Sunday, February 14, 2021

Ensemble Is the New Mob

Back in 2017, my team gave "mob programming" a try, a collaborative approach to product development that was new to us back then. We made really good experiences so that I started to spread the word and introduced more teams and people at my company to this social approach. I started giving workshops and talks about it, I initiated cross-team groups learning together using this approach, I enjoyed any opportunity in my free time where I could hone my skills in a group, I even joined the program team for the Mob Programming Conference to get practitioners together and gain new ones. Always talking about a mob, only interchanging the activity depending on where our focus was: mob programming, mob testing, mob documentation writing, mob presentation crafting, and so on.

Over the years, the concept became more known across teams at my company. Mental models of what it entailed differed, yet people acknowledged that solo work or pairing weren't the only options, they realized you can also get work done synchronously in a group setting. They saw benefits and several people built upon the idea and tried the approach in various contexts, from learning settings to solving a real problem at hand, from on demand initiatives to a full time working mode.

Beginning of February, one colleague from another team shared an observation with me. They noticed I was speaking about an "ensemble" these days instead of the "mob". They were curious to learn about the background of this switch and if both terms referred to the same approach. It really made me smile - what a great learning opportunity! For everyone who might have had the same question, here's what I answered.

Both terms "ensemble" and "mob" refer to the same approach. People had been looking for a replacement term for many years to get rid of the negative connotations of the "mob" which was perceived as problematic. Many people had been appalled by the term "mob" and hence didn't want to give it a try. Thinking of bullying or lynch mobs, the term is triggering trauma. Since last year we now finally have a new term that's a lot more inclusive: the ensemble. It's already been taken up and lived by many leading experts like Emily Bache and Lisa Crispin. The term was found by Maaret Pyhäjärvi and Denise Yu and you can read more about the origins in Maaret's blog post introducing the ensemble.

Personally, I made the switch in September 2020 when giving my talk "A Story of Mob Programming, Testing, and Everything" (nowadays "A Story of Ensemble Programming, Testing, and Everything") for the Agile Testing Days webinar series. This is the talk where you can hear my own take on why the terms you choose are impactful and how changing our language can reduce harm.

Inside my company, I haven't been actively advertising the term switch. I just continuously used ensemble as the new one; sometimes adding "formerly known as mob" to make it easier for people to know which approach I was referring to. Given this, I was really happy when my colleague asked me about the term ensemble, appreciated my explanation, and shared they will introduce the new term to their team in which they frequently use the approach.

Language allows us to express ourselves, and it shapes the understanding of our world. Language matters. Changing my language to the term ensemble is a little thing to do for me and matters a lot to someone else (kudos to Gitte Klitgaard for such wisdom). So, ensemble it is.

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