The COVID-19 Pandemic gave me some time to reflect and adjust how we do work at Red Argyle. Over the past two months, we observed the tireless work of medical professionals, local governments, logistics and transportation companies, and essential workers at-large. I kept coming back to the same word over and over again: swarm.
Bee references aside, swarm means three things to me: be organized, be urgent, and be goal-driven, every day.
Four behaviors establish our daily swarms at Red Argyle:
We decide what work matters most, today. We maximize the number of projects that benefit from attention, but minimize staffs’ need to multi-task. It’s a balancing act: we want to serialize work at a daily level, while ensuring we move all the projects ahead that are assigned to the two-week sprint. Consultants and Project Managers run what must be reminiscent of a horse-trading event of ages ago: there are always compromises and contingencies, but the big difference is they are known compromises and contingencies as opposed to unknown assumptions and surprises previously. And, most importantly, goals are established for the day. Assigning a task to “work on mockups” produces a very different outcome than establishing a goal of “finish all mockups”.
We run this meeting at 9:30 am, every day.
Immediately after Swarm Planning, the Swarm Assignment meeting runs. All staff (yes, everyone) gets on a 30-minute call to receive and review project assignments for the day. Staff are not blindly assigned unfamiliar work (everyone is assigned to a project at its onset), but the day’s priorities may shake out where work would benefit from extra hands to move it forward, or someone simply has time to help.
We run this meeting at 10 am, every day.
For the work planned and assigned, “Swarm Rooms” are stood up (currently in the form of Google Hangouts) to get people working in the same place, at the same time, on the same things. Questions are posed an answered immediately. Mini-demos of progress happen in real time (previously, we waited until the end of sprints to demo, which could be up to two weeks after the work started). The Swarm Room establishes a boundary of ownership of and expectations for the work to be done on a project for that day. At Red Argyle, we strive for no more than four Swarm Rooms based on our size and realistically completing goals in a day-long timeframe.
Swarm Rooms open at 10:30 am, every day.
The members of a Swarm Room switch modes from completing goals to measuring goals. Functionality is demoed, documents are reviewed, contingencies and compromises are evaluated. Ideally, everyone wraps for the day. In some cases, though, the work continues. No one wants to work “the second shift”, but the gravity of a goal that is missed can significantly impact a project, and the work needs to get done.Swarm Debriefs open at 4pm each day.
You may look at this and say “It’s just another name for Scrum stand-ups and war rooms”. And you may be right. The extra emphasis on closely examining the most-valuable work for the day, adjusting staff’s priorities to achieve those day-level goals, setting up space to reinforce urgent behaviors, and baking in ownership and accountability for day-level goals is the heightened state of operating, and what is setting us apart from what can otherwise become robotic behaviors, uncovered conflicts, and ultimately missed expectations.
Swarm is now a noun and a verb at Red Argyle. We apply it to any work we can: planning, design, delivery, support, client or internal projects.
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Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for more posts explaining exactly what’s happening during these Swarms!