Why Feature Teams are not enough

First Blog, and this one was created together with Luis Miguel Goncalves.
A few weeks ago we were invited to speak at the local community. This event – Agile Breakfast is organized by Sybit. We were thinking what to share with the community so we decided to talk about a common challenge that many organizations face nowadays. The topic was “Why feature teams are not enough!”.
To be easier for you guys to follow we’ll tell the story of Herman – An Agile Coach.
Herman was hired as an Agile Coach in company Super Soft. He was an experienced Agile professional, in previous companies, where he worked, he was involved in several Agile transitions.
Herman took his first weeks to understand how the teams worked. After attending several demos he noticed a common behavior. The guys who were facilitating the demos always said “We are done, our job is finished” but in reality they could not demonstrate anything because nothing worked. Single parts of the product worked, but they were not integrated. 
It was time for him to start doing some changes. He found several problems within the company. One of the biggest issues was the strong presence of “Silos”; all the work of a specific component was done in a single department with few or no communication with the other departments. Once the department is done with its own development it hands it over to the next department. This goes on until all involved departments added their part to the product. Then in the end the integration usually happens with testing, bug-fixing and major problems popping up.
Super soft had several independent products that could be build/sold separate, so why not create teams that alone could release these products to the market? This was what Herman did by creating h “Feature Teams”. He did assemble teams that alone could release a product without much help of other parts of the organization. This actually worked quite well for several months leaving Herman happy with his accomplishment.
Few months later the market conditions did change and Super Soft needed to launch a completely new product. The former product that the feature teams built now had to be integrated in a bigger system. Soon the initial problem that Herman had with different departments was hitting him again; this time on system level. Even though he had created feature teams that were able to ship a full product, in the scope of the new system, the feature team was not able to deliver anymore; skills like GUI design, CRM development, and some others, needed to build the new system, were missing from the traditional feature team. Different component teams were developing their own components but communication lacked and on integration problems popped up.
One evening when watching “A-Team” on TV he had a good idea. The creation of “Feature Squads”. A feature squad could basically consist of any feature teams and additional individuals that are needed to fulfill the mission. The mission in the new market conditions was to deliver full vertical features that included all the parts needed to bring the value to the customer.
Despite his brilliant idea Herman still had to face problems. The new feature squads had their own little woes. Herman had to experience the pain of having a daily or planning meetings with more than 10 individuals. These meetings really took too long and the interaction between squad members suffered. He decided to break the teams, as a result he had a bigger number of teams but less individuals per team. The fact that these teams were not always collocated added a bit of complexity to the project, there were issues related to the communication and trust between members. It was a challenging path but at the end the product was released with success.
This was the story of Herman, the Agile Coach who helped Super Soft to become a better organization.
What we want to highlight is the fact that in both situations Herman had problems assembling teams. As result he did create cross functional teams, first breaking silos within departments, later within the organization.
We truly believe that companies should assemble teams in a cross functional way. The team alone is able to release the product without any extra involvement from other teams. Of course in reality there are always more dependencies but in theory this is how it should work.
You’ll find the presentation on my slideshare
And Sybit’s post about the presentation can be found here.
I’d be happy to receive some feedback so feel free to comment.
Cheers,Sven

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