Mobbing Intent Mapping

I wrote about this idea very recently. It's also an adaptation of how I've done Feature Mapping.
This means that this idea needs some more exploration. I need to think (which I often do via writing) about it some more to find ways to help mobs flow. I hope you enjoy a litle more detail on how we can do the "Intent Mapping". Which I'm changing what I call it to "Mobbing Intent Mapping" here. Naming is hard. :-P

This was written with the approach of creating a document to share with mobs at work. I think it can be useful outside of that as well. Enjoy!

Mobbing Intent Map for Better Mobbing Flow

Please note that this is a rough guide. It's a work in progress based on observations and experience

I try to avoid being overly prescriptive because what works for me and the teams I've been on and been coaching may not work for you. I'll give the ideas and goals behind them but adapt them to your situation and team.

The Goal?

What's the goal of Mobbing Intent Mapping?

"That's a great question."

"Thank you, me."

"You're welcome, me."


Mobbing Intent Mapping has practices that help teams improve the flow of the mobbing session and allow the mob to accomplish more.

Break Down Work

The first goal aligns very closely with the agile practice of iterative development - smaller units of work.

Mobbing Intent Mapping assists a team in breaking down the work. This will ensure everything we believe is needed is explicit resulting in a high-level approach we can follow.

Better Navigation

The second goal of Mobbing Intent Mapping is helping the Navigator with their role in the mob. The Navigator needs to know where we are and where we're going. If all we have is our intent; the Navigator may be limited in their understanding of those points. It'd be like being at a gas station and being asked to continue to get us to that city. ... The immediate details needed may not be known to the Navigator. The Mobbing Intent Mapping includes details like, "Get onto the interstate south"; which is hopefully going to prompt the Navigator into being able to navigate more effectively. If not; the mob can always continue to help. While the mob may be able to help without this, it's best if the Navigator doesn't have to turn to the mob for everything.

How to start

Let's get started with how I see Mobbing Intent Mapping happening. Try it the way described for a while, then start to experiment with it.

Use a document of some form that easily creates bullet lists. This makes the experience of creating the Mobbing Intent Map smooth. We'll be using that as the structure of the Mobbing Intent Mapping. This will allow us to have as detailed a list as we need and easily add new things anywhere in that list. When I've used a whiteboard, we couldn't add anywhere in the list easily.

A crucial piece of functionality in a tool to create the Mobbing Intent Mapping is being able to collaboratively edit the document. This allows everyone to contribute equally to all areas during the entire process. Ideas are not funneling through one individual. Not only is everyone able to add their ideas, thoughts, and expand on others - The mob will get through the Mobbing Intent Mapping faster with a higher quality map to work from.

Let's get to the first step; which is also the top bullet point - Setting the Mobbing Intent.

Set the Mobbing Intent

Mobbing requires everyone in the mob understands where the work is going since everyone will rotate into the navigator role. Not everyone needs to know how to achieve the intent but having high level direction is required.

The first thing that a mob needs to do is define what what's going to be worked on. Sometimes, it'll be something that we can accomplish during the session. Other times, it's a larger block of functionality that might take a few sessions. Either is going to work for us. If it expands beyond the one session, we'll have a map ready to go next session and the mob can dive right in.

How do we define this intent? - Begin simple. Start with the Mobbing Intent being the "story/task/item" (I'll use 'story') being worked on. Create a short description of the story and that's your Mobbing Intent. I'll just use the title if I can't think of a better one. Even if you use the story tracking number as the intent... It'll work. We just want to start having an intent to map out. The Mobbing Intent will improve over time, don't spend much time one it.

The zero-th step is to create a collaborative editing document and create a bullet list.

The first step is to set the top-level bullet to be our Mobbing Intent.

What's this Mapping?

We now have our Mobbing Intent! But we can't start work yet. We need to map out the work; Figure out how we'll approach the work. This isn't an absolute plan; it's our first attempt at how we might get the work accomplish. The document can be updated, added, or 'removed' at any time. I don't like the idea of deleting lines once we start following the map. We had the idea for a reason, it's valuable to show what we've thought of it even if we decide not to use it. Let's just use the strikethrough option. Or change the color, or background... something to indicate it's not something we're going to do. I'll touch on this a little more later.

Now that we have a bullet list with our intent; create a sub-bullet to our Mobbing Intent. This is where our collaborative editing starts to take effect. The question to the whole of the mob is, "What might we need to do to accomplish this?"

The entire team can add things that might need to be done, or looked at, or considered, to accomplish this task. Anything. It's easy to update and clean up; let's brainstorm together.

The brainstorming process follows the "yes, and" approach to working together. Don't change what someone has already put, add to it. We'll worry about duplicate ideas in the next phase.

