Based in Glasgow, Scotland, Valerie McLean believes that people, collaboration and communication can achieve amazing things. Currently spending her days as an agile coach and mum of one.

Self-organising teams aren't just for software.

A friend of mine works for a company as a delivery driver. We were talking one day recently about the lack of organisation or seeming common sense in the delivery routes the drivers are assigned.

You see the way it works is that a piece of software decides which drops each driver is doing and in which order. When the drivers arrive for their shift, their vans (should) already be loaded and the software should tell the drivers at what time they should leave and return.

Recently a new piece of software came out - let’s call it ‘Swarm’. Swarm is meant to ensure that the routes are more direct and that two drivers should never be in the same place at the same time. Sounds perfect, right?

However, there is a lack local knowledge and common sense - something a piece of software doesn’t have. Swarm is a computer and as great as algorithms are, there still need to be a sense check to make sure it is doing what it is supposed to do - or at least the team working on the software need feedback to improve it.

The problem is there seems to be no one (in management) who is checking the runs and making sure they all make sense - then feeding back to base. Even if they did, the management aren’t the people who actually do the job and carry out the deliveries, so they aren’t the most qualified to check these over in any case.

The result is drivers out and about, getting frustrated because their routes take them all over the place. For example, a five mile detour between two neighbouring drops which could have been done one after the other... There is a running joke about how many times two vans are in the same street at the same time. Thats before you even mention the van loading issues, but that’s another story.

Clearly something isn’t working.

So whats the solution? In agile workplaces we aim for self organising teams - the people doing the work organise the work. The team members communicate and work out the best way for themselves. I think elements of this could work here.

When the drivers arrive for their shift, the packages are all in the warehouse in an order (any order, just pick one and make sure people know about it). The routes are created by Swarm and the drivers sense check them, a quick 15 minutes where they figure out if there are any ways they could be tweaked to make more sense.

Once this is done, they load the vans between them and head off. Better routes will instantly mean happier drivers.

It sounds simple, because it is.

They currently follow a waterfall process, with the vans loaded up prior to the drivers getting sight of the runs, so even if they did notice a few issues with the runs, it would be a logistical nightmare to change this. By loading the vans just in time for their routes, they would remove so many issues.

In my job, I strive for a self organising team - it takes time as people are so used to being told what to do, not managing it for themselves. But with some help from a coach or leader to get them working together, there is no reason why this approach shouldn’t work. This leader can also ensure that all feedback on the software is passed back so it can be analysed by the software team working (hopefully in an agile manner) on making updates to Swarm.

Happier staff and happier customers, not to mention the savings in more efficient routes - less fuel! Everyone works together as part of a well oiled machine. Simples.

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A Scrum Master is basically just a (insert other job title here), right?