A Path Less Taken
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A Path Less Taken

Swarming: A Team-based Approach to Getting Work Done

Which of these sounds like a more desirable outcome at the end of an iteration?

It’s hard to imagine too many customers or other stakeholders who would be happy with the second option. The purpose of this blog post is to provide some simple advice about ways for team members to work together to get user stories to done.

Swarming Defined

In the most general sense of the term, it can be said that a team is starting to swarm any time that more than one team member is working on the same user story at the same time.

On one end of the spectrum, only two team members could be working on the same user story, while at the other end of the spectrum, ALL team members could be working on the same user story. Taking the latter example even further, all of the team members could use “mob programming” to focus on solving a particular problem (or completing a user story) together, using a single computer.

Swarming patterns (sample combinations)

On teams where team members have specific roles, here are examples of swarming patterns that could be applied:

Ideally, team members will discover their own swarming patterns that make sense in their context. There is no one “right” way to swarm.

Swarming scenario

Let’s say that a particular user story has five tasks associated with it.

A common approach for a Scrum team during Sprint Planning is to assign the tasks by saying a particular person takes on tasks 1–2–3 (often a developer), and another person takes on tasks 4–5 (often a tester).

A different way to approach the same scenario (a user story with five tasks) would be to list the tasks, identify ALL the team members capable of handling the various tasks, and agree on an approach on how to attack the work. The larger the number of people who are identified, the larger the number of potential swarming variations a team could choose to employ.

Swarming variations

What are some advantages of swarming?

What bad things can happen if teams do not swarm?

Note: For an additional perspective on the pernicious effects of trying to work on more than one thing at the same time, along with examples of techniques that can help prevent a “flow buffer overflow,” see a fact sheet that I wrote about the Zeigarnik Effect, which is published on the Excella Insights blog.



This collection is for anyone who is looking for Lean-Agile content on a range of topics, with a particular focus on techniques that help with coaching and facilitation.

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Philip Rogers

I’m an Agile practitioner at TextNow — I love to work with Agile teams to help them collaborate and deliver, and have fun while doing it.