Cross Functional Teams – Developers are from Mars, Testers are from Venus?

Cross Functional Teams

A Penknife used as a metaphor for cross functional

Let’s take a look at cross functional teams, I define “cross functional” as applying to the skills a person has and not a set of skills across a group delineated by job title. Hopefully what follows explains this.

How often have you heard a developer, manager, bystander, whatever claim that testers have “different brains”?

Tosh & Pish (for the benefit of our American cousins, that’s equivalent to “horse apples”). They don’t, they have different learned skills.

Do you know who does have different brains? Men & women, yes really, look it up. Physically different* and using different parts of the brain consistently across the sexes. I’m not convinced that the same is true for developers and testers, however if you have a spare fMRI machine and a lot of willing subjects I’ll be happily proven wrong.

The term ‘developer’ or ‘tester’ are labels that encourage specialisation. For many years now, we’ve (including me) happily done that and the “battles of the sexes” was waged. Now the tide is turning and there is more desire for “t-shaped” or cross-functional teams of people.

What this doesn’t mean is a team comprised of two specialist sub groups as we so often encounter. What does it mean?

Let’s examine hunter-gatherer societies. These groups often have sexual equality and are grouped around some common cause (like agile teams but with sexual equality). Women may hunt, but perhaps only smaller quarry, and both sexes will gather especially when other food is proving scarce. So while men might be more inclined to hunt large prey they will gather, and vice versa.

Getting the picture?

We should be helping, encouraging and doing anything we can to help our team members build the skills in areas beyond the things they are best at. Most important is giving them the opportunity and time to learn. I loathe the term ‘developer’ or ‘tester’. I feel they are ultimately self limiting. Not everyone does that but a great many do. I encourage my teams to get rid of their traditional job titles and create new ones that describes them better, you can read more about that here.

The good news is it’s getting better, I’m seeing more “testers” that are technical, and more “developers” embracing test driven approaches.

Cross Functional teams should be a group of people that have skills over more than one area, not a group of people with skills that split their role.




*for instance men have a larger Amygdala

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