Thursday, 15 June 2017

Mob programming for managers

I could give you many, many reasons as to why mob programming is a great way of working. I've practiced it full time for two years now, at two different companies, and I really see no reason to go back to working alone. Together with my two colleagues Håkan Alexander and John Magnusson, I've been speaking about the subject at more than a dozen companies in Stockholm and at a couple of conferences. In short, we're into it. Big time.

At my current assignment, SEB, one of the biggest banks in Sweden, we've been mob programming since I came into the project. In fact, most of the issues I encounter regarding poor quality and late deliveries, I strongly feel can be helped by mob programming.

Of course, working this way, sitting 4 or more developers around one computer, can trigger a few questions. Is it really efficient? How much does every line of code cost? One person is active and the other ones are just sitting around looking at their phones? Will management allow it?

Views on mob programming

To be honest, when we're out speaking about mob programming, managers are almost always positive. We speak about better quality, faster deliveries, better throughput, less time spent on fixing bugs.

Developers are more skeptic, especially the senior ones. Some feel that their work is too complex and they need to solve problems undisturbed and alone.

Junior developers are often very positive though. The things they could learn sitting together with the senior developers, instead of struggling alone through legacy systems where technology as well as domain is unchartered territory for them!

It's not that strange though, that managers encourage it and developers resist. For managers, this won't mean anything for their day to day job. It's always easy to encourage someone else to change their ways. For developers, on the other hand, this will deeply affect their everyday work.

SEB leader day plans

One day, our lovely agile coach Anna Borgerot came by at SEB and asked me if I wanted to help arrange the SEB IT Leader Day. 120 leaders within the IT organization from Sweden and Lithuania would meet up in Stockholm for a whole day with the theme of Learning. They had come up with the idea of letting the leaders do some coding, inspired by the Hour of Code-movement.

Anna loved the way we were mob programming (she said it warmed her heart to see us :) ) and thought that would be a great way to inspire everyone at the event to actually sit in front of the computer and do some coding, even though they might never have done it before.

So naturally, I said yes. Such a great opportunity to spread the mob programming gospel and to actually observe how people react when faced with a new team, a new way of working and a task way outside of their comfort zone. My view is that this is the natural way of solving problems for us, but once we head out into the work life, we're supposed to be efficient and go it alone. And - surprise - one mind does not think as well as four.

The coding task

To begin with, we realised it could not be just me managing the two hour slot of introducing mob programming, coding and reflecting. Three more developers from SEB were asked to help: Andreas Frigge, Andreas Berggren and Magnus Crafoord. We thought about what the actual coding exercise should be and ended up with Minecraft Designer found at Minecraft Designer is a block based application consisting of 12 steps of different tasks, with short movies in between explaining the coding concepts.

We all tried it and decided it would be something that would work for everyone, coding experience or not. The recognition of coding Minecraft was nice as well, something they might do at home with their kids later.

We also gave them the actual task, when they were done with the 12 mandatory steps we wanted them to build their own game, using what they had learned. There were some requirements, but quite vague. So we gave them a fixed deadline of one hour, a new way of working that they hadn't chosen themselves, and vague requirements. Totally realistic, in other words!

Dress rehearsal

In order to see if our idea for the two hours given to us would work out, we did a dress rehearsal two weeks in advance. Anna found 12 willing test pilots that could help us. This was incredibly helpful! We learned that my mob programming introduction had to be more geared towards the upcoming coding task, that we had to steer the dividing into teams better, that the written instructions about setting up the timer and the actual coding had to be much clearer and the screens, keyboards and mouse at each station had to be checked. When running through it with real non coding people, we ended up making small changes to almost everything.

We also noticed something else. They were laughing, pointing, discussing and creating stuff. Everyone participated. We started to feel quite good about the upcoming big day.

The leader day event

When the IT leader day finally arrived, we had the following schedule:
  • Intro to mob programming, 15 minutes.
  • Divide into teams, 4 at each table, 10 minutes. We took care ensuring they didn't work with the people they normally work with.
  • Setup the mob timer and programming environment, 10 minutes. Everyone had their own computers and we had 30 tables with screen, keyboard and mouse. We also asked them to use cool hacker names in the timer, which turned out to be a fun task that got the energy going in the room.
  • The coding task, 60 minutes.
  • Reflection in the team, 10 minutes. We had prepared a sheet of questions to help them.
  • Joint reflection, pass the mic, 10 minutes.

Reflections from my side during the actual event were these: everyone coded. They followed the timer that was set at 7 minutes. They laughed. They were active. They were loudly discussing the problems, solving all the tasks together. As I was walking the room, it was obvious how natural and powerful this way of working was.

At the joint reflection afterwards, one of the participants expressed that he was surprised that they had actually managed to solve this task and it was all due to working together. Another said that she actually felt she participated more when being a navigator than when being a driver. Great reflections, and so true!

More about the event can be found here, at SEB:s website.

Comments afterwards

Getting the written opinions on the mob programming session a couple of days after the event was truly awesome:
  • Mob programming is DA SHIT!
  • Mob programming – WOW!
  • Interesting interaction!
  • Fun to do some programming that also got you to think of ways of working.
  • Good to focus on development and IT-competence.
  • Inspirational to hear about the mob programming method.
  • Great with mob programming (outside my comfort zone which is good for me to be!)
  • The introduction to Mob programming was the best – loved the simplicity and clarity.
  • MOB - great way of working - will try that in my department.
  • Loved the mob programming!
  • Fun/useful to try mob programming.
  • An extremely powerful way of solving problems!
Can't be anything else than happy about those comments. The week after I also started to get bookings in my Outlook calendar from managers wanting me to speak about mob programming at their departments. So yay, great success!

Will SEB start mob programming everywhere now?

Mob programming is something that I personally am very passionate about. But one thing to watch out for of course is this: no one wants to be told how to do their work. The way a team works must come from within the team. Inspiration is great, trying different things is great, but it has to be a team decision.

Showing IT leaders that mob programming is a good way of working mainly achieves this: it might remove any future obstacle of managers thinking it's a waste of money and time. It might give teams the opportunity and possibility to try it out. It might help managers embrace that not all has to be done according to the standard process and beliefs. Hopefully in the end, some teams will get inspired to try it and see the benefits!

1 comment:

  1. Love this post, thank you for sharing about your experiences with Mob Programming.