Updated: Jun 5, 2022
Self-organizing teams. Why and what are they?
Scrum Guide defines it thus (the "What"):
Scrum Teams are self-organizing and cross-functional.
Self-organizing teams choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team.
Cross-functional teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work without depending on others not part of the team.
Jurgen Apello has this to say in Management 3.0 (starting to get to the "Why"):
The more complex a system is, the less we can control it (and software projects can be complex)
There is a simple solution: (wise) managers delegate most activities to team members
Delegation of control is a manager's way of controlling complex systems.
You push decisions and responsibilities down to a level where someone has information that is smaller in size and more accurate
(smart) managers understand that they must try to make as few decisions as possible, and most of the decisions should be made in the subsystems.
Marty Cagan has this to add, from "Inspired" (dotting over the "i" and crossing the "t"s of the "Why" and "What"):
Product teams are there to solve hard problems for the business.
For that, we need teams of "missionaries", not teams of "mercenaries"
Mercenaries build whatever they're told to build.
Missionaries are true believers in the vision and are committed to solving problems for their customers
It's nearly impossible to have a team of "missionaries" when they're pulled together for a project that lasts only a few months and is then disbanded
If we want teams to feel empowered and have missionary-like passion for solving customer problems, we need to give them a significant degree of autonomy (and focus on outcomes, not outputs).
Collaboration (like the one required to get to such outcomes) is built on relationships, expertise and full understanding of the business objectives and context.
Most importantly, the team must feel ownership and responsibility for the outcome
If your company is not yet set up around dedicated product teams, this is probably the most important thing for you to fix. Everything else depends on this.
Eric Ries adds this, from "The Lean Startup":
"Consider the recommendation that you build cross-functional teams and hold them accountable to what we call learning milestones instead of organizing your company into strict functional departments"
"I predict that you pretty quickly get feedback from your teams that the new process is reducing their productivity. They will ask to go back to the old way of working, in which they had the opportunity to "stay efficient" by working in large batches and passing work between departments."
"The Lean Startup asks people to start measuring their productivity differently". He explains that if you build something nobody wants, it doesn't matter much if they do it on time and on budget.
"Innovation is a bottom-up, decentralized, and unpredictable thing, but that doesn't mean it cannot be managed"
As a matter of fact, the word "team" appears 291 times in his book, and he evangelizes a "team of entrepreneurs", such as the one called SnapTax:
"Did they hire superstar entrepreneurs from outside the company? No, they assembled a team from within Intuit. Did they face constant meddling from senior management, which is the bane of innovation teams in many companies? No, their executive sponsors created an "island of freedom" where they could experiment as necessary. Did they have a huge team, a large budget, and lots of marketing dollars? Nope, they started with a team of five. What allowed the SnapTax team to innovate was not their genes, destiny, or astrological signs, but a process deliberately facilitated by Intuit s senior management"
Given all of the above, why would your company NOT have dedicated, self-organizing product teams? Talk to me in the comments, or contact me