It is always a daunting task to bring several (10+) innovative, energetic, and experienced individuals together for not only visioning, but also articulating that vision in a way that speaks to a wide variety of professional paths within an industry. All of us had one thing in common; we believed in the power of the agile mindset in education.

Excellent steps were taken to ensure maximum effectiveness in our collaboration …

  • Before we met, we took an assessment that identified our collaborative tendencies during innovation, then time was taken to recognise each other’s identified roles while together.
  • When we met, time was taken to recognise each other’s agile efforts in education.
  • When we met, time was taken to ensure we were all on the same page for what the problem actually was.
  • Lots of hot tea was served.

These four points were certainly important for setting the stage for effectiveness. While I respected this, however, my biggest respect was how fast the group would recognise that a process wasn’t working and find another way to proceed.

Why did this happen? I think it’s because we had a bigger purpose than our own agendas, which I believe is a major aspect to successful group outcomes.

There were many facilitation tactics used depending on the determined outcome, but there was one that was quite new to me, and incredibly fascinating.

We had plowed through construct development, but with almost 15 people were trying to create, edit, and perfect a visionary statement of what we were doing, we were running out of energy and nothing sounded right.

Breakout groups and Google doc sharing got us to a point where there was one computer and one overhead projector, but the wheels were turning slower.

Mob programming was not a new term for most of us, but definitely a new method. At this point, the thought was…. Why not?

We decided that the only person who could touch the shared Google doc had to be sitting in Martin’s chair and be typing on his laptop, which was an interesting effect for the American’s in the room using a Dutch keyboard! The rules were simple.

  • If somebody was inspired, they got 2 minutes at the laptop, with conversation from around the table potentially effecting what they wrote.
  • If, after 2 minutes, there was a clear run of inspiration continuing, they were voted to continue.

Order out of the chaos that all hands in the shared document was a welcome relief, and structure started to emerge. However, we had three observations.

  • The focus was heavily on structure, and the creativity and passion started losing its edge
  • With so much same-time feedback for the one writer, backspace was hit so many times that little to nothing got changed
  • The individual in the “hot seat” often wanted to get group consensus before or while typing instead of following the instinctive inspiration that got them up there.

We took a break and tried again with edited rules.

  • If somebody was inspired, they got 2 uninterrupted minutes at the laptop.
  • Group discussion could occur after the writing.
  • If somebody was especially vocal, it was their responsibility to sit up there.

I was intrigued with the whole process of using a technique like mob programming for writing, and even more intrigued with recognition of what wasn’t working based on the immediate dynamics, and willingness to adjust. It was interesting to me later too  when I read InfoQ’s article on Mobbing on An Article, which provided specific protocols that have to be decided before such an experiment begins.

One more change occurred. Time was creeping up on us and we had to do more than this preamble. While we did have a decent draft as a result of our “mob writing”, there was plenty of refinement to do on it, and there were two other tasks; 1) development of the simple principles behind the constructs and 2) the technological delivery of the whole project that we needed to kick off. We split into three groups to address each of these tasks based on our interest and with a commitment to trust the other two teams with their outcomes. I was not on the mini-team for finalizing the preamble, but it’s my understanding that the mob writing methods continued with the smaller sub-set of individuals focused on that particular outcome.

Nobody was disappointed. The preamble had a returned passion. The simple principles for the constructs resonated with the belief of future improvements. The technological deliverables were in place.

As a group, we were able to develop the Agile Compass for agile in education, and for myself, I was able to experience a multitude of collaborative techniques, including the concept of mob writing.

Crossposted on LinkedIn at Mob Programming for Large Group Writing