Optimising a Cross-functional teams in an agile environment by Karin Janse van Rensberg

Article written by Karin Janse van Rensberg, Senior UX Designer at Immersion Group

The agile environment introduced the approach of cross-functional teams that are outcome focused that allow iterations during the project to help achieve those outcomes.

A cross-functional team means that there are lot of team members who possess different skill sets to perform function-specific tasks. These team members typically have skill sets that compliment the team and the project and in general are dependent on each other for the project completion.

To explain the concept better, let’s look at an example of a team working together to design a rewards app where users can increase their rewards levels.  

This design team will consist of a:

  • A business analyst
  • A UX designer
  • A UI designer
  • A UX Content writer

The business analyst understands the business requirements and rules around the product behaviour.

Business rule: A user cannot move to level 2 without completing the level 1 questionnaire.

The UX designer need to collaborate with the Business Analyst to understand the business rules and micro-interactions in the design and how the design will function based on the rules associated with it.

Micro-interaction: The user needs to complete the level 1 questionnaire.

Based on the micro-interaction, the UX designer will design wireframes for the journey of the user completing the level 1 questionnaire and moving to level 2.

The UI designer need the wireframed designs from the UX designer and should also understand the micro-interactions on the designs to ensure designed components display the function of components to the user.

The UX content writer needs to collaborate with the entire team to ensure that the content is compliant with the business rules but are still able to assist the user to understand that they need to complete the questionnaire to move to level 2.

In this example there’s a lot of moving parts for the team. Within an agile environment it also allows for design iteration. It’s clear to see how information can easily get lost between the team members.

So how do we optimise the team in an agile environment to accomplish the designs more efficiently?

Follow a cross-function team flight plan

Having a flight and project plan with clear objectives and outcomes will help the team work towards the same goals.

The flight plan indicates sprints and timelines and can help identifying where team members are responsible for what. The flight plan can be broken down into subtasks and allocated to each team member.

This is also a great way for the entire team to have a project overview, follow project progress and hold each other accountable for their part in the project.

Communication

Communicating to your team on a regular basis will keep everyone in the loop and ensure that the team is aligned with outcomes that need to be achieved. Daily standups are a great form of communication, but from personal experience this is not enough to align the team.

As a lead in the project it important to understand what information you need to surface to who and when to manage the team’s expectations and time allocation to tasks that need to be completed.

Collaborating in your team through ideation exercises will also enhance the communication in the team and help to identify possible blockers and opportunities for the outcomes.

In the book Lean UX, Designing Great Products with Agile Teams, Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden talk about ways to increase collaboration in different team structures.

Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, James Macanufo also talk about how you can get a team with different functions and objectives to work towards the same goal through facilitated workshops.

Know your role

As T-shaped individuals we have our strengths and value we can contribute. Working in a cross-functional team means that there are different T-shaped team members with their own strengths, challenges and objectives.

It’s important to understand how your role fits into the project and how the other roles are dependent on your outcomes and vice versa. This will also guide you on the communication you need to have with the different roles to ensure alignment for the outcomes that need to be achieved.

Become a high-performance team

Once you start collaborating and communicating with your teams and understand how different roles fit into the project you start becoming a high-performance team.

High performance teams are known for seamless communication, have a shared vision and have a culture of accountability. They also have a learning culture and are continuously looking to enhance the collaboration on the team to ensure the common goal is met.

The secret to forming a high-performance team is having a flat, participative leadership. There are no superiors and decisions are made democratically by the team based on the highest value impact. This means they operate as a circle, sharing a purpose along with accountability.

Performing in a cross-functional team does pose its challenges, but implementing good communication, following the plan and understanding your role can transform the team to achieve ultimate success.

References: 

  • Lean UX, Designing Great Products with Agile Teams, Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden
  • Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, James Macanufo
  • XDE Course by Immersion Learn

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