Part III — Team of Teams

Large meeting
Figure 126. All hands meeting at NASA Goddard
Team of teams

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World is the name of a 2015 book by General Stanley McChrystal, describing his experiences as the commander of Joint Special Operations Command in the Iraq conflict. It describes how the U.S. military was being beaten by a foe with inferior resources, and its need to shift from a focus on mechanical efficiency to more adaptable approaches. The title is appropriate for this section, as moving from “team” to “team of teams” is one of the most challenging transitions any organization can make.


You are now a “team of teams,” at a size where face to face communication is increasingly supplemented by other forms of communication and coordination. Your teams are all good and get results but in different ways. You need some level of coordination, and not everyone is readily accessible for immediate communication; people are no longer co-located, and there may be different schedules involved.[1]

You now have multiple products. As you scale up, you now must split your products into features and components (the y-axis of the AKF scaling cube). Then as you move from your first product to adding more, then organizational evolution is required. You try to keep your products from developing unmanageable interdependencies, but this is an ongoing challenge. Tensions between various teams are starting to emerge. You are seeing specialization in your organization increasing. You see a tendency of specialists to identify more with their field than with the needs of your customers and your business. There is an increasing desire among your stakeholders and executives for control and predictability. Resources are limited and always in contention. You are considering various frameworks for managing your organization. As we scale, however, we need to remember that our highest value is found in fast-moving, committed, multi-skilled teams. Losing sight of that value is a common problem for growing organizations. This is where it gets hard.

As you become a manager of managers, your concerns again shift. In Part II, you had to delegate product management (are they building the right thing?) and take concern for basic work management and digital operations. Now, as your organization grows, you are primarily a manager of managers, concerned with providing the conditions for your people to excel:

  • Defining how work is executed, in terms of decision rights, priorities, and conflicts

  • Setting the organizational mission and goals that provide the framework for making investments in products and projects

  • Instituting labor, financial, supply chain, and customer management processes and systems

  • Providing facilities and equipment to support digital delivery

  • Resolving issues and decisions escalated from lower levels in the organization

(influenced by [213]).

New employees are bringing in their perspectives, and the more experienced ones seem to assume that the company will use “projects” and “processes” to get work done. There is no shortage of contractors and consultants who advocate various flavors of the process and project management; while some advocate older approaches and “frameworks,” others propose newer Agile & Lean perspectives. However, the ideas of process and project management are occasionally called into question by both your employees and various “thought leaders,” and it’s all very confusing.

Welcome to the coordination problem. We need to understand where these ideas came from, how they relate to each other, and how they are evolving in a digitally transforming world.

Here is an overview of Part III’s structure:

Special section: Scaling the organization and its work

Digital professionals use a number of approaches to defining and managing work at various scales. Our initial progression from the product, to work, to operations management, can be seen as one dimension. We consider a couple of other dimensions as a basis for ordering Part III.

Chapter 7: Coordination

Going from one to multiple teams is hard. No matter how you structure things, there are dependencies requiring coordination. How do you ensure that broader goals are met when teams must act jointly? Some suggest project management, while others argue that you don’t need it any more — it’s all about continuous flow through loosely-coupled product organizations. But you’ve seen that your most ambitious ideas require some kind of choreography and that products and projects need certain resources and services delivered predictably. When is work repeatable? When is it unique? Understanding the difference is essential to your organization’s success. Is variability in the work always bad? These are questions that have preoccupied management thinkers for a long time.

Chapter 8: Planning and investment

Each team also represents an investment decision. You now have a portfolio of features, and/or products. You need a strategy for choosing among your options and planning -— at least at a high level -— in terms of costs and benefits. Some of you may be using project management to help manage your investments. Your vendor relationships continue to expand; they are another form of strategic investment, and you need to deepen your understanding of matters like cloud contracts and software licensing. Finally, what is your approach to finance and budgeting?

In terms of classic project methodology, Chapter 8 includes project initiating and planning. Execution, monitoring and control of day-to-day work are covered in Chapter 7. The seemingly backwards order is deliberate, in keeping with the emergence model.

Chapter 9: Organization and culture

You’re getting big.In order to keep growing, you have had to divide your organization. How are you formally structured? How are people grouped, and to whom do they report, with what kind of expectations? Finally, what is your approach to bringing new people into your organization? What are the unspoken assumptions that underly your daily work -— in other words, what is your culture? Does your culture support high performance, or the opposite? How can you measure and know such a thing?

Part III, like the other parts, needs to be understood as a unified whole. In reality, growing companies struggle with the issues in all three chapters simultaneously.

1. Image credit, downloaded 2016-11-28, commercial use permitted