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The mob programming mindset

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Woody Zuill is careful to say he did not “invent” mob programming. But the career programmer turned consultant certainly played a big role in at least codifying the ideas behind mob programming.

And spell out the details he did recently during a free mob programming seminar in the Boston area recently. Zuill starts on the right note, pointing out that he’s used this technique — successfully — with fourth graders. Ahem.

If that doesn’t get you interested, how about the fact that it is completely focused on the positive? “Instead of looking at what’s wrong or always trying to fix things (that) leads to having a sad failure moment,” he explains. Instead, Zuill suggests handing the power back to the people. “The people doing the work can best determine how to do the work.”

It’s like a revolution in the workplace, isn’t it? And it’s the best kind of revolution where everyone gets to drive — i.e., spend time at the keyboard — and everyone also gets time to navigate (i.e., make suggestions). Plus you can break off and do your own thing, you get to move around as much as you like and there’s enough hand sanatizer to go around. Oh, and everyone has their own comfy chair.

Those are all sort of small, almost silly things, but at the end of the day the idea of mob programming is to give the team the power, the space, the time and the rituals to make breakthroughs happen. So the focus on little things gives the chance to let the big things thrive.

The teams should decide what they want to study, and study it together, and by studying, learning will happen and problems will be solved, Zuill stresses.”This is an amplified learning environment where people are more engaged,” he says.”They’re moving around, it’s less fatiguing and the knowledge is more evenly spread when working with others. If you know that what you’re doing is important it’s more likely you’re going to be available mentally.”

This may not be for every employee, or company, and it’s probably not an everyday thing. But there’s no denying it brings a lot of brains and talents to bear on one area. And in a time where it’s easy to fall back on criticism, this is an easy-to-try antidote. “You want to turn up the good,” Zuill explains. “Look for what’s good and turn it up.”