As the brainstorming continues; we'll think of details related to that first level of tasks - Add them. Indent another level and add some details of how we might accomplish that part. Continue this for a few minutes. Timebox the collaborative brainstorming on the Mobbing Intent Mapping to 5 minutes. Ideally, there won't be a lot of talking during this. Just write out your ideas and thoughts.

Once the flow slows down; move onto the next phase. Take another few minutes to walk through everything together, combine ideas, discuss things that stand out.

Find items that are the same and combine them. Remove ideas that don't make sense for the Mobbing Intent Map we're creating. An example I've seen of this was "commit the code". Yes, important to do - but not something we need in the map. It'd be like putting "stop for gas". Yes, we'll need to, but we'll know when to do that while we're going.

Once we've cleaned up duplicates and removed items we don't need as part of the map (again; Probably great to do, just not needed in the map) then another QUICK pass - "Any additional things?" and add them after SHORT discussion. If it takes more than 30 seconds; something during the brainstorming was seriously missed. That's OK; I'd say leave the late idea off the map and start working. The mobber will remember the idea and if it becomes needed while working - Add it then.

We now have a wonderful Mobbing Intent Map of what we think we need to do to accomplish our task! This is a living document. Let's see how we can keep it alive while we work through it.

It's ALIVE!!!

Our Mobbing Intent Map is a living document. It adapts to what we need it to be. What we've accomplished and what's left to do. It's our self-check to help us avoid rabbit holes as well.

There are a few obvious ways the document is living.

  • We can discover new work.
  • We can finish work.
  • We can discover we don't need some work.

These three are ones I'll talk about. I'm sure there are more; but this is what I encounter most often.

New Work

As mentioned above, what about a late idea? Something we need to add to the Mobbing Intent Map because we discovered work while we're doing the work.

First, Add it at the appropriate level.

Have the mob collaborative edit the document to brainstorm that addition. Limit this to 60 seconds. Take 1-2 minutes to clean up the brainstorming for that item. Now it's good to continue working.

That's it. That's how we can add discovered work.

Finished with It

While working through the Mobbing Intent Map, things will be finished; obviously. To help a Navigator know where the work is at and what the next steps might be, indicate that progress in the map.

Don't delete lines. We want to be able to see what's been accomplished. It's an important thing to see how far the mob has come through the work. There needs to be some indication of the progress though the Mobbing Intent Map. Typically, I use strikethrough , as mentioned earlier. It keeps things legible and has that very clear indication of "don't do this one".

Don't be a stickler for crossing over every single bullet point nested deep down as soon as their finished. Cross them off as it helps the mob and Navigator stay on track. A Navigator can navigate to cross off things when they start; or whatever works best for the mob. Crossing off too often detracts from the flow of the mob; be careful about that.

A way that's worked for mobs I've been in, whenever the Mobbing Intent Map is checked to see what's next, mark off the thing(s) you've finished.

Don't Do It

As work gets going, sometimes we realize we don't need to do one of the items on our list after all. Fantastic. Mark it done. I mark the things we don't need to do the same way I mark things finished.

We don't want to discard the ideas we've had. In the next section I'll touch on Archiving. If we don't need it - Just mark it "finished" and continue working.

We're Done!

That's it. That's Mobbing Intent Mapping. Get a Mob. Define the Intent. Map out the work. Complete things.

There's an extra hidden benefit from the brainstorming and working through the ideas - We can discuss things we may have as a base assumption. It takes our implicit ideas of what we need to do and makes them explicit. That allows everyone to discuss it and expand on it! Everyone together makes it better!!!

Now you can go and use Mobbing Intent Mapping for your next mobbing! :)


What do we do when we're done with our Mobbing Intent Map?

Archive it.

We often do similar things, so having an existing 'Map' for that can help streamline the process of generating a new map. This is where keeping the ideas we didn't need in the map can be huge. It might apply the next time when we're doing something similar. The archived Map will help us refresh the context if we need to come back to it for enhancements or bug fixes.

Last Thoughts

I hope this can help your mob flow smoother. I'd love to hear variations, iterations, and failings of this technique. It's intended to help mobs flow through the work better; and if it doesn't - It would be great to hear how it didn't.


SURPRISE! I often use a second top level bullet. It's not directly part of Mobbing Intent Mapping, but I find it a huge value while mobbing.

Sticky Notes!... virtually….

While working remote; we can't use sticky notes together. Working through systems we'll often see things we'd like to do, but not important at that moment. How to do not lose that great idea? With in-person mobbing I promote writing stickies and then going through them when it fits the mobbing flow.

I think having the "Sticky Notes" bullet is a great way to keep track of the ideas and have them available to everyone while being remote. Since in-person mobbing shouldn't have a digital device... doesn't QUITE work out there, so keep the stickies there. Remote - Totally use the document so everyone can see what you're thinking, even if it's not used right away.

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