A core concept of agile is that teams are cross-functional: the team collectively possesses all of the skills necessary to get the job done. We embrace that at 18F, and take it a little farther, and not just on agile teams. Our partner-facing teams will often meet with partners en masse, even if the agenda is narrow enough that perhaps only one person from 18F could join. While this might seem inefficient, we find that it saves time and money.

Eliminate redundancy and drive efficiency

After an external-facing meeting comes the post-meeting debrief: now that one person has met with the partner, it’s time for an internal meeting, to fill in everybody else on what transpired. This often requires more collective time than the original meeting, in which case it would have been more efficient to include everybody in the first place.

Meetings often stray from their planned topics, especially when they’ve been convened by empowered stakeholders. A meeting that was supposed to be about user research might unexpectedly and necessarily pivot to being about the technical plausibility of performing remote usability testing or the limits of 18F’s contract with the partner. That meeting could be concluded successfully if it included not just 18F’s UX lead, but also the technical lead and the contracting lead.

Even meetings on ostensibly narrow topics can benefit from “unrelated” expertise from other team members. Even if the meeting did stay within its planned topic of user research, having the technical lead on the call means that she can point out that the vendor doesn’t need to send a UX researcher across the country for an on-site visit with the agency, because the agency partner is equipped to participate in that process remotely. Or the product lead could point out that the user research that’s already been done has led to a significant backlog in interface design needs, some of which are going to impact what would be tested now, so maybe wait and test once that work has been acted on?

Having multiple expertises represented as a matter of course serves to reduce wasted meeting time and helps everybody arrive at the correct conclusion faster.

Benefit from cross-functional humans

It’s our experience that the best cross-functional teams are comprised of cross-functional humans, a.k.a. “T-shaped people.” These are people who have deep knowledge in one area required by the project, while having a functioning level of knowledge in many of the other areas.

Our acquisition consulting work will include a procurement lead — somebody who has worked as a contracting officer and casually cites the FAR. But it’s important that everybody else on the team has working knowledge of procurement regulations and practices, with the identified product owner ideally certified as a Contracting Officer’s Representative. And it’s important that somebody be the technical lead, but everybody else must be comfortable talking about the merits of various cloud platforms, the benefits of DevOps, and why unit tests are important. And so on.

Teams comprised of cross-functional humans are resilient and flexible. If one person cannot attend a meeting, or is on vacation for a couple of weeks, the remaining team is likely to be able to continue working without interruption. This approach can free up the experts for the most difficult work, so if, for example, the technical lead has extra time on her hands, she can resolve a minor procurement question while the procurement lead focuses on writing an RFP.

This natural knowledge-sharing approach keeps anybody from being a personal knowledge silo, while allowing every member of the team to constantly learn from their teammates.

Better service through better meetings

The notion of having four or five people in a meeting that one person could handle may seem unnecessarily complex. But by starting with the assumption that meetings require the whole team, and only whittling that list down when there’s good evidence that doing so won’t be problematic, we’ve been able to save time, save money, and serve our partners better.

If you’re interested in working with 18F, get in touch at inquiries18f@gsa.gov.