Introduction to Agile
An agile methodology is a group of software development methodologies that are based on the concept of iterative development. It essentially means that the delivery of solutions is done incrementally rather than all at once. Scrum and Kanban are the two most widely used Agile methodologies. Scrum methodology is widely used in software development which has three distinct roles: the product owner, the scrum master, and the development team. Team sizes are usually kept small, usually between 5 to 9 people. A larger team makes seamless collaboration and communication difficult, while a very small team yields lower productivity and could be fragile.
The Agile methodology is being adopted far and wide in the Technology space as it has proved to be almost twice as efficient as the Waterfall model. The true value of Agile lies in the ability to deliver solutions faster with better quality and with the ability to respond to ever-evolving business requirements. It is a model of development where small, self-organized cross-functional teams decide how to break down tasks and allocate tasks to team members through a sprint. There may be instances where one particular task is lagging, or one particular team member cannot complete it. This is where the concept of Agile Swarming comes in.
What is Agile Swarming?
Agile, by definition, means to be able to move quickly and easily. This is the very principle that the Agile Methodology is based on. Teams divide tasks amongst themselves, keeping the phases short, reassessing progress frequently, and then adapting so that they always stay on track.
While that sounds perfect on paper, in the real world, they do come situations where some tasks (feature or user story in Agile terms) turn out to be more complex and time-consuming than anticipated or if a particular team member is having with or is unable to complete the said task on their own. In this situation, as many team members as possible work simultaneously on that one task only and continue to do so until that one task is done. This is known as Agile Swarming. It is a very useful technique for fast-moving teams.
Advantages of Agile Swarming
Distractions are everywhere in a work environment. They may be in emails, texts, or phone calls which tend to shatter our focus when working on a particular task. This always leads to a loss in productivity.
For example, A is working on an assigned task with 100% focus, and a colleague, say B, needs assistance with something. A will now have to break their train of thought, reset and focus on working on a solution to assist B. Once that is done, A will have to reset their mind to start where they left off on the task. A's focus is now no longer at 100%. This leads to a drop in productivity and increases the potential for mistakes.
This is where the Swarming technique in Agile comes in, where everyone is focused on one priority item in the sprint until it's done. This leads to:
- Time-saving: This is the most obvious advantage of Swarming in SCRUM. When multiple teams members work on completing one specific task, it reduces the potential for errors and reworks in the future, thus saving valuable time that can be better used to cross off a lot more tasks off the list.
- Improve Collaboration between teams: If seamless collaboration is lacking between teams, then swarming will be a great exercise to boost the efficiency of teams working together. Different team members working together on a common goal will give them great insight into different team members' manner of working. It will also allow knowing each team member's strengths and weaknesses, which will enable individual team members to improve their skill sets, thus helping the team's overall performance.
- Increased quality of deliverables: Having multiple team members from different teams reviewing the final product is always better than just one person doing the same. The potential to spot errors will be higher and result in a better quality of the product being delivered to clients.
Potential Complications with Agile Swarming
As the saying goes, "All that glitters is not gold" Agile Swarming also has its own sets of complications, as with any approach to software development methodologies. These could include:
- Disorganization: If there are too many team members multitasking simultaneously, individual timelines and processes can become a mess. Thus affecting the overall outcome of the project due to disorganization. As the saying goes," Too many cooks spoil the broth."
- Potential for conflict: When many people from different teams with different opinions and distinct working styles are suddenly working pushed to work together, conflicts are most definitely going to arise. This is where Agile Coaches come in who have learned to handle conflicts during their ICP ACC training, which is the agile coach certification.
- Does not work for every single task: Agile swarming works great for something like a new story, an overall-goal-oriented task. The allocation of multiple resources for every single task can take away focus from the project's overall goal and lead to the project falling off track.
Swarming Strategies to Consider
Now that we have discussed and are aware of the merits and demerits of Agile Swarming, here are some strategies to consider that can help to improve the project workflow.
- Use Swarming on an ad-hoc basis only when a user story is critical and needs to be finished asap.
- Identify and dedicate one day of the week to Swarming to complete the stories or tasks that are lacking behind.
- Use swarming periodically to build collaboration between various teams and identify trouble areas and work on improving them.
Agile Swarming can be a powerful tool to improve team productivity and collaboration when used correctly. It allows learning to be shared freely. Any high-performance Scrum team has mastered the art of using Agile Swarming effectively. As a Team Manager, if you feel that Agile could help your team greatly, you could consider getting an ICP ACC certification. As an Agile Coach, you could gain the knowledge to implement the Agile methodologies in your team, thus making it more productive.