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Nancy Louisnord | March 30, 2021

Swarming and Scrum: How to Apply These Techniques

Swarming and scrum are hot topics – especially as agile IT Service Management software gains popularity. These terms, often (incorrectly) used interchangeably, are not separate of each other but are rather means of collective problem solving. When used correctly, these techniques have major benefits including faster resolution time, improved team building, and higher rates of employee satisfaction.

What are Swarming and Scrum?

As mentioned above, swarming and scrum are not completely separate, but are instead two pieces of a more comprehensive agile strategy. To understand how they function together, you must understand how they are defined apart.

Scrum Basics

Scrum is a cost-free framework for software development which makes it easier for organizations to maintain products and processes. In scrum, you learn by doing and your findings are the guiding light for the next step. Think of scrum like the scientific method – constantly experimenting, understanding, and evolving. Scrum has core values, including Courage, Focus, Commitment, Respect, and Openness.

Scrum is not a fringe movement within agile, rather it is an increasingly popular framework not to be ignored. A recent study found that 84% of agile teams still vastly prefer Scrum as their approach. Other popular approaches include Kanban, DevOps, Lean and Design Thinking.

Scrum works best for small self-managing teams of three to nine people working within a step-by-step method. The team delivers a new or improved product or functionality, within a set period of time (two weeks, for example). These short “sprints” force you to constantly work with realistic deadlines.

You gain transparency, inspection, and the ability to adapt. Risks also are manageable over the short term, but you’re not going to make a long-term plan with an extensive risk analysis. With each step forward, you can determine what hurdles need to be overcome, scenarios can be followed to do so and what the impact of each is. With this information you can adjust the course of your team’s work as needed.

Short sprints, which are short time periods for scrum teams to complete a set amount of work, ensure that it’s transparent what your team accomplishes, and at the end of the sprint you also can show your customer what you’ve done. Thus, the customer provides your team with feedback that your team can use to formulate the next sprint. This ensures that the product you make is something the customer is really happy about.

You can take this one step further with timeboxing. Timeboxing allocates a fixed time period in which to allow the scrum team to solve a problem. This is best used with the swarming method in the scrum team, which we will touch on next.

Swarming Basics

Swarming brings the idea of the hive mind, and it’s true this is the idea behind the agile methodology – a group working together to quickly problem solve. It removes the hierarchy and enables a cross-functional structure and collaboration. Swarming is a simple way to boost the speed and velocity of the scrum team. Just like bees swarming a hive to make honey, swarming occurs when people from various departments together in a scrum team based on their skills. Together, their skills form the right mix to speed up the velocity.

This is accomplished in sprints – which we mentioned in the definition of scrum. In short, the team collectively tackles different aspects of the problem working as quickly as possible, thereby shortening the amount of downtime. In ITSM,swarming enables the ticket to be picked up by the person that is most likely to resolve it fast, which is not necessarily the service desk agent. You can skip the hierarchical process and get directly to the correct person.

Swarming requires careful consideration of the team and the services being offered. Everyone must know their role and the goal they are working toward. Swarming may also not be right for every project, but for problems that require intense agility, it can be effective.

Why Swarming and Scrum Work, and How They Work Together

These two methods work together when the scrum team deploys the swarming approach to tackle a project. The team is able to quickly discover and refine as needed, continually innovating and bringing new ideas to the table.

Another of the most obvious reasons that swarming and scrum are such effective methods is because they help teams remain agile. Not to mention, multiple members of the cross-functional team working together means projects are finished faster and with increased communication comes increased accuracy.

An often-unsung benefit of scrum swarming is the team-building that results from rapid-fire problem solving together. Team members are able to work together and learn from each other, feeding off of one another to push each person to excel.

Using techniques like swarming, scrum, and sprints can dramatically increase speed and velocity on projects overall. In fact, research from Harvard Business Review found that velocity (as measured by the amount of work accomplished in each sprint) increased, on average, by more than 200%; some teams achieved an increase of more than 400%, and one team soared 800%.

An Example of Scrum Swarming

In the context of ITSM, it can be difficult to imagine agile methodology, swarming and scrum in action. For an example of this, think of a team handling a major system error affecting a large organization. As swarming enables cross-functional collaboration, the IT service desk team can divide and conquer, tackling different issues from different angles at the same time. As the scrum team learns more about the issue it is communicated, and the system is able to be restored in a faster amount of time. This can also be applied to work in progress items.

Another example is change enablement (formerly called change management in ITIL v3/2011). Imagine that a new software is going to be built and rolled out to a business unit who handles finance. The scrum team of up to 9 people, each tackling a different segment of the change within a set period of time, as part of team swarms. Then, using feedback loops, they would refine the process and continue. This is often a more efficient way of handling ITSM tickets and change requests, rather than lengthy meetings and working a relay hierarchical system.  

How to Apply Swarm and Scrum Techniques

Swarming and scrum techniques can be applied without creating conflicts or issues between ITSM and ITIL, thanks to the changes included in ITIL 4. If you use an ITIL process software, you can start by applying the techniques presented in the new ITIL format.

Next, you should create the scrum team and create clearly delegated roles. This will cut down on confusion, especially during sprints and swarming. Next, discuss with your team various swarm techniques and sprint planning, addressing the sprint backlog you would like to tackle. This is easiest in agile teams that may already be established. Divide and delegate by functionality and strengths, still allowing your team to grow and change roles as they learn from each other.

When you are applying these techniques, it is important to note that you should include quality assurance through feedback loops. A feedback loop is a process in which the outputs of a system are circled back and used as inputs. Naturally, when using the agile methodology, feedback loops are improved because they become shortened and amplified. You can read more about this in our recent blog post.

Going Agile

Of course, swarming and scrum are only a piece of the agile puzzle – as is the ITIL 4 framework. Agile techniques can help your team “bob and weave” so to speak, meeting challenges head on and addressing incidents and problems, as well as changes, quickly and efficiently. This is made easier by utilizing a comprehensive service management software.

To learn more about how EasyVista Service Manager can help your scrum and agile teams stay on track, get a personalized demo!


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Nancy Louisnord

Nancy Louisnord is the Chief Marketing Officer of EasyVista, responsible for the company’s global and regional marketing programs and product marketing strategy. She has more than 14 years of global leadership experience in the ITSM software industry, bringing numerous software companies into new markets. She is a sought-after presenter at conferences and contributor to several leading industry publications. Before joining EasyVista, Louisnord served in leadership roles with TOPdesk and Daffodil Consulting. In addition to her expansive experience in the B2B software industry, she has a proven record of creating and executing digital marketing strategies and improving the customer service experience.