Starting Swarming

October 1, 2014


“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…

Slowing Down: Actions

February 18, 2013

Things to start

In my last post, I summarized a talk, Slowing Down, that I had facilitated recently at Agile Open Northwest.  There was a fair amount of interest in the topic and some folks mentioned that I should do a follow on session focused on specific things we could do to start slowing down. It was a call to action. Once again, I walked into the session with very little idea of what would happen and how it would all work out.

The Session

The session got off to a bit of a funny start. I started by giving an introduction to the session, and creating some posters, and taping them up, and balancing my first cup of coffee for the morning – all at the same time. Yes, you got it – I was a multi-tasking madman! Of course I promptly tipped my precious coffee into the box of supplies, thereby destroying the supplies for the session and depriving myself of the coffee I so desperately needed. I couldn’t have put together a better demonstration of attempting too much if I had tried. After that little disaster, I slowed down a bit. We decided to put together two lists: Things to start, and things to stop. Here is what we came up with (in no particular order):

Things to Start

  • Ignoring email
  • Make a list and then throw it away
  • Doodle
  • Completing actions
  • Schedule empty space
  • Intentionally doing nothing
  • Reducing my WIP
  • Turn off email for 1-2 hours per day
  • Using Pomodoro more regularly
  • Get a dog
  • Draw a picture
  • Gratitude
  • Listening to music each day
  • Exercise – setup yoga with group or something else with coworkers
  • Start reading more about Agile
  • Observe my thoughts without judgement
  • Start acting like a toddler
  • Reading for fun
  • Walking slow
  • Notice my breath and how it feels
  • Eating lunch NOT at your desk
  • Watching grass grow
  • Amble
  • Phone stacking at lunches and dinners and meetings
  • Being present
  • Watch waves roll in
  • Saying single sentences only
  • Finishing things
  • Reward slow actions

Things to Stop

Things to stop

  • Stop carrying laptop
  • Stop reading more than 2 paragraphs
  • Stop burying the lead in emails
  • Multi-tasking
  • Don’t go to Agile 2013
  • Stop reading everything related to the next meeting’s topic. Be prepared to be unprepared.
  • Stop working through the 12:00 hour and go for a walk
  • Stop waiting for permission to initiate change
  • TV
  • Stop reading everything all the time
  • Stop solving problems without asking 3 questions first
  • Stop trying to fill the void of silence first
  • Stop avoiding nagging release issues
  • Stop checking email on my phone every time I have a spare moment
  • Stop checking email before I go to sleep
  • Remember there is always tomorrow…
  • Stop checking IM’s the instant that they arrive
  • When I’m at a conference, stop going to every session. Take time out each day to just go outside
  • Stop having talks longer than 25 minutes
  • Stop bringing anything on a trip that I didn’t use last time
  • Ditch watch
  • Drive less
  • Turn off email
  • Work less by taking a 3 week vacation
  • Imitrex

Recommended books

  • Personal Kanban
  • The Tao of Pooh
  • The Shibumi Strategy
  • The Tao Te Ching
  • Pomodoro Illustrated

Obviously we captured a lot of “stuff” here. Some of it I really like, and other things I will probably never try. I’m committed to trying many of them. I’m still absorbing, so for now I’ll take it one day at a time. Once again, I’m grateful to those who participated in the session. I hope some of these ideas serve as a starting point for others in the same fashion they have for me.