Mark Pearl

What does a new mob work on? Do you do Kata’s, actual work items or something else?

There is no one specific type of work that is right or wrong for a mob, only attributes to look out for in the work you tackle.

  • It should be interesting
  • Everyone should be able to contribute
  • It should be small, but not too small
  • It should not have a hard tight deadline

It should be interesting

Find something the mob is interested in. If the mob is interested in kata’s, do kata’s. If the mob is interested in certain work items, these are also good candidates to pick.

Avoid work that is repetetive, unchallenging and requires no thought - this work is boring in it’s very nature and does not demonstrate the benefits of mob programming.

At some point the mob will do boring, repetetive items - for now though, you don’t want people to think mob programming is boring because the work they are doing is boring.

Everyone should be able to contribute

Work that is particularly deep that only one individual has experience with is hard for new mobs to work on. This is because rotation in the mob is slightly different with this type of work and there is more emphasis on directing the person currently typing. Rather, look for work that everyone can contribute to that relies on skills best suited for the whole mob.

It should be small, but not too small

Look for work that is small, but not too small. If you plan for your first mob session to be 2 hours, avoid work that can be completed in a few minutes. Likewise, avoid work that will take several days of solid coding to be completed. Often it is hard for people to measure progress on this type of work.

Rather look for work that will span 2-3 two hour sessions. You will find this gives the mob enough time to get comfortable with the problem and the satisfaction of completing something.

It should not have a hard tight deadline

Work that has a hard tight deadline can be difficult for new mob to work on. The upfront storming get’s in the way and is enhanced by the deadline. Teams that are already under pressure to ‘get something in production’ will abandon new practices when under pressure and revert to their default mode.

What if you can’t find appropriate work?

If you are in the unfortunate situation where your team is not interested in kata’s and you do not have work that meets the above criteria, you have a decision to make:

  • Delay mob programming for a few days
  • Or pick an existing work item closest to the above

Delay mob programming for a few days

If you currently don’t have work like this but in the near future you will have work that matches the above, it may be worth postponing your first mob programming session until you get to that work. When going this route, ask yourself how many days till you will get work like this? If it means delaying mob programming for a couple days, that’s fine - rather wait for a better moment than create a negative first impression.

If however, you are looking at many weeks or months before you will come across work like this, I would recommend to not delay mobbing. Just pick something off your current backlog and attempt it as a mob. This because one of two things will happen:

  • You may still get value from the session
  • You may find out that mob programming is not a good fit for what your team does

Either way you can move forward.

Should all work be like this?

The question is begging, does all work the mob does in future needs to have these attributes? The answer is a resounding no! While you should be careful to pick appropriate work for a new mob, as people become experienced with the practice they

These are just things you want to look out for when a mob is starting. Once a team buys in to the benefits of mob programming they will sometimes do some ‘boring’ work.

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