What Is Swarming in Agile and How Can It Boost Productivity?

For Agile teams, flexibility is the name of the game. Team members are always prepared to change focus or alter their working style to achieve the best results for their project. And this flexibility works in their favor — the 2018 Standish Group Chaos Study results showed that Agile projects are statistically twice as likely to succeed than Waterfall projects. Agile methodologies, tools, and processes have seen a significant boost in organizations worldwide since the beginning of the pandemic, with adoption doubling in non-IT teams between 2020 and 2021. 

Agile’s flexibility and adaptability have proven crucial to modern project management, so it can feel odd to imagine Agile teams focusing their sole attention on one task. But that’s exactly what a new concept, swarming in Agile, does — and it can prove essential in managing fast-moving projects. In this article, we’ll explore the swarming Agile definition, examples of how to succeed with swarming, and the advantages and disadvantages of this technique. 

What is swarming in Agile?

Let’s start off with a swarming Agile definition. Agile swarming takes place when multiple team members with available time and appropriate skill sets all direct their attention to work together on one feature or user story, i.e., they swarm the task until it is complete. The goal is to deliver high-quality results quickly by directing all available people power until the feature is up to scratch. Agile swarming is a very useful technique for fast-moving projects, as targets of swarming can be finished quickly before smoothly moving on to the next priority.

Kanban teams are especially likely to use swarming, as it helps them ensure workflows are continuous and maintain Work-in-Progress (WIP) limits.

Swarming is also closely linked to Scrum. Evaluating the tasks in their team’s sprint backlog and swarming a top priority item is a skill that most Scrum teams will be used to applying to their projects.

Example of an Agile swarming scenario

To visualize how swarming in Agile works, let’s take an example where it could be used. Imagine a large organization that has suffered an IT systems failure that affects most of its departments. The IT team needs to focus on fixing the problem to get the system back up and running for the rest of the business. Swarming enables teams to engage in cross-functional collaboration, meaning that every team member can play to their strengths to get the issue fixed as soon as possible. 

In this scenario, that may look like the marketing team engaging with IT to get regular updates on the situation to relay to the business’s website and social media visitors. Those in sales may work with IT to reschedule their calls and meetings with clients or use an alternative system to engage with them. Employees in other departments will redirect their usual queries and tasks away from IT, allowing them to focus fully on fixing the issue at hand. In this way, swarming allows the entire organization to band together, getting tasks done quickly and efficiently. 

Advantages of swarming in Agile

So, what are some of the advantages of swarming in Agile? 

  • Time-saving: The most obvious advantage of swarming is that it saves valuable time for Agile teams. When multiple team members are involved in completing the same task, it reduces the potential for reworks and edits down the line.
  • Encourages collaboration: If your teams have been struggling to work cross-functionally, swarming may be a great exercise in encouraging them to collaborate effectively. Workers come together from various backgrounds to work on a common goal, allowing each team member to gain an insight into the others’ way of working. 
  • Increased quality: Having workers from many different teams reviewing work means that the target of your swarm will be of higher quality than if just one person was proofing the final result.

Potential challenges of swarming in Agile

However, as with any approach to project management, there are potential disadvantages to swarming in Agile. These could include:

  • Disorganization: The saying “too many cooks in the kitchen” can often apply to swarming in Agile. If there are too many team members multitasking at once, processes can get messy, and the overall project may become derailed due to a lack of organization. 
  • Potential for conflict: With so many people from different teams suddenly forced to work together, it’s natural that conflict may arise when working with swarming. Managers should be aware of this and be ready to act if and when conflict occurs.
  • Not suitable for every task: Swarming is a great method for overall goal-oriented work, like an entirely new user story. But swarming is not a suitable method for every single task in a project’s life cycle. Resources should be better dispersed and teams should keep in mind that staying goal-focused, not task-focused, is the key to swarming success.

How to succeed in Agile swarming with Wrike

Wondering how your work management platform can help with swarming in your organization? An all-in-one solution like Wrike can be invaluable in bringing a fast-moving project to completion. Wrike offers:

Interested? Try Wrike for yourself with a two-week free trial.

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