Since around 2015 we have maintained a separate Support & Production department, with staff separated into teams supporting websites and teams creating new ones. At various points in that history we have frequently blurred the lines between the teams, so it hasn’t always looked like that to everyone, but the idea has been there. In 2021 we defined QA as its own department as well. We also added a second dimension with the launch of our European office. This amount of stratification and division between teams has created problems:
- If a project requires specific knowledge or expertise, we have to hand that off between teams whenever a project changes hands. This causes challenges for the new team, as they have to absorb the requirements of the existing project and relationship and gaps in service.
- The line between "Support" and "Production" are fluid. What about a 20 hour one-time project for an existing retainer client, or a retainer to work on a new website over a period of time? These issues have always confounded our department structure.
- When a client changes project managers, they have to build rapport and understanding all over again.
- Some people dislike working on the same kinds of things over and over. Others enjoy this, but those who do not need the ability to have variety.
- People would sometimes like to remain on a project, but can’t because it is leaving their department.
- If the company has one primary expert on a given topic, that person is underutilized in the offices/departments that they are not a part of.
- Basing teams on geography does not make sense, but our European entity is clearly better for handling paperwork/employment of European staff.
- Clear divisions are an impediment to growth. We may have enough work across all departments/locations to bring in a new person, but not in a single location/department. Or we may have a huge need in a department today and hire, but that department’s needs shrink soon after.
Ironically, as we have grown, the need for cross-functional collaboration has grown as well. We can accommodate more people with specialty skillsets, but can’t take full advantage of those skillsets because of division of groups by department/physical location and not by skill or interest. We have decided to modify our structure to be more flexible and common-sense.
Our QA department has already been using a model under which a QA engineer is assigned to a project for its lifespan, avoiding unnecessary handoffs and maintaining domain knowledge better. That is inspiration for our updated structure.
An important concept to understand relative to this structure is .