A Cross-Functional Agile Team Meets Sprint Commitments

Three Tips for Building a Strong Cross-Functional Agile Team

You’ve heard that Agile teams should be cross-functional to be successful. But what does that really mean and how do you build and sustain a strong cross-functional Agile team? According to The Scrum Guide, “Cross-functional teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work without depending on others not part of the team.”  

This does not mean that every member of the team can do every job on the team, although cross-training has many benefits. It does mean that a cross-functional Agile team should have members that possess all skills needed to close the Stories in the Sprint Backlog. 

So how do you get to this magical team? The following recommendations give you the foundation you need to create a great team:

  1. Include a mix of specialists on the team
  2. Expect issues in the beginning
  3. Establish a culture of working outside your job title 

1. Include a Mix of Specialists on the Team

Understanding the skills you need on the team before you begin allows you to recruit the best mix of team members. Except for the specific roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner, everyone else is the Development Team. Ensure the Development Team has the skills needed to build the product. For example, software development teams may need both software developers and quality assurance testers and possibly business analysts. 

If you can’t get the skills your team needs full time, check out our post about Extended Team Contracts

2. Expect Issues in the Beginning

Most teams experience a dip in performance when switching to Agile because there’s a learning curve.  Any time you make a change, you can expect a period of adjustment to the new process. This is normal. Provide encouragement and guidance to help make the transition easier.

Allow for mistakes. Mariam Taqui Ali, a Senior Associate at KNOLSKAPE Insights Centre, explains why this is important in her article How to Foster a Learning Culture:  

These organizations foster a strong learning culture where employees are not judged or belittled for the slips and falls they make. Instead, employees are encouraged to fail as these organizations understand that no success is possible without a setback.

Attempt to resolve the highest priority issues at Retrospective. Listening to the team’s ideas and acting on them is a great way to maintain a highly functional team.

3. Establish a Culture of Working Outside Your Job Title

To meet their Sprint commitments by closing Stories, team members may have to work outside their job title. A great example can be found at the supermarket checkout line, which is typically manned by a cashier and a bagger. The cashier often helps the bagger after the customer pays to keep the line moving and the customer happy with a quick exit.

You should always be ready to step in and help where bottlenecks occur. This requires monitoring progress at Daily Standups. Are there blockers that can be resolved within the team? The entire team is responsible for determining how to move past the blocker and follow-up to make sure the Story closes. If a Story needs testing and the quality team doesn’t have bandwidth, someone else on the team should step in and perform test cases. 

Do you have additional ideas or examples of creating a strong, cross-functional team? 

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Gerri Grove

Gerri Slama Grove


Gerri Slama Grove








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3 Steps to Become an Awesome Agile Manager

Become an Awesome Agile Manager through TOP

Every time someone likes our post, I always ask for recommendations. Lately, I’ve received several suggestions for a post about the Agile Manager. Many of our readers are frustrated because many of their managers do not have a basic understanding of Agile and Scrum. 

When I reflected on the topic, I came up with 3 simple steps that can quickly uplift any manager to become an Awesome Agile Manager. It’s easy to remember through the acronym TOP:

Train -> Organize -> Prioritize

Step 1 – Train Everyone

Over 4 years ago, we wrote the post 5 Steps to Implement Agile. Step 1 in that post is Educate. That still is the #1 action to take. 

I’m surprised when I talk with managers who say they are Agile, yet they cannot explain what Agile means to their business and teams. I’m even more surprised when I talk to members of Scrum teams who never had any formal training or coaching.

How can any manager expect their teams to produce the benefits of Agile and Scrum without expert instruction?

How can any manager expect to become an Awesome Agile Manager without the knowledge required to lead by example?

The fastest and easiest way for managers to turn around their Scrum teams is to train everyone on Agile and Scrum. A little understanding and knowledge changes everything. At GSD Mindset, we can do that in a single day through our Scrum in 1 Day workshop. 

Take the first step to becoming an Awesome Agile Manager and get your teams the training they need.

