The New World of Work: Swarms

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I’ve been reading some excerpts from Gartner, Inc. and information from others on the changes they are seeing in the workplace. It’s holding true where I work and in the workplaces of the other data professionals I work with. One of those new trends is called “Swarming” – where informal teams get together to work on a particular project, and in some cases a single task, as a group. They then move on to another task, and so on, like a swarm of bees. These are less formal than the “Tiger Teams” I used to be part of that were also temporary, but had a more formal banding and dis-banding. The Gartner article states that this is more often the norm in companies than not.

 

This is interesting to the data professional because there are usually so few of us in the organization. There are on average a single data professional for every five to ten developers, or in an operational sense, one DBA for every several hundred servers in my experience. So when a “swarm”, or “tiger team” or any other kind of tactical group is assembled, the data professional is usually required to be part of it. That’s fine, but it ends up with a few outcomes that you might not expect.

 

For one, the rate of burn-out or overwork can be higher, since not everyone else works on every project like you do. The data professional has to take part in all of them, so you move from high-stress project to project. The key here is that since not everyone is on every project (except you) they may not notice it happening. They only see you on "their" projects, so they assume you're working at the same level as they are.

 

Another impact of a swarm on a data professional is that over time you might become more tactical than you want, and you might also be perceived that way by others. After all, if they only see you responding to fires, perhaps they’ll think that’s what you like or what you are good at.

 

So how do you mitigate these problems associated with this new way of work? Communication. You need to let your boss know, in a non-complaining way, what your workload looks like. No, not how *much* work you have, but what *kind*. They need to understand that you would like the ability to have a good pace to allow for the best quality work, and most importantly that you would like to build some time into your schedule for strategic work along with the tactical requirements. Of course, you need to balance this with actually getting your work done, but I have a few ideas about that which I think might be able to help. I’ll blog about those another time.

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  • Ha ha, it sounds like you just described my current role. Although defined as a Production DBA, strategically speaking anything and everything that touches the data tier comes my way or requires my input at some stage.

    This can make for a very dynamic and demanding workload. As you point out, the trick for me has been in effectively managing upwards and learning some time/project management techniques.

    I look forward to reading more on this subject!

  • I was having this as a feeling for long time, but was not able to exactly represent it. Looks exactly as me

  • Hi Buck! I found your excellent blog post while writing my own post on swarming and swarms. I think you made very good point on how working in swarms influence on high-skilled professionals like you whose expertise is wanted in many different project at the same time.  

    We have developed an model what we call skill swarms. It is not an application of the swarm theory but draws inspiration from it. It would be nice to have your comments on our model. You can find it on our blog: intunex.fi/.../skill-swarms-a-new-way-to-share-expertise-and-work-smarter-together.  

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