Swarming Roles

September 26, 2014


So far in this series I have covered the values and principles of the swarming methodology. Now let’s talk about roles on swarming teams. In nature, when you look at swarms, flocks and schools there are all kinds of specialization. The nature of the roles can be fixed (i.e. workers and queens) or they can be dynamic (foraging, nursing, etc.). So there are a very broad range of roles that we can find in the animal world. Given those models, there are a few things we can identify as critical to swarming teams:

  • Swarms don’t have Managers, Masters or Owners
  • Swarms have radical diversity
  • Membership is not fixed

There are none of the typical command and control structures to be found on a swarming team. There is no manager. There is no owner. There is no one person making any of the decisions for the group. Swarming doesn’t work without complete equality. That doesn’t mean there can’t be leaders, they are still necessary, but it is only leadership by virtue of their ideas, not any sort of hierarchy or power relationship.

Swarms require diversity. Swarm based decision making is enabled by diversity in the group. Without that diversity, the swarm is likely to have too narrow a perspective and come up with poor answers. This comes from the wisdom of crowds – it doesn’t work without diversity. True diversity is rare in our business. I’m not talking about just race and sex (although more diversity there is necessary), I’m actually talking about a diversity of knowledge and interests. We need people who aren’t software engineers on our teams. Anyone can play: the admin, the fisherman, the librarian, the doctor and the engineer. I think of this as radical diversity.

Finally, the membership of the team doesn’t stay the same. It ebbs and flows with the popularity of the project and the ideas that are being worked on. Anyone can come or go on any given day. They are able to follow their passions where ever they may go. Swarm teams can recruit, sell, and dissipate completely. Nothing about the membership on swarming team is mandatory.


Swarming Principles

September 25, 2014


In an earlier post I introduced a set of values that might be used to guide swarming teams. Values are a good start. They provide very broad guidelines to give teams guidance when making big picture decisions. Principles help give more specific guidance. So here are a few principles that are aimed at guiding teams practicing swarming as a discipline.

Swarming Principles

  • The most important thing I can do is whatever I am most passionate about today
  • Prefer one way broadcast over two way communication
  • Using agreed upon protocols enhances the effectiveness of our communication and decision making

The first principle tells us that we need to be fully engaged in whatever we care most about. That means that people move to where ever they have the most interest. Teams are spontaneously formed dynamic entities that are composed of people who share a common passion.

The second principle tells us that we not only need to communicate, we need to radiate. Information needs to be broadcast exuberantly without reservation or hesitation.

The third principle tells us that one of the foundations for emergent behavior is in simple protocols. We need to be explicit and disciplined in how they are applied and we need to be always seeking new protocols to add to the mix.