Step 2 – Organize Your Teams for Success

Scrum is all about self-organizing teams. That means current team structure may need to change when transitioning to Scrum. With Scrum, each team is responsible for closing the Stories in their Sprint Backlog without requiring work from another team. This can be a challenge, even with matrixed organizations.

How management decides to organize their Scrum teams has a direct effect on those teams’ ability to close Stories. Scrum only has 3 roles: Scrum Master, Product Owner and everyone else is the Development Team, whether or not their job title is Developer. If managers skip Step 1 and do not train everyone, including attending training themselves, they may not be prepared to correctly organize for Agile and Scrum.

What is the best way to organize Scrum teams?

The most successful Agile Manager organizes their teams around capability or foundational applications. For example, an online retailer may decide to organize their Scrum teams around managing product, online store, inventory management, search and membership. That way, the Product Owner has control over all projects and requests for changes to their product area.

Finally, there is no Project Manager role in Scrum. The Awesome Agile Manager has to decide how products and projects will be managed across Scrum teams. This takes us to the final step: Prioritize.

Step 3 – Prioritize and Manage Across Scrum Teams

Scrum is a team sport. How the Agile Manager decides to prioritize product changes across Scrum teams is critical to a successful transition. 

If managers skip Step 1 and Step 2, even if they can prioritize projects, they may not be prepared to manage across Scrum teams. Another difference is that Scrum teams are self-organizing, and it’s the Product Owner’s responsibility to prioritize their Product Backlog. Their input must be taken into consideration.

Management may decide to keep their current project prioritization processes in place. That’s OK. However, how active projects are managed must change.

What role manages projects across teams?

How can we take advantage of the Scrum of Scrums to ensure projects stay on track?

The project tools are different, Story sizing is different and the way teams report status is different. These differences must be accounted for in management techniques. It’s not hard to manage Agile teams, it’s just different. Stay focused, stay lean and keep it simple.

The Awesome Agile Manager takes the time to train everyone (self included), so everyone understands these differences. Only then can Scrum teams be well-organized and product changes successfully prioritized and managed to increase customer satisfaction.

What other recommendations do you have for the awesome Agile Manager?

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Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn


Cynthia Kahn








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Recursion: An Agile Approach to Business Change

Apply Recursion Concepts to Agile Transformation

How does the computer science concept of recursion tie into an agile business transformation? Recursion reduces the complexity of change, so teams evolve at a speed that is balanced with their abilities and offers the best chance for success.

When a business initiates an agile transformation, the task can seem daunting. There are so many areas which may need improvements and where an agile framework needs to be applied. It may be hard to identify and prioritize the improvements.

By human nature, many teams will be resistant to change. For these types of reasons, it’s a good idea to break down the transformation into smaller, incremental steps. On the way to becoming agile, take an agile approach to determine where to focus the incremental changes: Recursion!

Agile uses an empirical model in an iterative process. An understanding of how things are working in the business needs to be realized in an open and transparent manner. This understanding needs to be inspected and analyzed. From this, an informed decision is made to adapt the business.

What is Recursion?

In the analog world, an example of using recursion involves a game with three wooden pegs. Some number of disks of increasing size are stacked on one peg, with the largest disk on the bottom of the stack. The purpose of the game is to move all the stacked disks from the initial peg to another peg. By the rules, you can only move one disk at a time, and you can never place a larger disk onto a disk of smaller size.

In computer science, a recursive function is a coded algorithm that calls itself. The computer science recursive concept solves the analog puzzle digitally by breaking down the movements into smaller subsets of actions. These actions are then executed with the same bit of code, simply the function to move a disk following the rules, building upon one another repetitively to complete the puzzle. A typical example which is used in a Computer Science 101 course involves the Tower of Hanoi.

This example of recursion helps to represent the idea of using a concept to lead to and from the same concept. In other words, the same concept is used within the larger version of the concept. It’s a brilliant and efficient way to code these types of jobs. Once this first step is completed, it is repeated, building upon itself.

Determine Where to Adapt

Initially, you may want to focus on adapting a process that is the least complex, as there may be best methods and guidelines that can be quickly adopted and implemented. Always consider the value the changes bring to the business.

