AgileProduct Development

Agile cross-functional team – why should you team up with one?

Whether your project revolves around software or some other domain, like graphic or UX design, finding a matching partner is always a challenge. But it becomes much easier once you set up the priorities list right at the beginning. One of the things to understand first is which type of team and project management works best for you.

Team of four men sitting at the table working on a project

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At Inwedo, we provide services in different variants to give our customers maximum flexibility. However, today we will focus on one particular service model – an agile cross-functional team.

You probably have heard about Agile before, but in this article, we will focus not on the methodology itself but on the way it affects teamwork. From the basics to examples based on our professional experiences, we dive deep into the specifics of Agile cross-functional teams. Check what it’s all about to see whether it matches the needs of your project.

What is an Agile cross-functional team, and what makes them stand out?

An agile team is composed of members with varied, complementary expertise and skills essential to achieve the project goals. Although their roots lay in software development, you can take advantage of their potential in various niches, including marketing and design.

Every team, regardless of the project’s specifics, can be agile. And considering the benefits of this approach, no wonder that so many companies turn to it. What are they, exactly? We’ll get into that in the further part of the article. Let’s start with the essential facts.

Cross-functional teams stand out with the way they function, breaking the stiff hierarchical structure, limited dynamics, and territoriality. As opposed to the traditional approach, the roles blend and intersect here. Instead of focusing on their contribution to the project and their area of expertise, members look beyond it, seeing the big picture and gaining the opportunity to contribute in other areas as well. They aim for common goals together instead of splitting up the stakes.

The autonomous character of their work is another distinctive feature. Agile cross-functional teams work horizontally and independently, handling their schedules and processes on their own without authorization. Further, we will explain why this particular detail matters so much to our customers.

Many people sitting at the desk at the office

Agile teams vs. waterfall teams – how do they differ?

As befits this methodology, agile cross-functional teams work in iterations. It means that their work is delivered in smaller tranches, which enables ongoing verification of features, quick bug detection, and flexible adjustment of plans if necessary.

In waterfall methodology, on the other hand, the results get into customer’s hands after a much longer period – usually at least a few months or even a year. Working on the full project range since the beginning, waterfall teams may progress slower. Plus, even if they are doing their job impeccably, their work may turn out inconsistent through the course of time and begin to part away from the intended goals.

Another issue to consider is the silos effect – a situation in which the teams are so independent and separated that information, even the most crucial, does not circulate between them. Waterfall teams deal with it often, as the lack of iterations prevents them from staying up to date with the company’s evolution. Agile eliminates the expertise trap of waterfall, allowing a specialized team to get regular updates and adjust the project requirements to them instead of planning their work “in limbo”.

The stakeholders that chose an agile team instead of the waterfall one can also count on much better information flow. They get effects delivered in short sprints and can always react in between, preventing misunderstandings from messing up the final results and avoiding additional costs.

To illustrate this difference, let’s assume you’re building a website. In a waterfall approach, the design team would be working on the layout, the marketing team on the copy and SEO, and the development team’s part would be to code it at the end. With the agile cross-functional team, on the other hand, all these specialists team up to work on a website simultaneously. By dividing the project into particular subpages, you can engage additional specialists that will provide additional expertise. For instance, for the “careers” page, you could gather marketing, design, and development specialists, but also the HR members who could share their precious insights and evaluate the effects.

Cross-functional team – who does it consist of?

That depends on whether we are talking about software development or a project in a different domain. However, due to the specifics of the methodology, the agile cross-functional team always has a Product Owner on board. In software development, PO creates user stories and product backlog. In general, they’re the ones that are responsible for keeping the idea and goals behind the project clear to the whole team and maintaining its course in line with customer expectations. You could thus call them a bridge between the team and the end user.

Other roles depend on the project’s specifics and the stage at which you reach out to the on-demand team. Note that since the team’s structure is flexible, you can scale it when your project expands and reduce it again later if there’s such a need. To give you an example, we will lay out the standard structure of our agile software development squad:

  • Product Owner
  • Technical Leads
  • Front-end and Back-end Developers
  • Test Automation Specialists
  • Product Designer

What’s important, all these roles are handed to “T-shaped specialists” who have deep expertise in a particular field but don’t lack other skills that are valuable for the project. Having a practical understanding of different domains, they can communicate smoothly without diving into the basics. That makes such teams work much more effectively than in a traditional approach, where each member has their label.

Graphic showing agile team structure

Not all projects require the same approach – compose a team that follow your project needs or development phase

Agile cross-functional teams – why do they deliver better results?

Working in this approach, our customers, who have been so far used to waterfall, often notice a productivity boost. What’s the reason behind it? There are a few factors that contribute to the agile teams’ effectiveness.

 

1. They work in an end-to-end model

The team that works on the product throughout its lifecycle will naturally understand it better and have a better notion of the goals and challenges behind it. In such an approach, teams don’t just jump into the project and start working right away. Instead, they take their time to get to know your company and your project’s core. It gives them the capability to actively suggest suitable solutions and make decisions. That leads us to another essential aspect of agile – autonomy.

 

2. They self-organize

As we have already mentioned, the autonomous character of the agile cross-functional teams is a significant benefit from the customer’s perspective. That’s because they can deliver your product with minimal engagement from your side. You don’t have to monitor their work or handle the management side. The team takes care of the backlog and the project roadmap and plans the work on their own terms – of course, with all respect to the deadlines!

As a result, the project development process shrinks in time, allowing you to introduce the results to the market faster. Nowadays, when the market is so competitive, that aspect is crucial to businesses

 

3. They streamline communication

Autonomy does not mean, however, that you lose control over the project. Quite the contrary – since the work’s divided into sprints, you can easily revise its results and intervene if the project takes a different direction than expected. The feedback you provide shapes the following sprint, establishing the priorities. Instead of waiting until the end, as it happens with the waterfall, you can actively impact the course of the project that remains flexible due to iterations.

At the same time, their independence allows them to proceed with project development without relying on external specialists. That streamlines the workflow, reducing the risk of bottlenecks. What’s the benefit for you here? First of all, you can predict the course of the project and estimate its duration and budget more precisely. No surprises attached!

 

4. They rarely fail

That brings us to another benefit of agile teams – they are reliable. Iterations expose every issue at a very early stage, allowing you to introduce changes without financial loss and risks. If you change your mind regarding any aspect of your project, nothing’s lost! An agile development team will be able to react quickly due to their autonomous character – internally, they can soon find a consensus without waiting for external authorization. That, of course, maximizes your chances of market success.

 

5. All their attention’s on you

Our agile scrum team never works on a few projects at the same time. That could be a recipe for disaster! Your dedicated team works on your project only – this way, they can maintain maximum consistency and dive deep into the subject.

 

6. They put the end-user first

Projects carried out by agile teams are often so successful because of two aspects. First – the UX designers and other experts with this background jump into the team at the earliest stage. This way, they can impact the development process right from the beginning. Second – because every agile team has a Product Owner, whom we previously called a link between the end user and the team. Writing user stories, they get into the user’s shoes, translating their perspective to the requirements.

Curious how an agile team handles real-life software development projects? Read the success story of the Green Planner app created by our dedicated agile team.