3 considerations for Team Topologies

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Team Topologies is a modern approach to software delivery that allows teams to deliver quicker with an adaptive operating model and optimised team interactions. When our Tech Society recently came together, we discussed the topic at length, specifically focusing on team cognitive load, Conway’s Law, and responsive organisation evolution. 

Reduce the team cognitive load to speed time-to-market

Every business hits a point where things that once worked cease to be effective. One cause is cognitive load. As the business scales, people add more and more to their workload to the point of overwhelm, which is when the team grinds to a halt.  

To optimise the team, you must remove the cognitive load by simplifying the organisational design. For your business to comfortably grow, it needs a convenient structure that scales in line with the business.

Start with a dedicated Platform Team that has responsibility for ensuring the platform is always available, with capabilities to match the Delivery Teams’ requirements.

Then use the Platform Team as consultants to help build out skills and capabilities within the Development and Delivery Teams, so they’re able to take ownership of what they need.  

The addition of a Pipeline Team, which integrates with the Development Team, will enable the operations to run smoothly by managing all issues and building out additional requirements. Look to appoint 1x pipeline engineer for every 5x developers.

Establish a Support Rota – ideally business hours (24×5) or better (24×7). Know that it’s one of the most difficult changes to embed (because 3am false alerts are painful!), but necessary long-term. Ideally you need 6-7 people to implement a rota system.

Also, appoint a central function/role to take ownership of Incident Response. This is particularly important when projects span multiple teams within the business. This function/role takes responsibility to facilitate the resolution of issues, communicates and answers questions, and plugs in the right people to solve problems.


Use Conway’s Law to break down barriers

As organisations evolve naturally, they tend to become siloed in their thinking and working practices. Each team has specific priorities and projects, communication style and culture – and often it leads to the mentality of ‘us vs. them’, which isn’t conducive to collaborative working and fast outputs.

Apply Conway’s Law, which considers how an organisation’s design systems should mirror it’s own communication structure, and it starts to pull the business back together and focus them on shared outcomes. 

Lay down all the current ideas and encourage people to carve projects up into different buckets – for example, ‘immediate business value’, ‘operational change’, ‘unplanned working incidents’. It highlights where resource is needed and raises visibility of what the engineers are actually spending their time on, and how others can influence the team’s ability to deliver.

Furthermore, make people accountable for the outcome and measure them on meaningful operational metrics, such as ‘mean time to detect/resolve incidents’. This encourages them to take ownership to troubleshoot issues and experiment with new ideas to continuously improve. barriers

Evolve your operating model to be more responsive 

Your people are really smart, but you can’t base decisions on their opinions alone. You must validate and be led by the data.

With the right data, you’re able to prioritise projects – for example, whether to develop a new product or new capability. Both projects drink from the same capacity, but with data you can articulate the value of the work to the business and determine which project is most important.  

Of course, it helps to secure executive sponsorship by aligning development priorities with the business priorities. It’s incredible what can happen when you have the backing of the C-suite – last year Tesco more than doubled its delivery capacity and Dyson designed a new ventilator in just 10 days.  

To find out more about Team Topologies, visit the dedicated site with information about the book, academy, upcoming events and industry examples… 


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Written by
Sullivan & Stanley