Overlooking the whole: The misbelief about creating value with agile teams

Silos are dead – long live Silos!

Sometimes it´s a good idea to take one step back and overlook things from a bird´s eye perspective. Almost every organization is heading towards more agility nowadays. So, they form cross-functional teams, introduce Scrum meetings, create Kanban boards and establish new roles. When all of this is done, teams are expected to work the way agility is taught in literature and perform at their best. That works…up until the point someone dares to look back at what has really been achieved. Did we increase productivity? Could we reduce our time to market? Did we achieve our goals? Could we increase customer satisfaction? This is usually the point when businesses hit the wall. This is the point when they realize that simply setting up agile teams won´t get them where they expected to be. Why is that? Didn´t the teams do their job right? Did Scrum fail? The bad news is: Something clearly went wrong. The good news are: We can fix it…


Teams on a Mission

Indeed, agile teams are able to create value in a very short time by shipping small incremental artifacts to customers. All necessary competencies work together on a common goal. Experts from certain domains add up their knowledge and leverage their capability to drive decisions. They come together to work collaboratively. Standard Scrum meetings and co-locations ensure flowing communication among teams, and hence collaboration. Team boards create transparency about the status-quo of initiatives. All teams are well aware of their contribution to the target picture and work towards the same goal. We´ve built cross-functional teams, and broke down silos!

Mission is at the heart of what you do as a team. Goals are merely steps to its achievement.
↬ Patrick Dixon

It´s time to face the facts: Having established cross-functional agile teams is only half of the truth. If an organization has more than one cross-functional team (and that´s pretty likely) it starts to become tricky. Different prioritizations and KPIs, roadmaps that are not aligned and dependencies that nobody is aware of, weakens every organizations´ business agility. In fact, having an agile team established does not mean, that the whole company works in an agile manner. The lack of transparency about current and planned initiatives across teams slows the organization down due to the inability to react fast to potential blockers. Insufficient interaction and collaboration across teams, lead to the inevitable: cross-functional silos.

On top of that we have agile teams that did their best to create value for customers – for their particular part of the product. However, we need to send them “on a mission” to achieve a certain overarching goal to make an impact. It´s harmful to keep them working within in their “cross-functional silo”, instead it´s crucial to define a clear mission that a team is commonly working towards.


Take a Bird´s Eye Perspective

Once we understood that product value works like an orchestra, we can dedicate our energy to spark off the greatest symphony. The best philharmonic orchestra won´t sound as great if only violins play. Every piece of the orchestra has to come together and play in the same rhythm to provide you with an unforgettable firework of classic music. In our product world that means to take a step back and look at the bits and pieces that need to be connected to create a holistic customer experience. We need to understand that our end customers do not care about internal structures and team set ups. However, they will (unconsciously) notice when they use a product that was built by teams that do not work closely together. You can solve this by overlooking your product portfolio from a higher level. Product portfolio management is a great way to ensure that teams are able to remove impediments through direct communication. Strong connections and focus increases productivity. And through better coordination, transparency is created over the whole value chain.







That ensures teams know how they contribute to the bigger picture. In order to fulfill their defined “mission” they have to be well informed about the mission of the others as well as their goals and progress. When then all of them play together, the one that benefits the most will be our customer by being exposed to a holistic user experience. To ensure full coordination, collaboration and focus one has to get an overview of the whole picture – the complete portfolio – and needs to steer it.

How is this done in practice? Continue reading how the Agile Steering Board lifts you up to take a bird´s eye perspective to foster agile team collaboration.

Written by Sabrina Rzepka


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