Mob programming: a team experiment
ACA does a lot of projects. In the last quarter of 2017, we did a rather small project for a customer in the financial industry. The deadline for the project was at the end of November and our customer was getting anxious near the end of September. We were confident we could pull off the job on time though and decided to try out an experiment. We got the team together in one room and started mob programming.
We had read an article that explains the concept of mob programming. In short, mob programming means that the entire team sits together in one room and works on one user story at a time. One person is the ‘driver’ and does the coding for a set amount of time. When that time has passed, the keyboard switches to another team member. We tried the experiment with the following set-up:
- Our team was relatively small and only had 4 team members. Since the project we were working on was relatively small, we could only assing 4 people.
- The user stories handled were only a part of the project. Because this was en experiment, we did not want the project - as small as it was - to be mobbed completely. Hence, we chose one specific epic and implemented those user stories in the mob.
- We did not work on the same computer. We each had a separate laptop and checked in our code to a central versioning system instead of switching the keyboard. This wasn't really a choice we made, just something that happened.
- We switched every 20 minutes. The article we referred to talks about 12, but we thought that would be too short and decided to go with 20 minutes instead.
Ready, set, go!
We spent more than a week inside a meeting room where we could, in turn, connect our laptops to one big screen. The first day of the experiment, we designed. We stood at the whiteboard for hours deciding on the architecture of the component we were going to build. On the same day, our mob started implementing the first story. We really took off! We flew through the user story, calling out to our customer proxy when some requirements were not clear. Near the end of the day, we were exhausted. Our experiment had only just started and it was already so intense.
The next days, we continued implementing the user stories. In less than a week, we had working software that we could show to our customer. While it wasn’t perfect yet and didn’t cover all requirements, our software was able to conduct a full, happy path flow after merely 3 days. Two days later, we implemented enhancements and exception cases discussed through other user stories. Only one week had passed since our customer started getting anxious and we had implemented so much we could show him already.
Near the end of the project, we only needed to take care of some technicalities. One of those was making our newly-built software environment agnostic. If we would have finished this user story with pair programming, one pair would know all the technical details of the software. With mob programming, we did not need to showcase it to the rest of the team. The team already knew. Because we switched laptops instead of keyboards, everyone had done the setup on their own machine. Everyone knew the commands and the configuration. It was knowledge sharing at its best!
Other technicalities included configuring our software correctly. This proved to be a boring task for most of the navigators. At this point, we decided the mob experiment had gone far enough. We felt that we were not supposed to do tasks like these with 4 people at the same time. At least, that’s our opinion. Right before the mob disbanded, we planned an evaluation meeting. We were excited and wanted to do this again, maybe even at a bigger scale.
Our experience with mob programming
The outcome of our experiment was very positive. We experienced knowledge sharing at different levels. Everyone involved knew the complete functionality of the application and we all knew the details of the implementation. We were able to quickly integrate a new team member when necessary, while still working at a steady velocity.
We already mentioned that we were very excited before, during and after the experiment. This had a positive impact on our team spirit. We were all more engaged to fulfill the project. The downside was that we experienced mob programming as more exhausting. We felt worn out after a day of being together, albeit in a good way!
Other colleagues noticed us in our meeting room programming on one big screen. Conversations about the experiment started. Our excitement was contagious: people were immediately interested. We started talking about doing more experiments. Maybe we could do mob programming in different teams on different projects. And so it begins…
Have you ever tried mob programming? Or are you eager to try? Let’s exchange tips or tricks! We’ll be happy to hear from you!