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The developers encounter a technical issue that requires them to swarm. How would you approach this?

The developers encounter a technical issue that requires them to swarm. How would you approach this?

Welcome to part 44 in our scrum master interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.

I wouldn’t approach this at all.

As an interview question, this baffles me. The developers are the technical experts and if they have made an observation that swarming is required to fix the problem, they are easily the best placed people to make that call.

I don’t need to be involved. I don’t need to manage that. I don’t need to ensure that they do the task at all. As a team, they have identified the problem and designed an intervention to resolve that problem, nothing further is needed from me, the product owner, or anyone else for that matter.

What is swarming.

Swarming is when two or more developers come together to tackle a problem.

It happens when the developer, or development team, recognize that something is sufficiently difficult or intractable for one developer to solve on their own, and make a decision that two or more people are required to resolve the issue.

It could be a straightforward case of volume.

It just needs 5 people to do the work to solve the problem but they know how to do the work and know how to solve the problem so it’s a straightforward fix and a matter of time before they solve the problem.

It could be a case of complexity.

The team don’t have a firm grasp of what the problem is nor do they have any idea of what the solution might be. Swarming, in this instance, is about bringing as much experience and intellectual firepower to the problem to correctly diagnose the problem and develop a solution to resolve that problem.

This takes time, creativity, and collaboration.

There simply isn’t a way around it, it needs more people dedicated to developing a solution and the team will decide who is best placed to participate in the swarm.

It could be a technical debt issue.

Things have been left alone for too long and now everything has unravelled. There are too many bugs in the system, and it needs to be repaired. The team need to pay the piper for past neglect and shortcuts, and now it has become impossible to proceed without fixing the system.

The team will swarm to fix the problem because none of them would be able to proceed with their work until the fix was complete anyway, and so it makes sense to reduce the amount of time it takes to correct the problem.

Whatever the cause, there is no reason for a scrum master to get involved in the swarm, but it may be worth addressing the issue in the sprint retrospective to understand what happened, why swarming was necessary, and what can be done to prevent something disruptive happening in the future again if the swarming exercise was preventable.

About John McFadyen

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John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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