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Can a Cross-Functional Team Still Outperform a Full-Stack Developer?

When you need to start a project or build a new product, deciding which type of team best suits your needs can be confusing. At this point, to save costs, some start-up founders choose to go with a Full-Stack Developer option. But the question is, can a Cross-Functional team outperform a Full-Stack Developer?

Let’s understand what those team compositions do and how they differ. We’ll also compare both types so you can decide which one is right for your project. To help you understand these concepts better, we’ll provide a real-life case study of LaSoft CEO Andriy Tatchyn, who researched to understand customers’ needs better.

Understanding Full-Stack Developers’ Role

As you know, Full-Stack Engineers or Developers play an important role in software development. They have the skills of both front-end and back-end developers to work on both layers of a software product. From the server to the browser, Full-Stack Developer works on both aspects of web development, i.e., front-end, back-end, and database management. These skills allow him to switch between different parts of the product as needed, making such an expert a valuable team member in sprints with agile methodology.

In small teams, when you are still working on your market validation, Full-Stack Developers can be responsible for the entire development process. They can try to have full ownership by implementing user interfaces, managing databases, and ensuring seamless integration of components. Yes, the scope of their skills makes them capable of handling different tasks. But when it comes to delivering a well-rounded product, Full-Stack dev will have particular limitations.

Unraveling the Concept of Cross-Functional Team

Cross-Functional team gathers people with proper skills and expertise, bringing together members from different disciplines such as Web Development, UI/UX Design, Quality Assurance, Project Management, and others. These teams focus on the end-to-end development of a product, ensuring that all aspects are covered. By working collaboratively, they leverage team members’ strengths to deliver the best possible outcome. Teamwork, communication, and knowledge sharing are encouraged within such teams.

Each member plays his/her role in building a successful product. For example, Web Developers handle coding and implementing the front-end and back-end functionalities. The UI/UX Designer ensures a relevant and seamless user experience. At the same time, the Project Manager coordinates the team’s efforts and priorities with the client to ensure the system is developed according to users’ needs and requirements. The Project Manager also keeps everyone aligned through sprints and manages the project timeline.

Such teams have proven to be effective in delivering high-quality software solutions. They foster collaboration, allowing for efficient problem-solving and adaptability. A Cross-Functional team will fit your project best if you need to scale your product and bring it to a new level of quality.
LaSoft offshore onshore nearshore outsourcing partner

By having experts from multiple domains, Cross-Functional team ensures that all product parts are well-covered, producing a cohesive and holistic result. In my opinion, a Cross-Functional team is the only option when you are a busy entrepreneur and do not have time to manage the team on a daily basis or find a solid trusted CTO for your product development.

The Unique Aspects of Cross-Functional Team

The vital feature of cross-functional teams is effective communication, as it reduces silos and enhances overall team efficiency. It allows team members to explore multiple facets of the product, considering user experience, business requirements, and technical feasibility. One unique aspect of such teams is the sense of ownership, accountability, and shared responsibility fostered among team members. Each individual becomes integral to the product’s development, contributing their expertise and actively participating in decision-making. The collaborative efforts of cross-functional teams yield impressive results, as they can effectively adapt to changes and deliver high-quality products within a specified time frame.

Comparing Full-Stack Developers and Cross-Functional Team

Full-Stack Developer and Cross-Functional teams bring different advantages to the table. While a Full-Stack Developer is an individual team member, Cross-Functional teams consist of multiple members with diverse skills. Full-Stack Developer possesses the knowledge and skills to handle some aspects of software development, making him efficient, yet not enough to cover all the project needs. Full-Stack Developer can’t deliver a world-class UI/UX of the system and usually do not test the system well enough.

On the other hand, Cross-Functional teams leverage the collective expertise of team members from various domains, offering a broader range of skills and perspectives.

Full-Stack Developer primarily focuses on the technical aspects of development, such as coding, debugging, and implementing features utilizing front-end technologies like React JS, back-end technologies like Python or Node.js, databases like SQL or MongoDB, version control systems like Git, etc.

Despite all the skills that Full-Stack developers offer, Cross-Functional teams are better suited for complex, long-term projects in the scale stage of your development. Collectively, they cover the tech aspects, business requirements, design insights, and user experience. Only the team can deliver a world-class system using a well-rounded approach to product development.

Validation stage use and scale-up stage use

In Validation Stage UseIn Scale-up Stage Use
Figma PrototypesProper System Architecture
Low-Code SolutionsCross-functional Team
Full-stack Developer

All in all, Full-Stack Developers are good at finding tech solutions but lack the depth and breadth of skills that Cross-Functional teams bring to the table. While you understand the specific needs of your project, considering factors such as team size, project duration, and complexity, it will help you determine whether a Full-Stack Developer or a Cross-Functional team is the right fit for your software development needs.

