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Mobbing on an Article

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It's May 2nd. We're in Boston at the first Mob Programming conference. A group of strangers are coming together to write an article about working together. We're writing by committee, by choice. We're applying the techniques that we've spent two days discussing and exploring how these techniques are applied outside of writing software.

The tooling isn't making it easy. We all type in different keyboard layouts. One person uses a French keyboard, another uses Finnish, two people use Dvorak, and only one person in the group uses the U.S. standard QWERTY; we are trying to figure it out.

The person comfortable with the keyboard layout is sitting in front of the keyboard as the Driver. The Driver is not supposed to do the thinking, the rest of the group navigates on what goes into the writing. The group of Navigators are tossing ideas to put into the article and discussing what is coming next.

We realize that the first time with mob programming is like the first time sitting behind the drivers wheel of the car. You are unfamiliar with the ways to use the controls in front of you. It can take a while to get comfortable before you begin to make forward motion. You have the safety net of the team with you, and each individual brings their their unique perspective to the work at hand.

As we're writing this, we are experiencing mobbing together. One of our first decision points is to figure out whether or not we should write a large outline or go "section by section" with the goal of having something we can publish at the end of the hour. We decided that we could ship one section, so having a backlog didn't provide as much value as deciding to flesh out one complete section.

One thing we are noticing is that there is an interesting dynamic in deciding which metaphor to use to illustrate this experience of writing together. For example, we started out with two different metaphors and then discarded them during our "refactoring", or editing, phase. (We even had English as a second language attendees correcting the spelling of a native English speaker.)

We are finding value in putting the test (definition of the task) at the top of the page so that we are able to use that as a guide while writing. Although, as we were writing, it quickly moved off the screen, but the discussion still had value. It was a little slow going hashing out the team rules, but in a few minutes, we had a framework that let us move forward.

At this conference, a lot of different styles have been shared. There’s not one “right” way to mob. We had a lot of fun working on this together. Now we're going to conduct a retrospective so we can learn how to work better together next time. Like Woody Zuill, originator of Mob Programming pointed out yesterday, "If there is one practice you do, let it be retrospectives." Time to turn up the good!


  • Stéphane Wojewoda
  • Maaret Pyhäjärvi
  • Don Denoncourt
  • M. Scott Ford
  • Andrea Goulet
  • Jeremy Cash
  • Andrea Chiou
  • John Keklak

The Mob in Action

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