Anti-Pattern: Next-Order Silo

As an industry, we seem to have learned that functional silos are bad for flow. This seems obvious and as silos usually lead to lower focus, lack of systems view and large batches, it is considered to be a suboptimal organizational paradigm these days.

“Silos” however, have a lot more to do with the flaws in thinking than in operating (see Reductionist Mindset). As various implementations of Lean and Agile progressed, we see more examples of silo-mentality, only at a whole level and a lot less obvious at a first glance. While they may be harder to spot, they are nonetheless dangerous, just like the most trivial example of functional silos.

Here are some examples of these constructs that in practice often lead to higher-order silo structures:

Example 1. Component teams.

In order to deliver a meaningful chunk of functionality, such teams still have to work in concert all the time, which is hard because where there’s cross-team coordination required, there’s always excess WIP and entropy.

Example 2. Feature teams. 

While this might sound surprising to some, feature orientation often produces similar effect, even though with different actual symptoms. While good feature teams can deliver end-to-end functionality with no or minimum help from other teams, none can usually deliver a whole system on their own and most often simply lack both solution and problem domain knowledge in other “feature areas”. This doesn’t mean that Feature Team is a bad construct. It rather implies that higher-level, self-organized interaction is needed across such teams.

Example 3. Fixed team structure. 

While there are multiple benefits of having a fixed, long-lived team, it also comes with serous disadvantages when such structure fails to meet the needs of a constantly changing business demand (see Benefit-Constraint Analysis tool). A team that was able to contain most of the dependencies two months ago, suddenly requires DW-team for almost every feature to be completed, as the new functionality involves analytics data collection and interpretation capability.

It is critical to mention that silos are not fully avoidable, as building fully cross-functional, cross-discipline structures is not always possible, in principle. Rather what the Next-Order Silo anti-pattern cautions us about, is that any construct within the organization can produce unexpected and hidden silo-like behavior that in many cases could have been easily be remediated, should the organization be aware of their existence.