How Cross-Functional Teams Excelled: Case Study

Lasoft’s CEO Andriy Tatchyn has delved into the topic and studied the case to tell the winner from the price-quality perspective: Full-Stack Developer vs. Cross-Functional Teams.

“I will start by confessing that I love proper software development practices. And I admire Cross-Functional teams as they are robust enough to deliver world-class software. However, sometimes people challenge this statement, and this is a story about one of the “challenges” LaSoft had in 2023.”

The Big Promise: Andriy Tatchyn Real-Life Case

In 2023, one of our teams was working on a back-office system for a consulting firm. It was a custom development with particular software requirements, which are not standard for an industry. After going through the System Discovery, we offered the client a clear timeline and budget for the project implementation:

  1. System Discovery – 2 weeks;
  2. UI/UX Design – 10 weeks;
  3. Development
    • Release 1 – 13 weeks
    • Release 2 – 7 weeks
    • Release 3 – 9 weeks
    • Release 4 – 9 weeks
    • Release 5 – 5 weeks

In total, 3 months of system discovery and UI/UX design and 9 months of active development, with a step-by-step delivery system divided into 6 stages. Those are very standard numbers for a complex system; some systems take longer to develop.

Everything was fine until our client found a “consultant” who promised him to implement more options than we offered within 4 weeks using Vercel. So, this was the first time I learned about Vercel as a technology.

I love it when people keep their promises, and our client decided to try it. He invested an additional $9,000 in 4 weeks, and one Full-Stack Engineer was supposed to implement the system equal to one that our team 4.5 (FTE) was working on for 20 weeks. It was a significant promise but very much an unrealistic one.

The Inevitable Development Results

In October, we showed the demo and provided what was promised to our client by our team. It was unexpected, but our “rival” also presented a system different from what was promised. The rival’s solution was not terrible, and it could be used to test concepts or show the idea. Or even it might be used as an internal tool. So let’s check the comparison table below:

Cross-functional team vs Full-stack developer

Cross-Functional TeamFull-Stack Developer
24 weeks4 weeks
4.5 FTE1 FTE
19 key features8 key features
Proper server sideNo server side (Versel-based server side)
Proper system and database securityNo system and database security
World-class UI/UXUI/UX level - tables, rows, and columns

Our solutions had twice as many features, but we spent 6x of the time… Also, I have no idea how it is possible to sell products with such a UI developed by a Full-Stack developer. I have to say that I didn’t expect worthwhile results from rivals. However, they delivered a system build with Vercel, with poor UI and without any security, etc. Yes, this system was good enough to validate the market and ask clients what can be improved, but this was not the system safe to sell and use.

The Pros and Cons of Full-Stack vs. Cross-Functional Teams

Full-Stack Developers can work on a project’s front-end and back-end, writing server-side code. However, there are some downsides to working only with Full-Stack dev as he has limited expertise in UI/UX Design, Quality Assurance, System Architecture, Requirements Elicitation, and Documentation. Additionally, the increased workload of handling all aspects of development can lead to potential knowledge gaps.

On the other hand, Cross-Functional teams are usually a more expensive option but have their own set of advantages. These teams gather experts with skills and expertise, allowing collaboration and innovation. Team members’ collective knowledge and perspectives lead to better adaptability and shared responsibility. All in all, successful collaboration depends on your choice of a competent team.

The choice between Full-Stack dev and Cross-Functional teams depends on the project’s requirements and desired development approach. Full-Stack dev is more suitable for small projects where you want to test some of your hypotheses and show the Proof-of-Concept to your potential users and investors (validation stage of the project).

Unfortunately, Full-Stack Developer will not be able to deliver a stable, secure system with world-class UI/UX design.

Meanwhile, Cross-Functional teams excel in complex, long-term projects that require diverse skill sets, stability, and quality.

Conclusion: Can a Full-Stack Developer Deliver as Much as a Cross-Functional Team?

To summarize the above, we would say “NO” to the possibility of a Full-Stack developer achieving the result of the Cross-Functional development teams. Even the most talented Full-Stack web developers usually cannot test the system properly, double-check requirements, or forget about system security. While Full-Stack Developers can be highly efficient in coding, they are not the best in building scalable products, and at the end of the day, “you get what you pay for.”

On the other hand, Cross-Functional teams bring together experts with diverse skills and expertise, fostering collaboration and innovation. The choice is yours, considering your project’s specific requirements and goals. When deciding, consider factors such as project stage,  complexity, timeline, and budget. Ultimately, it’s about assembling a team that can deliver the best results for your project.

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