What’s the Cross-Functional Team, and Why should I have one?

My friend and colleague Stacey shared this with me. She writes:

Should you have a cross-functional team for your product? I mean, why wouldn't you? This group can provide valuable support and feedback for all its members. For Product Managers, the team provides considerable benefits. It helps us communicate more broadly, gain alignment more easily, and build better products (hardware, software, and/or services).

Teams When I talk with product managers, and "their team" comes up, they often begin by thinking of their development team – those who actually build the product. The Product Manager enables the development team to succeed, by doing and documenting great market research and writing clear, prioritized requirements. The development team is (obviously) important, building amazing solutions that make people want to buy.

However, there is another team that we must consider. Today when I talk about the team, I'm referring to the "cross-functional team". It's a much broader concept than a development team, and rather than the pure technology that's built in Development, it's focused on the whole solution--technology, product marketing, sales, support, professional services, production, localization… any department who spends time helping our product succeed. A cross-functional team can be a powerful tool for the agile product manager.

The cross-functional team is a group of people who collectively represent the entire organization's interests in a specific product or product family. This team provides benefits for the individuals on the team, the product and its customers, and the organization at large.

For the individual, the team is a support group and cheering section. It's a place where the individual can easily get updated information for their department, and it's an environment where each individual is safe in bringing up issues or roadblocks that they're encountering. The group can help solve issues that are impacting any department. And, when there is positive news to share (e.g., reduction in call volume in tech support, increase in sales revenue, development milestones completed on time within budget), it's a group who will celebrate successes. All of this results in increased job satisfaction and motivation for team members.

The product and its customers will benefit from the cross-functional team as well, because it can inspire ongoing improvements in product quality. Team members provide input throughout the product life cycle, and also bring issues to the attention of the team for resolution. When the team is assembled appropriately, and meetings are run effectively, we see improvements in customer satisfaction due to increases in product quality and support.

A healthy team improves organizational alignment. Members are kept "in the know" regarding product status, including market research, customer feedback, product development progress, product-related financials, and promotional plans and events. Each member is held responsible for bringing that information back to their own department or team. In addition, they feed the team their own department or team's feedback. The cross-functional team allows us to get one representative group aligned; in turn, they exponentially increase organizational awareness and alignment.

Assembling a cross-functional team and leading with market facts is the domain of the Product Manager. A strong team results in increased job satisfaction and motivation for the individual, improvements in product quality (and therefore customer satisfaction), and elevated awareness and alignment for the organization.

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.

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