With each iteration, you always need to consider the vision for the business with an understanding of the business processes. With this transparency, you can begin to break down what changes might be implemented. Make sure all the teams understand the vision and values of the changes. Engage with employees for an open and respectful discussion, working together with mutual purpose.

The recursive approach allows you to take small steps in an efficient and transparent manner, gradually applying improvements. Employee engagement with the advancements help guarantee the changes are lasting. Once a change is implemented, step back and look at the impact on the business, and then start the same process again.

Look at the data, analyze and make choices, and adapt. An agile coach can provide guidance and an understanding of where you may want to focus, and how to make changes with best practices.

Agile is not the Towers of Hanoi

Although the Towers of Hanoi nicely expresses the idea of recursion, it implies that at some point the job will be done. That is, all the disks will be moved from one peg to another. However, in applying agile, the business never comes to a state where we can say, “Our work is complete!”

Agile is a mindset and an expanding journey. Continual improvement is ever present in agile and is especially relevant in today’s modern digitized market and workplace where constant change is forced upon businesses at multiple levels.

With the idea of recursion and repetition behind your agile journey, you can reduce the complexity of the changes and see improvements evolve at a speed that is balanced with your employees and abilities, and with the best value for your business and the customer.

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Erik Major

Erik Major


Erik Major is a Product Owner, Systems Engineer, and Agile Advocate with a background in computer science, telecommunications, and SDLC.
Contact: erik.j.major@gmail.com
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/erik-major/

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MVP for Major IT Transformation Programs

IT Transformation Leaders Should Deliver MVP First

IT leaders love to announce the launch and deployment of large transformation programs. Such announcements motivate the entire organization with the prospect of exciting and challenging work ahead. Seasoned leaders know that transformation programs usually span multiple years. So, it is best to pilot with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) of limited functionality for a small customer base. Then, follow the MVP with enhancement releases and additional onboarding.

Building the MVP first is common practice among IT leaders when a single product needs to be developed. For some reason, the MVP practice has not been widely accepted for major IT transformation programs. That may be why some IT leaders mistakenly decide to go with a Big Bang deployment, foregoing the MVP.

For example, take a large IT transformation initiative that must be complete by the end of the fiscal year. By year-end, multiple products must work in tandem and satisfy all the business requirements for the entire customer base. Leadership decides to take the Big Bang approach stating that the organization must be prepared to take on additional initiatives in the next fiscal year. A date is set.

Development teams are told that the solution must be ready by deployment date, despite concerns raised by the rank-and-file about the level of effort involved. Buggy code, frustrated engineers and dissatisfied customers wanting to go back to their legacy solutions are all too familiar results. Early decisions made during planning are not revisited for a range of reasons.

What Happens When the IT Transformation Fails to Deliver?

Regardless our promises to learn from similar mistakes made in the past, leadership continues to make the same mistakes over and over again. Listening stops at a certain level of management in a hierarchical organization. No one wants to raise concerns up the management chain or across to their peers for the fear of losing credibility or brand.

Some IT leaders may not participate in planning and commitment conversations with their business peers. They blame the rank-and-file for failure.

Are you surprised that such failures recur despite having robust Risk and Issues Management processes in place?

Traditional Waterfall Approach is Not the Root Cause

Some readers will immediately say, “This is what you get when an organization uses old-fashioned Waterfall processes.” I believe that the root cause of such failures cannot be blamed squarely on the use of Waterfall approaches for program planning and management.

The lack of MVP could be the cause. Why not implement a process or two end-to-end for the initial launch? Or why not pick two of the most important products in the solution, configure their functionality and integrate them?

Prioritize Processes and Implement High-Priority Processes First

Instead of trying to prioritize the whole stack of business requirements, prioritize processes within the new solution with the understanding that the legacy applications live in parallel until the rest of the processes are fully migrated. Agile teams understand that breaking down large-effort user stories into smaller manageable ones for faster and easier implementation is a learned skill.

Failure is Not an Option

Some may argue that the pressure to deploy with a Big Bang approach may be due to uncertainty regarding funding for the next fiscal year. My counter-argument is the risk of major failure with Big Bang approaches. It is better to start by deploying something small that is usable.

