Themes and Value Streams: An approach for managing cross-functional teams

Managing people is challenging. Period. But when you have to lead separate teams working on different projects, it throws a new kink into the mix.

  • How do you keep everyone in sync?
  • How do you avoid team members having to attend many stand up meetings?
  • How do you reduce context switching for team members dealing with different objectives?
  • How do you keep the status reports straight when some tasks overlap with others?

Two much with too many

My main problem was that I had two teams, with two stakeholders and one me. I was managing two teams in two time zones that were working on two different projects in the same code base.

At first, it was difficult. I was trying to answer to stakeholders, and be responsive to the teams on a day to day basis.

As a result, some days I was doing a demo with one team for one stakeholder. Then, hold a planning meeting for another group before going to do a status report.

I had too many people wanting too many things at different times.

Finding flow in the midst

So, how do you create a flow of work across teams when you’re dealing with different groups?

As my stress level kept rising without any end in sight, I decided that I had to do something different.

I needed a way to be able to know what the teams were going to be working on ahead of time. I also needed a way to get them to sync up with each other as well. And, I could update the stakeholders without on a regular interval.

So I found a solution that worked to allow everyone to know when and what we were going to be working on every week.

Themes and streams

The way that I found a flow with the many parties was to design a sequence for the week and a stream for the work.

I choose different days of the week for a different thing.

  • Mondays - for high-level planning and getting input from stakeholders
  • Tuesdays - for team planning with the different teams and different times
  • Wednesdays - a meeting-free day for focused work
  • Thursdays - was for demos
  • Fridays - reserved for concentrated work to wrap up on what the team needs to do before the weekend.

I then scheduled any meetings according to the theme of the day. And I communicated the plans to both the teams and the stakeholders.

The result was that it created the room for all the parties involved to know what to expect, and by when. And my developers could work on themed days without having to context switch on a day to day basis.

It also created a consistency for the stakeholders. The benefit is that I could push back on random planning sessions. A simple reminder that the team is hard at work on the priorities that they set on Monday was enough to dissuade them.

Juggle many but keep it the same

In the end, I found that using a Kanban (style of project management) flow helped. Keeping a theme for the days of the week also allowed me to communicate to everyone what was coming.

There was consistency built in and people could plan and predict when new work could come in. They also knew the best time to reach across teams for different types of collaboration.

Everyone knew when to meet and when they could collaborate on the development effort.

Stakeholders knew that they would get a chance to see what the team was working on each week. And with the teams delivering weekly, they could change directions in an agile manner.

Juggling similar items on the same day reduced context switching for those involved. It also helped developers to sync their efforts for better consistency and productivity. The best part is that it provided some much-needed sanity for me.


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