Cross-Functional Team Members vs. Org Pattern: TeamPerTask**

At first read, the Coplien Org pattern TeamPerTask** (two stars for highest confidence) sounds a lot like SacrificeOnePerson* with the principal idea being SomeoneAlwaysMakesProgress*. But reading a bit deeper I found that this pattern actually strongly discourages “cross-functional team members”. I should make clear that it in general the patterns support cross-functional teams, having each role represented on each team (HolisticDiversity). But TeamPerTask argues that cross-functional team members are actually less productive because “flow” time is interrupted (quoting the pattern: “Flow is the quiet time in the brain when the problem flows through the designer”). When an individual’s activies are diverse, it takes a long time to shift gears and transition “flow” focus. An example given in the pattern is a project where it was inefficient for requirements analysis and design/programming to be done by the same people because it was time consuming for people to transition between diverse tasks. Once separate sub-teams were applied to handle the tasks, the ratio of “flow time” improved and the group was more efficient. The pattern does suggests that certain activities can be paired more effectively, like requirements and analysis.

In our experience with Agile approaches at Danube, if requirements analysis (for example) is handled by a sub-team or individual the rest of the team members suffer not having heard the requirements first hand. No matter how hard we try to effectively document requirements or relate them second hand to other team members, something is always lost in translation. As time wears on this problem compounds itself as more requirements are detailed.

Apparently, it takes around 20 minutes to reach this highly productive state of “flow” and only a minute of distraction to break it. So wouldn’t the Scrum principle/pattern BullPen also be discouraged according to this logic? Distractions abound in a BullPen. For example, one of the anticipated results of a BullPen is people “noticing” other teammates in trouble. The sighing, the leaning back in the chair looking puzzled, all of those little “tells” that prompt opportunities to help each other.

At Danube we have a large BullPen that houses all team members without barriers. We’ve definitely seen the positive effects like spontaneous collaboration and assistance. But I’ve also noticed people getting distracted and even annoyed by the enthusiastic discussions of team mates or neighboring teams. We’ve elected to keep our BullPen because the value added outweighs the minor interruptions, but I wonder what others have concluded.

Since both Scrum and Org Patterns arose from empirical research, can anyone shed light on their own experiences related to these seemingly competitive, but empirically concluded, approaches?

— Victor Szalvay

Victor Szalvay

Victor Szalvay currently leads product development for CollabNet’s ScrumWorks® product suite. In that capacity, he works closely with customers, stakeholders, and the development teams to deliver high business value each release cycle. With more than 150,000 active users worldwide, ScrumWorks is used by more than half of the Fortune 100 and boasts the largest market share of any Agile management tool.

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