Swarm intelligenceis the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems, natural or artificial. Swarm intelligent systems are typically made up of a population of simple agents interacting locally with one another and with their environment. The individuals have to follow very simple rules in decentralized control environment. They have to take local actions to optimize the value of their interactions with the environment and other individuals. This will lead to emergence of “intelligent” global behavior.
Examples: ant colonies, bird flocking, animal herding, bacterial growth, and fish schooling.
Article on Swarm intelligence By Peter Miller in National geographic magazine –
Self-organization: (Wikipedia definition )is the process where a structure or patternappears in a system without a central authority or external element imposing it through planning. This globally coherent pattern appears from the local interaction of the elements that make up the system, thus the organization is achieved in a way that is parallel (the entire elements act at the same time) and distributed (no element is a central coordinator).
Understanding software development is complexity science problem. Complex behavior of agile team is difficult to understand. Agile software development teams can learn from understanding collective intelligence in nature. Very complex behaviors can be coordinated by relatively simple interactions enabling emergent behaviors which cannot be created by individuals.
So can we develop swarm intelligence in agile teams? Yes, we can but one important difference we have is that development teams are composed of knowledge workers not dumb ants and bees. Knowledge workers can see the whole and relate how their individual actions can create something bigger than sum of their individual efforts (Systems thinking). Swarm intelligence as theory still applies but in a different way. Self-organized agile team requires a context, a goal and carefully crafted constraints to align purpose and efforts in right direction.
Study of Swarm intelligence and theory of Self-organization in agile teams can help agile leaders in better understanding of agile principles and practices.