Scrum swarming is a concept where all the members of the Scrum Team focus their attention on a single issue that is either likely to cause problems with the product or that blocks other work.
It is the Scrum’s answer to particularly difficult problems or impediments that are hard to overcome by a single team member. It is not mentioned in the Scrum Guide as one of the core Scrum practices, but it is a common practice for most Scrum Teams.
Why the need for swarming
Like we mentioned, Scrum swarming usually happens when the Team encounters a particularly difficult problem or one that blocks other Product Backlog Items from being worked on. This happens even with the best possible Product Backlog grooming and Sprint Planning.
It is just one of those things that happens when you develop software or any other kind of complex product.
In such situations, resolving such an issue quickly is a priority and that is exactly what swarming hopes to accomplish - a rapid solution to a particular problem.
What is the real purpose of swarming?
Like we mentioned, the purpose of swarming is to collaboratively solve a difficult problem as quickly as possible. However, there is an even more important, real purpose for it.
The real purpose of swarming is to help the team members grow as a team. Yes, you read that correctly. The real purpose of swarming is to further develop each team member and help them get to know each other better.
A team is only as efficient as their ability to collaborate and communicate towards achieving the common goal. If the team can come together to solve a problem, then there's nothing left that can stand in their way.
Interestingly, swarming in the Scrum framework is encouraged even when there isn't a major problem to solve.
In fact, you can encounter Scrum Teams that consider it a standard practice.
Swarming practices - how to do it right
- As you might imagine, simply coming together to try and fix a problem won't get the team anywhere if everyone is simply shouting the possible solutions out loud and not focusing on anything in particular. To swarm effectively, a more delicate approach is required.
- Be a team - This is oftentimes more difficult than it sounds. Most commonly, every team member will work individually on specific tasks within a Sprint. However, individuality goes out of the window when swarming is involved. Everyone must understand each other and everyone's opinion must be valued. Only as a team can you work together towards solving the problem.
- Frequent swarming - As mentioned before, Scrum encourages swarming even when there's no problem to be solved. It helps the team practice swarming so that they can fully utilize it when it really matters. The major benefit here is faster and more efficient delivery of working software. After all, it's better to have 70% of stories completed 100% than to have 100% of stories completed only 70%.
- Diversity for the win - Each team member has unique talents and to show their best, they must be encouraged to do so. Oftentimes, this means taking some risks and it's up to the team leaders, product owners and Scrum masters to ensure safety when those risks are taken.
- Self-organize - Scrum teams are famous for being self-organizing. Sometimes it takes a bit of time before the team can truly achieve this. The key is in engaging in swarming so that everyone can determine what needs to be done and how. In most cases, it takes an entire group to make things possible while, sometimes, things can get moving by simply pairing up individuals.
- Regular check-ups - You can treat swarms as mini versions of iterations. Checking the progress regularly is thus essential. The idea is to ensure that the ideas envisioned in swarming are actually becoming reality with actionable goals and results.
- Update estimations - We all think this or that may solve a problem but no one is 100% certain that our solution will work. Solutions are, therefore, based on estimates and every time there's new information available, these estimations should be updated. In other words, the more effort you place in estimations the more accurate you'll be over time.
- Everyone must engage - As mentioned before, swarming is a team effort so everyone must engage. You're not competing here in any way and it doesn't matter who contributes the most. Every input counts and every bit of information can help solve the problem so don't dismiss anyone from the swarm.
The benefits of swarming
By now, you've probably realized that swarming is more than a high-crisis situation where all hands on deck are required. When swarming is treated as a team-building activity, the benefits can be substantial for both the teams and the organization they work for.
Aside from helping the team develop as a team, swarming can bring about the passion in people and encourage them to show their best without the necessity for incentives that will further motivate people.
Efficiency and productivity can oftentimes be self-rewarding, alongside accomplishments, of course. As for the organizations, the benefit of delivering working software faster than expected and with quality to match is, indeed, a competitive advantage.