by Laurie Clarke

How UK CIOs build multidisciplinary teams

May 07, 2019

Thierry Bedos – CTO at CTO Thierry Bedos has made his IT team more versatile by breaking down the barriers between infrastructure engineers and developers.

“In the past, once developers had built their software, they would just send it to somebody else and work on the next feature. Now, they really have the accountability end-to-end of how the software is behaving on the infrastructure,” he says.

“I think that’s really necessary for us to do. Years ago, you had a number of the more monolithic types of applications. These days, with microservices, you are likely to have hundreds of services that are necessary to serve a web page, and therefore, people in the teams that build a service are also the teams that are monitoring the service and troubleshooting the service.

“For us, it’s been a shift of mentality, from a big separation between the different teams to having now these really cross-functional teams where the engineers understand everything from the architecture all the way to how to troubleshoot and monitor software online.”

Read next: CTO Thierry Bedos discusses data, diversity and DevOps

Tiffany Hall – CIO at Cancer Reserach UK

Tiffany Hall - CIO at Cancer Reserach UK

When Tiffany Hall joined Cancer Research UK in 2017, she was tasked with bringing together two different teams at the charity.

“Cancer Research UK didn’t have a CIO until my role was created, and the traditional IT people were reporting into finance while the digital team with all the supporter-facing web technologies were reporting into the fundraising and marketing director,” says Hall.

She helped ensure that they could work together effectively by introducing nine design principles that all staff should abide by, around issues such as working in the open and disagreeing without being disagreeable.

“There are still places where people bump up against each other within teams because they’ve merged now, but the conversations are had with respect and with open-mindedness, and we jump on it when that’s not the case,” she says.

Read next: Cancer Research UK CIO Tiffany Hall describes her award-winning work

Richard Orne – CTO at Photobox Group

Richard Orne - CTO at Photobox Group

Richard Orme, CTO of Photobox Group spoke to CIO UK about the decision to set up a multidisciplinary ‘Squad team’.

“Eight months ago, we completely re-imagined the operating model for the business,” said Orme. “We moved to a squad model, which was a really big jump for us to make. The idea of a squad model is a group of people who have very diverse skill sets, who would traditionally either sit in marketing, or software engineering, or testing, or infrastructure, or security, or commercial and pricing. Now, all working on one goal.”

“All that they are measured on and supported on is, how do you get to the goal?” Orme said. “It’s about how much of a challenge you want, in terms of solving a problem – because any idea within the squad is a valid idea that the squad debates, so we’ve removed hierarchy to some degree.”

So far, the squad model is working well, with squads exceeding expectations. The squad model was first piloted within Photobox’s sister brand, Moonpig, and resulted in £7 million in incremental revenue being made in the last financial year, as well as boosting employee engagement, the quality and speed of delivery of products.

Simon Iddon – CIO at The Restaurant Group CIO

Simon Iddon - CIO at The Restaurant Group CIO

The Restaurant Group CIO, Simon Iddon, believes successful digital transformation programmes need to be business-wide initiatives led by multidisciplinary teams, and that it’s an important responsibility for CIOs to be part of selling the vision for big change projects.

He told CIO UK that by bringing together multidisciplinary teams the programme was delivered on time and under budget and exceeded the board-approved benefits case.

“A transformation programme isn’t just an IT-led project, it’s a business-wide initiative,” he said. “You need to get a good balance putting the team together. We had a number of internal people and brought in some external expertise so they can learn from each other as part of a team. It also showed the transformation wasn’t an IT-led product and it never is.”

Morag Watson – BP Chief Digital Innovation Officer

Morag Watson - BP Chief Digital Innovation Officer

From her base in Houston, Texas, Morag Watson, Chief Digital Innovation Officer at BP, manages 25 employees spread across Asia-Pacific, the UK, and the US.

Her multidisciplinary team comes from a broad range of backgrounds. Around a third of them are new recruits to BP that range from physicists to marketers, while another third are oil industry veterans and the remainder digital specialists.

“Some of the things that we do go very hand-in-hand with the businesses,” she says. “Some of the things that we do, because of the disruptive nature of them, we keep them slightly separate, because the here and now sometimes can stifle the future, particularly if it’s going to disrupt what we’re doing.”

As a result, Watson’s team first investigates the capabilities that a piece of technology can enable, and then assess the potential implications for BP. When they find an opportunity, they bring in domain experts from within BP to help them test the thesis.

Mayank Prakash – Former DWP Chief Information and Digital Officer

Mayank Prakash - Former DWP Chief Information and Digital Officer

Mayank Prakash, former Department for Work and Pensions Chief Information and Digital Officer spoke to CIO UK before leaving his role.

“We work in multidisciplinary teams because change at this scale and pace does not happen because of any leader, it happens because people who have the right skills are in the right roles and they’re inspired to pursue a set of outcomes and when people want to do something they find a way to do it,” he said.

He’s supported them by promoting a digital mindset throughout the organisation, adopting a DevOps culture to enable full cycle agile development, and creating an open culture in which everyone’s views are heard.

“We used to have a technology team that was siloed from the rest of the business and we now have colleagues who come in to take ownership of the business outcome of a problem, not just to deliver a solution they’ve been asked to deliver, but to find the best solution to that problem,” he said.

John Mountain – Starling Bank CIO

John Mountain - Starling Bank CIO

One of the ways in which Starling Bank improves upon their use of tech is by building cross-functional teams, which explains why the Krispy Kremes fan sits opposite a millennial clad in a t-shirt and trainers.

“We all feel more comfortable if the three people at the desks around us do kind of a similar thing to us, but actually, it’s more productive if, say, the group of people who are going to launch the business current account all have different skill sets and work together,” Mountain told CIO UK.

This approach helps avoid the mistakes that arise when different teams work in isolation on separate components of a project.

“So what we do is, we group together a load of people around a vision of that service, and they’re responsible for it, end-to-end. We’ve got the screens monitoring the system. You might have a designer and a programmer looking at the payment volumes and the feature they’ve just launched, and wondering what to do next, and they can have a conversation and make the necessary changes.”

James Munson – DVSA Director of Services and Technology

James Munson - DVSA Director of Services and Technology

Speaking to CIO UK, James Munson relayed the time he was carrying out a year-long architectural project on his home.

“I honestly think – and this is what I said to them – that if we’d got all those people together in our dining room, with my wife and I as the customer, and we had worked it in a few sprints, I reckon we would’ve got there in a month,” Munson said. He uses this story to convey the power of an Agile way of working.

“It’s just that idea of working as a multidisciplinary team together on a daily basis – you feel as if you can make much quicker progress than if you are using a more Waterfall approach,” he said.