Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Self Organizing, Production Maintenance, and Mob Programming Q&A; Target software team

Markus S forwarded questions from his team at Target:

Questions for the Hunter Mob(s):



What is/are the preferred timer app/apps at Hunter?



The teams using PCs are currently using the mob timer made in Python that we maintain:


Here is a video:


The team using Mac is using Dillon Kearns timer: Here it is on GitHub


You mentioned that mobs switch roles every 5-15 min. How do mobs choose a rotation length? Does it vary based on the mob, the type of work, or other factors?


The teams do regular retrospectives. Either daily 30 minutes and the end of each day or once a week on Friday or Monday. Rotation length comes up in these retrospectives. Sometimes the rotation length adjustment becomes an action item of the retro. A rule of thumb we use is to decrease rotation length if people are having trouble paying attention since you have to engage to prevent the team from slowing down with the rotation. I have seen timers set to 2 minutes and 30 seconds. I have also seen timers set to 30 minutes. We say 5 to 15 usually because that is where the majority of teams reside. I personally think 5 or 7 minutes are good times.

At Agile2017, Jason K mentioned an external audit that recommended an expansion of mobbing across more teams. Was that a specific type of standard audit? What type?



At the time there was an external consultant, Craig Shohara that compared the processes of each team. He was not tasked with changing any teams process only to evaluate which direction was better. He compared the teams processes and he reported back the difference in results and the recommendation as his findings. The audit was not standard, instead it was an analysis and comparison by a qualified third party that was not partial to either of the teams. Based upon his findings that the Mob team’s practices result in higher quality software developed in less time while delivering greater business value, the organization made a decision to expand the Mob team and transition critical software development projects to the Mob.


What sort of ops environment(s) do the mobs deploy to? Do the mobs also do production support for their apps?


To explain this it is useful to show our Lofty Goals:


Ideally, we have zero people between code and production (everything automated). We use Go.CD to do our continuous integration and delivery. Most project teams (one or more mobs) will handle their own DevOps up to the production environment, then we collaborate with out network services team to get automated production deployments together in an environment where we have little to no access.


We do have one project team composed of 3 mobs that has its own DevOps mob. This mon essentially focuses its entire day on deployment automation and monitoring.

As far as the deployment environment goes we have multiple solutions the team is developing. We have a desktop application used in the Golf industry, a worldwide scale IOT application in AWS composed of web servers, microservices and lambdas, a mobile application that controls lighting systems cross platform in Xamarin, and we have internal IT applications that are either desktop or internal web server. All of these systems are getting deployments from GO.



Finally, for production support that ends up in our hands we have the above process. Automate before fixing, fix, then automate after fixing. i.e. the bug should never return. Over time we have reduced hours spent on production issues to 0 with brief spikes of time. The idea is never let the issue return to the team if automation can handle it. The ticket team is composed of Mobbers from each team that assemble based on a weekly rotation. Since we value Zero Silos we desire that the loss of a team member to the Ticket team will have little to no effect on the teams progress.

Chris L mentioned a period of 18 months with zero known bugs in production. Prior to that, what were the production bugs rates like? How confident are you that there weren’t a bunch of bugs that just went unnoticed?



Bug rates before were typical of every other environment I had before about 300 bugs in a bug tracker that a manager was not willing to prioritize and many more unknown bugs. If you reference our Lofty Goals above we mention ZarroBoogs (Zero known bugs). We could have had something but we never found anything. Our bug rates increased as we began scaling because of the natural disruptions caused by hiring however even with 8 mobs we still do not keep a bug tracking software. 



If there is a bug in production / on master we stop everything until all bogs are out of the code. We unit test and automated acceptance test the bug before moving on so we do not get PingPong bugs (bugs that 2 developers keep fixing not know they are causing the other’s bug) As of today there are no known bugs in our production environments, some mobs go months without bugs and worst case is about a bug reported once a week which has been moving in the better direction.

I know it sounds hard to believe but when you implement “Stop the Line” from Toyota’s lean manufacturing to your code life becomes much safer.

