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Sweden’s SEB bank uses mob programming across business

Hack day sees 70 developers successfully demonstrate mob programming method that banking group is now using to develop applications in an agile way

Sweden’s SEB bank is using mob programming to develop new applications, and is introducing the practise to more development teams across the business.

This approach to software development is a step up from pair programming, in which two programmers sit at the same computer and collaborate on the same code at the same time, creating a more agile work situation.
 
With mob programming, the collaboration is extended to everyone on the team, while still using a single computer for writing the code and inputting it to the code base.
 
As well as software coding, a mob programming team can work together to do almost all the work tackled by a typical software development team. All the people involved in creating the software are considered team members, including the customer and business experts.

At the latest SEB mob programming hack day, 70 developers used the mob programming method during the afternoon.

Lena Beijer Granström, business support professional at SEB, said: “An entire team works on the same thing, at the same time, in the same space, and at the same computer. These are the principles of mob programming, a work form for agile IT development that aims for greater collaboration, better code quality and less dependency on single individuals.

“The basic idea is that the team works together the entire time, gathered around a computer. One person codes and is flanked by others who together discuss the best solution – say, after five minutes – and a new team member then takes over at the keyboard.”

The hack day started with a lecture from Åsa Liljegren, a developer from consulting firm Aptitud. Liljegren has worked exclusively with mob programming over the last four years, a year and a half of that time with SEB.

Granström added: “For this event, we chose to try out a train-the-trainer concept – we pre-educated a group of developers with support from Liljegren.”

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The developers then took on the trainer role and the teams were given the opportunity to practise.

The mob programming teams were more or less the same as those that operate at SEB every day, said Granström, so they already know and trust each other, which makes them more ready to try out new things together.

“The teams were all given the same assignment and then put into groups of six to eight people, who spent the afternoon intensively coding,” she said. “The day concluded with the teams showing their solutions to each other.”

Mob programming is already considered a natural part of SEB’s learning culture and agile work approach, said Granström. It is also considered a vital tool for competence-sharing and strengthens the bank’s ability to bring new employees on board quickly.

Liljegren said of mob programming: “The result is better and more thought-out quality of code, since team members can analyse, design and test code, all at the same time. There is more focus on creating simple solutions that can last a long time.”

Better competence-sharing

There is also better competence-sharing, with a team’s collective competence constantly increasing, she said. This reduces dependence on individual programmers and contributes to better continuity. 

Fewer meetings are needed because questions can be addressed immediately by the mob team, said Liljegren. “There is less downtime, and the team rarely gets stuck.”

Granström added: “We are now using mob programming in several of our development teams. There are now more of us who are familiar with this method and we can continue developing our agile work approach.”

Granström urged companies that have not yet tried mob programming to do so and see what it can do for them. SEB is not a pioneer in this field, but hopefully it can inspire others to try, she said.
 
SEB will soon be conducting mob programming at its Vilnius premises, and plans to stage two more mob programming events before the end of the year.

“We strive to be a company with a learning culture and, after the summer, there will be an API [application programming interface] hack week for SEB developers,” said Granström. “It will be one of many future events to drive our digital transformation and agile way of working.”

SEB offers financial advice and a wide range of financial services in Sweden and the Baltic countries. In Denmark, Finland, Norway, Germany and the UK, the bank’s operations focus strongly on corporate and investment banking, based on a full-service offering to corporate and institutional clients.

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