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Why so cross-functional?

The term “cross-functionality” has a deep meaning, but it’s a little bit confusing. Within the scope of this article, I will try to clear up the common misunderstandings and explain the useful approaches for creating a comfortable and challenging environment for the Scrum Team members.

Let’s check the Scrum Guide (2020) first:
“Scrum Teams are cross-functional, meaning the members have all the skills necessary to create value each Sprint.”

It’s very clear. A Scrum Team should consist of members who have all kinds of competencies to create a potentially shippable product. The main misunderstanding about “cross-functionality” is that everybody deals with every kind of issue in a Scrum Team. This sentence above has a different meaning; it’s talking about getting rid of the external dependencies. BUT we will talk about removing the internal dependencies also.

I want to create a kind of checklist for your team, Scrumlovers. These checkpoints may help you to figure out the current state of your team.

Checkpoint 1: Does your team have any skills dependent on others who aren’t part of the team?

With this question, it’s obvious that we should check skill dependency instead of issue dependency. Check your workflow and board flow; try to discover external skill dependencies one by one. After defining the dependent skill, adding a related expert to the team or supporting the team to be trained on that skill, may be a solution.

Sometimes, we may have external dependencies based on the organizational structure. It is better to visualize the real problem via your metrics inside the company for correct future solutions. Of course, it takes time but it’s better than doing nothing.

Additionally, it’s a good practice to show your team the difference between external dependencies and internal dependencies. I want to note that if you have lots of internal skill dependencies also, it’s the right time to talk about cross-functionality across the team (checkpoint 3).

Checkpoint 2: Is there a healthy relationship between your Definition of Done (DoD) and work flow?

Simple work flows are the best! But sometimes, depending on your DoD, your work flow becomes a bit complex as time goes by. If you don’t check the convenience properly, you may see the internal dependencies as a result.

After understanding the real reason of the bottlenecks, if DoD is organizational and can’t be changed, I recommend two methods to follow. One is to rework the work flow and rearrange it if possible, and the second is to focus on encouraging people to be T-shaped via pair programming to remove the internal dependencies.

Read “Why T-shaped People?” by Jason Yip to understand the effects of T-shaped members in your team.

Checkpoint 3: Visualize your skill/expertise matrix!

When you face a problem on your flow, it’s a good practice to create your skill matrix inside the team and define the shape of the expertise. With this matrix, you can discuss the advantages of T-shaped people and create pairs to distribute the knowledge. It’s better to show progress on expertise levels with the numbers periodically and observe the benefits as a team.

These checklist with 3 points may help you to understand the logic behind cross-functionality. But we should keep in mind that every team is special and they can find their own way if they reach the root cause.

In conclusion, remember that every step should be adopted by the team itself. Creating our own solutions as a team is the best choice and retrospective is the best time for discussing these actions.

Instead of saying “Let’s be cross-functional!”, it’s better to understand why we should be cross-functional by listing the external and internal dependencies that slow down the team.

Good luck!

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