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How Does Stack Overflow for Teams Enable Intelligent Swarming?

We posed this question to our Sales Engineers and they came back with some great insights

A Forrester analyst covering knowledge management/knowledge sharing in the DevOps and IT space asked us how Stack Overflow for Teams enables Intelligent Swarming.

If you aren't familiar with Intelligent Swarming, here's the gist of the concept as we understand it...

  • Intelligent swarming is about getting the best people to solve the issue working on the issue as quickly as possible.
  • In a swarming model, the person who takes ownership of the issue often owns the issue until it is resolved. They may engage others in the process of solving the issue, but they don’t toss it over the wall (escalate) and lose touch with the resolution.

At a high level, an example Intelligent Swarm process in Stack Overflow for Teams would be...

  1. Question is asked. Someone is notified either because they are following a topic tag, are tagged on the question, or someone else sees the question and does a manual pass-off.
  2. A person would run down a response by tapping into individuals offline (meaning not on Stack Overflow for Teams).
  3. That person would answer the question, possibly @ people who provided input in the comments or tagging them in the question itself. Therefore, if any additional questions come up, the right people are already looped in.

We asked our Sales Engineering organization to weigh in how Stack Overflow for Teams enables this within organizations. Their takes show how the platform goes beyond Intelligent Swarming - moving more towards information/knowledge loops.

If the best person to solve the problem isn't someone I've ever met -- I'm not even aware of their existence -- how can I ensure that swarming would work?

Jonathan, Senior Sales Engineer

While we do enable intelligent swarming, it's worth noting that always "getting the best people to solve the issue" is just not scalable. It's expensive to do it that way too. The sort of intelligent swarm we enable is one where a larger number of individuals can contribute and distribute the workload.

At the same time, however, finding or knowing the "best people" is a whole other issue. Oftentimes, people simply don't know who to go to and, instead, broadcast their request to chat channels or distribution lists. Per the article linked at the top of the article:

Swarming also requires us to give up the highly siloed and compartmentalized structures we have created.

If the best person to solve the problem isn't someone I've ever met -- I'm not even aware of their existence -- how can I ensure that swarming would work? As we know, Stack Overflow helps to break down silos. In particular, tagging in Stack Overflow helps to bring together specialists, guilds, and communities of practice, especially across traditional organizational barriers.

The next part is knowledge reuse. Per the same article:

As a general rule, intelligent swarming is most valuable in solving new, complex issues. Two key considerations in determining whether intelligent swarming makes sense are complexity and the ratio of new issues to known issues. Time to resolve is a reasonable indicator for both. If your support center solves a high percentage of customer issues in three to five minutes, it would imply that a high percentage of your issues are known and the complexity is low. While a robust KCS program can improve the speed and consistency of resolution in this environment, swarming typically doesn’t make sense.

Once the "best people" (or someone) have produced a successful solution, this should enable less-knowledgeable staff members to solve this issue in the future. An issue that was once "novel" will often come up again -- or a different flavor of it. In fact, this is how new "best people" are created: by being a part of a community where knowledge is shared and learned. In my personal experiences, even unique, one-off support cases will cause me to learn things that help me with future support cases: which log files to look at, which tools to use, how certain pieces of code work, how different services/applications interact, etc.

There’s a step before Intelligent Swarming - where people ask for help and how to work with that behavior to get the question to the right people who can provide an answer.

Josh, Senior Sales Engineer

There’s a step before Intelligent Swarming - where people ask for help and how to work with that behavior to get the question to the right people who can provide an answer.

Let’s use a common occurrence - a question being asked in Slack or Microsoft Teams. 

Someone posts their question in the channel they think might have the people who would know the answer.

If an organization has Stack Overflow for Teams, and uses the Slack or Microsoft Teams integration, the swarm process begins here. Multiple swarm actions can happen simultaneously.

Swarm Action: Someone in the channel sees the question, doesn’t know the answer, but has an idea of who might. Using the Ask from Slack/Microsoft Teams feature, the viewer can post it straight to Stack Overflow for Teams - tagging colleagues and adding topic tags so the right folks are alerted - without leaving Slack or Microsoft Teams.

Tagged colleagues receive a notification that there’s a question requiring their attention. Other colleagues who are watching those topic tags receive a notification across multiple platforms - email, Slack or Microsoft Teams, within Stack Overflow for Teams.

Here’s where it starts to get interesting. Tagged folks might not know the answer, but they think they know who might - they add those colleagues to the question. That kicks off the alerting process again with the new teammates, and what ends up happening is that the question finds the right person who can answer it. The system takes care of getting the question to the right person, rather than the burden being on the question asker to know who to ask.

As answers are provided, people are alerted that there is new information in the system. That increases the awareness and diffusion of the knowledge across the organization. Especially as comments are made that ask for clarification and the answers are edited/updated to address those requests.

Better yet, all that knowledge is captured for the future, it’s not lost in a thread or email, and everyone can see the names of the people who provided the knowledge…everyone will know who to tag first in the future.

What started as a single person with a question became an organic, community swarm.

For high visibility initiatives like log4j, Stack Overflow for Teams enabled them to add custom messaging to proactively share information and guidance on how to ask new questions.

V., Senior Sales Engineer

In addition to the benefits that Jonathan and Josh highlighted in their response regarding tagging breaking down silos, knowledge reuse, etc., I would highlight that Stack Overflow for Teams becomes the central place to get help. 

I'll give you an example from a client.

Usually, in an organization as large and complex as [Enterprise Financial Services Company], the first hurdle is knowing where/who to ask. 

The client solves this by giving their entire technology organization (30,000 people) access to Stack Overflow for Teams. For high visibility initiatives like log4j, Stack Overflow for Teams enabled them to add custom messaging to proactively share information and guidance on how to ask new questions. 

As a result, they can avoid intelligent swarming for repeat questions, but still engage the right SMEs when new questions arise and intelligent swarming is a necessity. 

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