Thursday, 15 October 2015

Is Eliminating Cross Team Handoffs Possible?


Well, not completely anyway. But just because you can't achieve something doesn't mean you shouldn't strive for it.

Lots of advice floating around in the Agile space tells you that handoffs from one team to another are expensive and inefficient: The DevOps movement has given way to the Anti-DevOps movement, suggesting that the development team should do their own Ops; I've written about The Vicious Cycle of Support whereby the development team should support their own output; separating business teams from technical teams can lead to an unpleasant client-supplier relationship where neither side can work effectively.
So do we just need one huge team with everyone in it?

Well, yes. Except for the "huge" bit.

It's been a core concept of most Agile doctrines that you keep your team small, and your immediate scope small. And the people in that team don't just stick to one role - they chip in and help out wherever it's needed.
I've said before that I think the optimum set up is two developers and a product person. That assumes, however, that all those people are very experienced, and are willing to cover off between them the jobs that we typically divide up into the separate roles of Business, UX, Design, Coding, Testing, Release, Support and so on. That may sound ambitious, but consider the benefits:

  • No communication overhead. Everyone knows exactly what's going on, and everyone is working from the same assumptions.
  • Focus. There's no way you're going to be able to juggle 5 projects at the same time like bigger teams are often expected to do.
  • A sense that you really are a team, and that you own this deliverable end to end. This is the same reason that startups are such exciting and dynamic places to work, and often take the market by storm. 
  • You wake up and feel motivated to come to work! It's fun. And when people have fun doing their jobs, all sorts of virtuous cycles develop. Talented people want to come and work for you. People feel inspired to come up with genuinely new and exciting ideas.
  • Everyone in that small group is forced to understand all the domains end to end, which were previously kept separate. And when people understand things end to end, your quality shoots up because there are no unexpected implications from decisions made in isolation; there are no lost opportunities ("if I'd known that was something we'd want to do, I'd have built it differently!")
  • The team can be autonomous. No more waiting. No more chopping and changing at the whim of far-removed senior management or marketing teams. With clear goals, and empowerment, it's pretty amazing what three people can achieve.

(In case you're wondering why handoffs are bad, see Pawel Brodzinski's blog post on it)


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