Blog posted by: John Custy, Managing Consultant, JPC Group, 11 November 2022.
The concept of swarming - a workflow management method that features in ITIL 4 Specialist: Create, Deliver and Support - is designed for organizations that support complex systems/services.
While a typical service management approach is to escalate an incident/problem, swarming - a concept used in Agile and DevOps methodologies - is about recognizing the complexity of the system/service having the issue and bringing together a group of people to solve it - something that's needed more and more today.
As noted in ITIL 4 practice guides, swarming involves stakeholders working together to resolve the issue. Swarming can be used to identify the responsible group for the next action, or a swarm might be responsible for resolution. Swarming is a technique to more effectively resolve complicated and complex issues, which typically require more than one person or group to complete an activity effectively.
What's the opportunity in doing this? Where priority 1 or 2 issues always get the necessary attention (swarming without the label), institutionalizing this methodology allows priority 3 and 4 problems - which interrupt customers' ability to work and leak value - to be addressed in a timely manner.
And it's not just about a fix but understanding how to improve the support model. Ultimately, the benefit is better customer experience, employee engagement and productivity - a win for the company, customer and employee.
When does swarming make sense?
If you're not doing problem management improvement and lack an effective knowledge management system then the traditional escalation approach probably works. But problem management peels back the onion to reveal new things and this is when you really need swarming to understand what's going on for complex and complicated systems/services.
Every organization does swarming at some point, even without realizing it. For example, a major incident brings together a group of people to diagnose the cause. However, most organizations should be doing it also in day-to-day operations rather than repeatedly escalating issues in search of the right team.
Too often, there is only one person (or limited number of people) who understands the system/service, and their experiences are what allow them to resolve issues. With swarming, you should expand the resource pool of people who understand how to diagnose, isolate, and troubleshoot these more complex and complicated systems/services.
In a DevOps mindset, a problem is not only moved to the appropriate team which swarms to isolate and diagnose, the team is also responsible for fixing it. So, knowledge and experience is expanded to more people, allowing for growth, learning and additional recognition, as well as expanding your talent pool for these types of issues.
Swarming in ITIL 4 Specialist: Create, Deliver and Support
The ITIL 4 Specialist: Create, Deliver and Support module is the operational foundation that many organizations don't get beyond. So, it's a good place to present the benefits of swarming incident and problem resolution.
That said, the approach probably belongs in all the higher level ITIL 4 modules as it will improve service management professionals' and teams' performance.
First, swarming helps teams to get more done, quickly and effectively. For customers, the increased speed of getting an answer or resolution means an improved customer experience.
Also, organizations that adopt swarming tend to find their staff are more engaged, enjoying the work they do in teams they like and so are more likely to stay longer with the business. Creating a motivational environment for people, where they want to succeed and deliver a great customer experience, is the typical outcome.
And the next stage organizations can work towards is so-called intelligent swarming which focuses on allocating an issue to the right individual, not just the next available person in the queue. For example, routing a customer toaparticular person that the customer recently interacted with (and got a good rating), based on someone's ability to converse with a customer in their first language, or having specific product expertise or experience. Essentially, identifying the right person for the job means the flow is better.
Getting the best from swarming
Organizations need to understand where it's valuable and appropriate to use swarming - and how to mature and fine-tune this practice.
Swarming is a transformation of how a support network works and it needs to be treated as any other transformation. That means training people, providing them with coaching and working with them to embed the behaviours, skills and capabilities they need to succeed. Then, they become evangelists for it with the customers, support staff and organization all recognizing increased value.