Have you found an “upper limit” to the useful size of your mobs? Size of the mob. I feel that above 4 it gets to hard. - Brian


We have a heuristic: “If you are not learning or contributing, go to a different mob”

With that said I do not limit the size of the mobs but the business budgets for a set number of people on a project. i.e. if a project has budget for 9 people. The team can decide to do a Mob of 5 and 4, or 3 mobs of 3, or 4, 3, 2 etc.. We try to only go down to a pair when the work is simple and not easily automatable.

I have been in a 20 person mob at a Open Space that was about a technology and language no one knew. Everyone in the room was engaged and contributing as different threads of research were bubbled up to the navigator. Obviously not sustainable but a great example of why you might go so large. We typically normalize at 4 however we have experienced lack of slack at 4 and some think having 5 might be better for unplanned absences like bathroom breaks etc..

A Great experiment would be to have someone dedicated to each role in Willems Mob programming game and see what the engagement level is.







Did you have fun? (j/k) But seriously, did you have fun?


If you’re asking about mobbing specifically, I think mobbing is both fun and can be stressful at times. We mob full time so the people here need to like it however we have notices 2 trends when on boarding. Some people like it right away and others hate it for about 3 months then begin to like it.

I regularly do happiness retrospectives where I meet with every member of the team and get a 6 month timeline of their experience. Overall a majority of the team is very happy with the way we work.



Do you do any sort of self selection? (In our group at Target, we reshuffle our teams quarterly using a self-selection process very similar to what’s described in Sandy and David’s book and workshop. People are curious whether Hunter teams do anything similar, and how that affects mob effectiveness.)


I love to hear about other teams doing this! We have a “law off personal mobility” policy here. This means that team movement is purely negotiation based. You can move on to another team at any time, either there is a vacant budgeted headcount (i.e. while we are hiring) or you can negotiate with someone on another team to switch positions.

Finally anyone can join another team as a visitor for up to 2 weeks violating budgeted headcount in order to learn about  how another project team solves problems.

We broadcast this information on a sheet of flipchart paper and stickies containing each person’s name.



How do Hunter mobs keep focus when there are interrupts, such as production incidents, drive-by requests for help from other internal groups/people, etc?


We try and avoid production incidents, at this point we have so few that the interruption is minimal. A teams priority is done by pure Kanban and we don’t interrupt the team when completing a card. We use magnetic whiteboards with 3x5 index cards to track all work, we keep it out of a digital system so deleting is easier (Physical Trash Can). (This is a great habit that Woody put in place 5 years ago) Anything that gets re-prioritized goes into the Kanban, we deploy every feature as a vertical slice (A single mob has done 2 prod deployments per day for an extended time) This means that drive by requests become a new priority on the board and the team finishes their current deployment and digs into the next task.

I will say if it is management related drive by requests, the mobs are very resilient to these since we value Zero Silos. Ideally a mob can keep moving if you pull away one of the 4 people working with little to no disruption. One of the best analogies I have heard was “Mob programming is like a steam roller, it does not feel fast but high-quality code just keeps flowing out no matter what happens”

Are all your passwords ‘Hunter2’?


Yes… now we have to change it

We are currently transitioning from our old way of doing it (not described here) to using randomized complex passwords that regularly change. These passwords are then pulled to the mob by the current driver logging in making them responsible for the use of the password at the time.

Another note here is that the driver types in their username and password (also regularly changing) for each push in order to maintain a chain of responsibility isolated to one person. The rule is that you must understand and agree to be legally responsible for the code you are checking in.

How do you deal with remote workers during a mob session?


MAKE SURE THE MOB CAN SEE THEM! Also put the camera above their image so you have to turn your head and look at them to signal you are talking to them.

We have the floating head on wheels:





Software we use is Teamviewer for control sharing. I have also tried Zoom.US

Skype for Business for video.

Does each mob run a shared machine, or does one member contribute her machine to the mob?


Typically, we use a single machine for a single mob but this is not the only situation we have seen.
We have 2 keyboards and 2 mice connected to the same computer based on ergonomics preference.



We have also experimented with a mob of 5 doing 3 and 2 on two different machines and 2 different projects. They rotated 1-person daily and had great success with it. So, you worked on one project 3 days then the other 2 days. They had great success with this when supporting 2 high priority internal IT projects.

We have also done dojos where we work on the same problem in multiple languages and rotated drive navigator on each machine. We use this technique for practicing TDD and learning new languages. We have not tried this format for production work however. Might be an experiment one day.


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