Forming a non-software team around a value stream

I’ve spoken in previous posts about how at my previous customer I was working with non-software development teams, helping them interface with the development teams in order to increase collaboration.

A fantastic side effect of this coaching was that the non-software teams recognised the importance of having cross-discipline teams being aligned around value delivery, rather than in their specialist silos.

This post outlines an experiment where we created a cross-discipline team, focused on delivering an FS marketing strategy without changing the organisational structure.

Joy Sheng, CK-12 Foundation

TL;DR

This is a story about how a Financial Services non-software development department created their own cross-discipline team to solve challenges they identified with their marketing campaign value stream.

The Challenges

Some of the challenges the teams were facing (& some underlying, unvalided, beliefs why) included:

  • Misunderstanding of the brief (shared in a document, often by email accompanied with a meting)
  • Delayed deliverables (due to misunderstood briefs & prioritising different tasks)
  • Rework of delivered tasks which hadn’t met the brief (due to misunderstood briefs, rushed work to catch up with missed deadlines)

Everyone involved with the marketing campaigns recognised it wasn’t the people – it was clear each person was trying their best to accomplish the tasks in the given time.

It was the system which was causing the headaches, such as:

  • Teams aligned around specialisation (e.g. marketing, risk & content)
  • Team members assigned to multiple projects as their tasks for each project were “small”
  • Distributed teams making communication that much harder (we’re only talking about a couple of banks of desks away, or on another floor. At worst, we’re talking about another building 200m away)

(and yes, I know people created the system, so you could actually consider it a people problem. But the “workers” themselves didn’t create the system, they inherited it. Our plan was to poke the system in the short term to see if it was worth convincing those who could restructure the organisation to improve the system long term).

The value stream for an FS Marketing Campaign looked something like this, with some element of activity required by the orange team members throughout most of the lifecycle:

The Hypotheses

The leaders of an FS department came to me after we had played a variation of the Agile dice game (which is a varation of the coin flipping game. I prefer using the dice game as it’s more cognitive than coin flipping & thus more relevant for knowledge work).

They observed that an FS marking campaign is not dissimilar to the software development lifecycle & that we should be able to reproduce the shorter feedback loops seen with Agile development within a marketing campaign.

The first major challenge was that Agile development teams are cross-functional (e.g. each team contains PO, UX, BA, Dev, Test roles) but the FS teams are organised by specialty (e.g. FS Product, Risk, Legal) & they have to interface with other specialities like Content & Development.

Could emulating a cross-functional team in FS Marketing have the same results seen in development teams & the Agile dice game?

Some of the hypotheses for a having cross-functional teams to deliver a marketing campaign included:

  1. Reduced lead times through
  2. Shorter feedback cycles
  3. Increased understanding of the brief (Reduced ambiguity)
  4. Reduced rework
  5. Increased comradary (less “us & them”)

We had no idea if aligning the various FS teams around a marketing campaign would actually improve the situation, so rather than creating a business proposal for a plan which would take weeks to deliver, unsettle all the teams & definitely negatively impact productivity (all at great financial & emotional cost), we decided to opt for an experiment…

The Experiment

The FS leaders pulled together a value stream for a (simple) marketing campaign & had it reviewed with several of the various team members who had played the Agile dice game.

We then ran a workshop with all the stakeholders from the various FS teams focused around this value stream (on the wall) with the intent of forming a cross-discipline (intentional language shift away from cross-functional) team to deliver that marketing campaign.

In the workshop, the team members then highlighted pain points for them completing the tasks. The trust created by the leaders helped this process be really cathartic. It was amazing to see the reactions & bonds formed between the team members as they became aware of what each other was going whilst delivering a marketing campaign.

The next part of the session was to try & identify ways of helping each other overcome their challenges. To be honest, this started happening in the first part of the session as people could see the low-hanging fruit of ways they could help their fellow teammates.

Remember – the challenges & the ideas came from the team members themselves. They wern’t told what the problems were, nor were they told how to address them.

These improvement ideas were then dot voted & pairs of team members assigned to them to explore if they would help solve the challenges called out in the session.

Interestingly, the pairs which emerged tended to be team members from different FS teams – typically either side of a hand off in the process. This was amazing to see! Each pair had the intent of smoothing that particular handover (e.g. regular face-to-face catch up over coffe to discuss progress rather than a fire-&-forget email).

Taken together, these pairs formed the cross-discipline team who would be responsible for delivering the marketing campaign which was the focus of the session.

Remember, these pairs emerged, they self organised, to solve the challenges together. Neither the leaders or myself actively pushed the team members towards one idea or another

The Metrics

How would we know if we were successful? The team chose the following metrics to help them decide which ideas were “working” & which needed teaking into other experiments…

  1. Shorter lead time – from idea conception to cash
  2. Reduced amount of rework (e.g. no. of emails back & forth)
  3. Faster resolution of rework (recognise there will be rework required, but reduce the no. of back n forth emails, fix 1st time)
  4. Smaller, more nuanced rework (misunderstandings in nuances of FS business domain / need, not the missing the obvious aspects of the brief)
  5. Reduced no. of emails for all correspondence.

The Results

Unfortunately, Covid-19 brought an end to my engagement with that customer & a pause to the experiment as people had more pressing issues to attend to, like how to work from home whilst homeschooling children, during a pandemic.

The intent is there, the ideas are being explored & everyone involved in the marketing campaign is onboard so hopefully the experiment can be picked up where it left off.

Maybe I’ll hear about it’s success or demise once this pandemic is controlled & life returns to a new normal…

Have you tried something similar? I’d love to hear it!

Thanks for reading!

Duncs