear Goals

The best cross-functional teams are those that have a common goal to work towards. They are also adept at problem solving and communication. Make sure to keep these channels flowing by establishing clear-cut goals for the project with defined deadlines for small and big tasks. Setting down clear goals also enables team members to work independently. They will strive to resolve any problems they run into to keep the project running smoothly. This will ensure that they become autonomous and self-regulating as time goes on. Distinct goal-setting also helps to avoid confusion and boosts productivity.

6. Have Frequent Check-Ins

The Agile framework encourages daily check-ins or short meetings with the whole team or even one-on-ones. Make sure you're taking the time to talk to your team so everyone is on the same page. What's more, this also ensures that any team member who might be stuck in a bottleneck can communicate his/her worries and get a solution. This will give you improved functionality across the team and project.

7. Keep the Product Backlog Organized

The Product Owner is usually in charge of the backlog and it's important to keep this updated on the go. This ensures that team members are always aware of what tasks are at hand, which ones are on priority, and whether there are any changes they have to incorporate. A good product backlog typically has four characteristics, summarized by the acronym "DEEP". These are: Detailed appropriately, Emergent, Estimated, and Prioritized. Your team doesn't own the backlog, though the team is in charge of contributing to it, so make sure it's serving them well. This can be done by opting for the right product backlog estimation technique, such as Planning Poker, Async Poker, T-Shirt Sizing, etc. In short, organized and managed product backlog helps the team to function better across the board.

8. Use Your Resources Wisely

You might have the best cross-functional team in the world but it won't matter if you're incorrectly allocating resources. Make sure you're not putting the same team in charge of more than two projects at a time because this will reduce cross-functionality and productivity. Divide tasks and roles according to the strength and functionality of the team and you will see optimum results.

Boost Cross-Functionality and Get Amazing Results

In conclusion, the best cross-functional teams need certain tangibles to succeed. The right leaders, qualified individuals, clear allocation of roles and resources, comfortable budgets, team development activities, skill-sharing, and open communication are just some of the ways you can build an autonomous and cross-functional team.

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