Swarming is "A method, procedure, or process for meeting unexpected challenges and taking advantage of opportunities"; sounds a lot like agility. A swarming process has many organizational components "gang-up" on the challenge or opportunity using various swarming tactics; some of which are discussed in the examples in the following section. To some degree, swarming is already used in "Silicon Valley" where individuals and very small firms can organize, almost over lunch, to produce a new product. This is very much a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) model for business, where each part of the organization is a "business service component", and the whole is a "business composite enterprise". Still, this sounds like nothing more than a more flexible version of the waterfall (straightline) business and product life cycle model.
The goal of the effort was to virtually locate aircraft engineers, from multiple aircraft companies, rather than actually locate them. Up to the early 1990s when there were joint efforts among major aerospace companies, engineers from all of these companies would be sent to a single location (generally the location of the contract winner) to be able to work together. The engineers at this location would include only the prime contractor and those in the second tier. Still, the costs to the program of moving and temporarily housing all of those engineers (and sometimes their families) for years became a significant cost. The job of our project was to use technology to reduce and/or eliminate most of those costs.
Through the first six months our effort struggled. Then I started to empower the team of initially 12 to 16 very smart, self-starting IT professionals. Later on 8 to 20 aircraft engineers were added. I would provide guidance of what was needed (the requirements and to some degree the architecture (the structure and ordering of the processes) at a weekly team meeting. The team would then identify the unknowns (risks) in potential designs. After the meeting I would see groups form (specialty swarm) to reduce the risks and to design and code products to meet the requirements. These groups would assign themselves tasks to be accomplished during the following week. At the end of the week the team had generally done an astonishing amount of designing and development work. If the team or I had identified a risk, that had not yet been reduced, a team member would bring it up at the next meeting, and another group would form after the meeting to reduce that risk. Again, swarming tactics. [Sidebar: We actually used the virtual collocation environment (now called a collaborative environment) ourselves. While it was against de jour corporate policy, the products of our lab enabled two or three young ladies with babies and toddlers to work from home; only coming in once a week for the team meeting] Once I empowered the team to swarm, and moved away from transactional management to transformational management, the project exceeded the expectations of most of the corporate management.
While I admit this was on a very small scale, it demonstrates the power of the VEE architecture and with swarming tactics for research and development efforts, that is, turning unknowns into knowns (i.e., risk reduction). And risk reduction through innovation is the key to new technology insertion and process improvement (which means cost efficiency).
SOA and Swarming Tactics
While I've discussed Systems Architecture in other posts the part that's of interest in this post is the identification of missing functions and the design, development, and implementation of the functions, as well as their integration into the complete assemblage of the product. This is where the swarming tactics come in. Like my experience in the lab, the program manager, in this case using the transformational management style, would present the entire team with the unknown (risk item) and the team members would decide if that have talents or expertise that would contribute to creating a usable service; that is the essence of the swarming tactic applied to development and implementation. And, I've found that it's the only method that is both effective and cost efficient to creating innovative products, systems, and services.