Hello all! I popped into Dan North's blog to see what he's been writing about lately. Dan North introduced BDD (Behavior-Driven Development) to the world which bridged a huge gap between the Customer and the Team.
His latest post "In Praise Of SWARMing" grabbed my attention. I thought it was going to be about "swarming" a problem as in Kanban. But it's actually a different-ish approach to adopting Agile at Scale. SWARMing is Scaling Without A Religious Methodology.
His ideas really hit home with some great points! There are some harsh criticisms of competing methodologies. Those are somewhat tasteful. And I have to warn you, its a bit wordy. At over 4200 words, it's quite a bit more than your average "browsing the internet" post.
Here are some things that really jumped out at me.
The Good Parts
I particularly like the contrast between "moving the work to the people" and "moving the people to the work." This translates to reorganizing. The term "self-organizing teams" comes to mind.
I do prefer the flat structure of "every part of the org is geared in delivering value" vs the slanted structure of "sales makes the money and everyone else spends it." It allows businesses to utilize all their assets in focus of value delivery.
I read once that value is expressed as the benefit for the cost. A "good value" doesn't necessarily mean inexpensive. It means you actually got a return on your investment, monetary or otherwise. I wonder if looking at your organization from a "good value" perspective would make a positive difference.
Speaking if value: There are a couple terms worth following up on. OKRs are a relatively new way to set and measure goals. I learned about Risk-Adjusted Return on Investment, which is your profit plus or minus risk.
The Bad PartsThe post is long. It has quite a few run-on sentences. The upshot is that it's not an easy read. My concerns are that you (dear reader) won't see through to the beneficial parts. Please press on, it's worth it!
You've also got to see past the sales-y aspects. He's pretty tough on competing methods of implementing Agile at scale. He's right with those points, but it drags the article and makes for a slightly bitter taste. Sorry.
I get it, he's selling consulting services and differentiating from his competitors. But that wouldn't really be necessary if the most valuable points were laid out without the cruft. Maybe do those parts in a future post dedicated to a comparison.
The last "bad part" is the focus on hard numbers. These days, organizational psychology says to keep your focus on doing good for your customers. But that depends on perspective I suppose. Those with the pocketbook will care about the revenue aspect, especially when they're being told to rethink how they allocate funds!
Somewhere past halfway, Dan iterates over eight points about how to be SWARMing. Some of those go into depth with definitions of types of leaders: servant-leader and leader-leader. This section has some practical advice for hiring services to help with your transformation process. The successful transformation will be a long and investment-intensive road, so buckle up!
ConclusionI sent Dan an email asking if he had a more concise description of SWARMing. One that, hopefully, lays it out without the heavy padding. Those things are valuable to support the idea, no doubt! But I can't exactly expect busy execs to read such a lengthy argument all at once. Especially when it's a new idea which asks them to rethink their organization from top-to-bottom, front-to-back, and side-to-side.
All in all, I'd say it's worth taking the time to read his post. With the right packaging SWARMing could be a catalyst for much needed change. I hope it gets that with a bow on top.