One of the challenges facing organizations during transitions to Scrum is how to deal with functional knowledge silos. It is very tempting for an organization to allow managers to fill knowledge gaps by sharing people across teams. For example, a manager may move a person from Team A to Team B during a sprint because that person has worked on some particular functionality before. This type of solution is shortsighted for the following reasons:
- It violates the principle of self-organization. When Team B comes across something that they are not equipped to handle, having a manager pull a person who has the subject matter expertise from Team A robs Team B of an opportunity to self-organize. Instead, Team B should be given the opportunity to use the challenge to find a way to solve the problem among its current team members.
- It misses the opportunity to develop T-shape skills. The lack of knowledge could instead be seen as an opportunity for Team B members to develop the functional skill set needed to solve the problem. The Team A person who has been moved will have to be relied upon again for any future problems of the same nature. The opportunity for another person from Team B to gain experience in that area has been lost. As an organization, instead of having two experts, they still have only one. What happens when that one person is on vacation the next time a similar emergency arises?
- It pushes a member to identify with the wrong team. Organization trumps culture. If a team member can be moved from one team to another, he or she will identify as being a member of their particular functional group, not as a member of his or her cross-functional team. The sense of ownership that makes long-lasting cross-functional teams powerful is not developed.
- Velocity numbers become less relevant tools. Team A will not be able to achieve their story points. This will skew their ability to predict how many story points they can complete for future sprints. Team B will achieve story points that they will not be able to sustain in the future. Team B will not be able to live up to the velocity achieved during that sprint when they had an extra member from Team A.
If your organization has overcome a reliance on this shortsighted solution, I would like to hear how you were able to help make this happen.