Silo working: How to break down barriers and collaborate | NTT DATA

Tue, 01 October 2019

Silo working: How to break down barriers and collaborate effectively

Silo WorkingSilo mentalities are very common in the modern workplace – characterised by individuals or teams that resist sharing information, resources or collaborating with other parts of the business. In fact, 66% of organisations in the UK work in silos, with limited internal communications. (1)

This type of mentality destroys morale within teams, reduces efficiency overall and may undermine a productive culture.

Multi-functional product development teams, that adopt a collaborative approach to work, benefit from many advantages compared to silo-based teams.

At NTT DATA, we’ve found that multi-functional software teams are able to deploy applications faster and more frequently with fewer bugs/failures, provide better quality software and react rapidly to changes in business priorities.

Overall, this collaborative approach reduces costs and makes it possible to meet project objectives effectively.

Common challenges

Traditionally, teams have been arranged around specific roles, with people focused on their individual goals rather than the needs of the collective. As a result, silos emerge – leading to poor communication and weak cross-departmental support.

In silo working, there are lots of inefficient handoffs that create “quality gaps” where information is lost or misinterpreted, leading to product defects.

For example, in software development, product owners work closely with business stakeholders to understand the client’s needs and capture requirements.

Development teams do not have direct interaction with the client and also lack the product owner’s vision. The challenge is the development team can easily misinterpret the product owner’s intention.

Due to the fragmented ownership associated with silo working, there isn’t a consistent responsibility for outcomes – each person only sees part of the picture.

With this approach, problems occur in the final stages when developed products do not meet the client’s expectations and a 'blame game' ensues. The product owner blames the developers for not developing code correctly, and developers blame the product owner for not defining the product clearly.

If there is a bug on release, developers blame QA for not finding the error and QA blame the developers for writing faulty software! Fortunately, there are steps businesses can take to avoid these pitfalls and work in a more efficient manner:

  1. Make teams multi-functional.
    At NTT DATA, we use multi-functional ring-fenced teams (UX, UI, CW, Digital QA, Product Catalogue Specialists, etc.) with a broad set of skills. This enables strong collaboration between businesses, developers, testers and operations to ensure the smooth release of small and frequent changes.
  2. Use cross-training.
    Unlike in traditional teams where each team member performs a specific role, our multiskilled team members learn from each other about other areas and stretch their expertise. However, multi-functional doesn’t mean everyone can do everything. For instance, QA can’t do front end coding, but front end coders can undoubtedly help with testing.
  3. Set a shared goal.
    We set the direction for the team as well as outline obvious and aligned priorities at the very start – with business and development teams working together on planning. Some meetings involve the entire product development team, such as high-level sprint planning. The entire team is accountable for accomplishing sprint goals and working towards agreed objectives.
  4. Communicate.
    We found that a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities makes team members more willing to help in other areas. By using a Responsibility Chartering (RACI) technique, the clear accountability helps clarify the expectations and behaviour of each role.
  5. Trust your team.
    The success of a project lies in the expertise of the people involved. Micromanagement is never ideal, so everyone should know what their responsibilities are and be self-reliant.

At NTT DATA, our teams are empowered to take decisions if the need arises. Teams are autonomous, and the entire team is responsible for developing and delivering a product.

Sticking to these best practices ensures you don’t slide back into silo-working. They improve collaboration, communication, and trust between teams – helping achieve the ultimate goal of increasing productivity without sacrificing stability or quality.

References: 1. Clark, J. (2019), Top 10 Stats from the 2018 State of Workforce Management. Available at: 03 April 2019.

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