Last time I wrote about Work in Progress and why you should managed it to avoid creating bottlenecks. Silos cause bottlenecks. So this time I want to share my thoughts about why you often fine silos in a software delivery teams.

Organising a team around technology

In large organisations you might find IT functional units such as UX teams or database teams. The company organisation treats IT functions like business units. This might make sense on paper, but delivering software requires much tighter collaboration.

This results in each team focusing are their own work. The system they are part of is a secondary consideration. They tend to optimise themselves around their own workload. When this goes bad, the rest of the system becomes a customer.

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Pressure to keep everyone in the team busy

Lets face it. Often the people who deliver software projects are not always seen as people. They are resources that need to optimising. You might feel a pressure from above to “make sure everyone is busy”. You must find new work to keep “resources” busy. The pressure comes from people striving for efficiency over effectiveness. Good results can only come from busy specialists because they “cost” the most. The motivation is financial rather than delivering a quality product.

What this does it increase the team’s work in progress as your specialists start more work to “get a head start”. When they finish their part, the value is not realised as the rest of the team catch up. The work stacks up unfinished.

We have to accept that people are expensive. A desire to maximise the return on investment will never go away. The answer, if you care about team effectiveness, is not to shape the work to fit the skillset in the team. Instead the answer is to fit the team to the work by encouraging generalists.

Lack of Definition of Done

The definition of done is a key elements in fostering team focus. It counters the individualism you find when a bunch of specialist come together. Without it you may experience the “Many type of dones”. The most common is development done where work is “thrown over the wall”. It is even more frustrating when the wall is a desk partition.

When a team of generalist form, and they focus of collaborating on a prioritise backlog. As the do so, the silos seem to evaporate. Everyone is busy although they might not be working on their preferred tasks. Project managers are not required as the team organises themselves around the work. There is no need for someone to move the work from person to person. And those that hold the purse strings have a warm feeling. The feeling that comes from predictability and knowing that no-one is under utilised.

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