Consider adding business value early in the transformation lifecycle over delivering nothing at all. If investment dollars are going to be difficult to secure next year, the program can be paused until the situation improves.

This is about listening to one’s gut and promoting open communication between people at all levels in an organization.

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Anil Bhat

Anil Bhat


Anil Bhat is a technology professional with twenty-plus years of experience in software development, analytics and product leadership.







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Help Your Team Overcome Past Scrum Failures

4 Ways to Overcome Past Scrum Failures

When it comes time to begin their Scrum journey, many teams come with baggage. I often hear, “We tried that, and it didn’t work.”  They may have “tried” Scrum before and “it didn’t work.” They may feel Scrum is yet another management fad.

Like unhappy families, team members may come from other teams that failed for different reasons. Here are some ideas a Scrum Master can use to help their new team overcome past Scrum failures. Through positive experience, help your team give Scrum another, successful try:

  1. Lead with empathy. Listen to your team. Learn what didn’t work before and what they most need now. Try to help them address the problem applying Scrum methods. You may have diagnosed different issues with a Scrum lens, but that can wait.
  2. Lean into exceptionalism. The things holding your team back aren’t unique, but who wants to be told that?  Accept and work into their excuses.  You can also build credibility by championing adjustments that use more common sense and are less rule focused.
  3. Celebrate transparency before results. High achieving individuals are accustomed to striving for the great report card.  Your job as Scrum Master is to decouple that dopamine hit from story points and attach it to the act of finding the baseline and ownership.
  4. Stick with basic principles. Scrum done well has any number of tools, and a Scrum Master should be aware of all of them.  With a new or resistant team, focus on the key few that suit your style.  For me, that is keeping Daily Standup short and effective, holding a regular Retrospective, and striving for predictable delivery.  Other things, even scrumly rituals like sizing, may fall away.  The team will discover them anew as they build trust.

I started working with one of my favorite Scrum teams six months ago. They were reluctant to try Scrum because it had been presented as an all or nothing scheme that would add overhead to existing business processes. Some had been burned by personal experience.

At our Director’s urging, they agreed to try Scrum but admonished me to keep it lightweight. Two weeks later, a reorganization placed them under new management, reducing higher level support for Scrum. The team was at a project phase with high scrutiny where work was driven by urgent issues.  The engineers were experts assigned to specific areas and rarely worked across those boundaries. It was an inauspicious time to demonstrate the value of Scrum. Luckily, the front-line manager decided to give it a try anyway.

I charged in with the religious zeal of a Certified Scrum Master confident of winning more converts. After three months, the team remained highly siloed. The Accept/Commit Ratio hovered around 50%. Overall velocity was stubbornly flat. I expected to see the experiment called off.

However, the team understood what they were up against.  They helped me coach them.  I learned about their challenges with deadlines and validation requirements, and about the mix of skills in the team (empathy). Their company-mandated ticket system was poorly adapted to Scrum. Rather than do data entry in another system, they found a way to make it work, and I built a manual dashboard (exceptionalism).  We focused on seeing and improving the trend in our improvised Scrum board through anecdotes of improved focus and collaboration (transparency).  I kept my promise to keep it lightweight and they readily bought into having regular Daily Standups and Retrospectives (basic principles).

Over time, they developed improvements in tracking on their homemade system and in Backlog Grooming. They found ways to share work fairly across projects.  They engaged their validation team and internal customers as a part of the Scrum process.

After more than a dozen Sprints, the team has hit a groove.  Their Accept/Commit Ratio approaches 90%, and they are developing a discipline to baseline and address their interrupt rate.  What’s more, they have maintained their Scrum practice while rapidly adjusting to working virtually in a coronavirus world.  They are now a team that says, “It works for us.”

Emily Hackett

Emily Hackett

Emily Hackett

Emily is a Technical Program Manager working with the Performance Architecture and Analysis team at Intel.  She has been a Scrum Master since 2016 and has also worked as a Release Train Engineer (RTE) in a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) organization and as a functional manager for a highly effective Scrum team. Opinions presented are her own.



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