One of the key underpinnings of Agile is the concept that the things that have the most value go first.  In Business as Usual conditions this means items land in the backlog, receive grooming, get prioritized by the business, and wait their turn in the On Deck queue for the development team.  Happy happy!

But what about when there's a problem?  Something is of the rails or a major issue has surfaced and there's not a lot of time to reach a resolution.  In these cases the rule of the most value still holds true.  These issues are typically the most important issue for the organization to resolve either because of their actual cost or potential cost operationally or in terms of lost revenue.

The business needs these items fixed and it needs them fixed right away.  So how does an Agile team take on these issues?  The answer is they handle them like any good bee hive or ant hill would.  They swarm to the issue and attack it until it is fully resolved.

All resources commit to the fix.  This may include people stepping out of their typical roles briefly until the crisis abates.  A developer might need to do testing.  A tester might be handling communications.  A manager might be writing code.  Whatever is needed the swarm provides it.

The swarm doesn't give up.  Resolution is typically a 24×7 effort until the issue is resolved.  The team is fighting for the survival of the sprint.  If the issue lingers too long the commitments the team made to delivery are endangered.  No effective Agile team ever wants to de-scope their sprint so quick and complete resolution of issues are a top priority for them.

The outcome of an effective swarm solution is not just a band-aid.  The goal of the swarm is to fully understand the root cause of the issue and eliminate completely the possibility of it happening again.  Solving the same problem over and over not only kills productivity for the Agile team in diminishes morale.  Highly effective Agile teams solve problems so that they stay solved.

The swarm ends up producing a tighter knit team in the end.  When Agile teams go through crisis together and emerge successfully from it they are more tightly bound.  They have a shared experience and trust each other more.  They learn about the strengths each team member brings to the table and what they can be relied upon to contribute during crunch time.

The swarm makes it possible to not waste a good crisis.  The team works together, knowledge and trust are gained, and the system is improved in quality and reliability.


What swarms have you been a part of to solve problems?  What experience did you gain from being part of these swarms?  Do you have a better means of solving problems in times of crisis?

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