Starting Swarming

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“prattle without practice”
― William Shakespeare, Othello

Enough prattle! All this theory is great, but how do we actually set the conditions for swarming to occur? How can we make it work?

Initiating the Swarm

The problem with a good swarming team is that you can’t control team membership. Swarming requires a dynamic and egalitarian approach where everyone can decide what they want to do with whomever they please. Management has no role in this at all (other than perhaps creating the space). I suppose you could try and provide a few seed ideas to attract people, but you go into it with no assurance that those ideas will be what the groups coalesce around.

There should be some orientation to the values and principles to start with. We need to find a group that is interested in using the process and understands from the start that there are no explicitly defined leaders or followers. Anyone can come up with an idea, and if the idea is a good one, perhaps others will join you.

So the key ingredients to start swarming:

  • People who have been introduced to and understand the swarming values and principles
  • Some ideas
  • A place for the swarming to take place – preferably a place dedicated to swarming
  • Passion

One more note on the people: radical diversity is required. It’s not sufficient to just toss a bunch of developers and QA into a room and tell them to swarm. It must be open to everyone. ABSOLUTELY everyone. That’s right, toss that cute receptionist from the front desk in there too. Customer Service, the guy from the help desk, and the janitor. Throw them all in. And a customer or two – don’t forget them. Oh, and for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t toss an agile coach in there, they’ll tell everyone how to do it and just screw everything up.

That should get them started. It could be structured like the marketplace in open space. Everyone with an idea goes to the center of the room and writes their idea on a sheet of paper. They stand up and announce the idea, then go to some agreed upon area and wait to see who shows up. Simple. Then let people go wherever their interest takes them. They can be butterflies, bumble bees, whatever makes them happy. If you come up with a new idea (and hopefully people will) then you just write it down and announce it to the group. If there are no takers, no problem: you can decide to continue on your own and develop the idea to the point where it attracts more interest or you can dump it and look at someone else’s idea.

That’s really all there is to it. From here on out you just stand back and let it go. The teams that form will decide how to work together. If someone doesn’t like it, they can move on, make their own team or join another one. No managers. No scrum masters. Just:

Water frequently…

Place in direct sunlight…

And let it grow…

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