Herding Developers to Lunch

catAnyone who works in an office with other programmers will know the joys of trying to get a group together to go to lunch.  The phrase "like herding cats" is often used.  It must be a combination of the "just let me finish this one last thing" factor combined with something about the personality traits that make up a typical developer. What ever it is, in every organization I have worked, getting a group together to go to lunch is usually a delay prone and complex logistical exercise.

Thankfully, recent research just published in The American Naturalist points the way to a couple of tactics that I find very useful myself. In the paper "Leading According to Need" in Self‐Organizing Groups, Larissa Conradt and her colleagues used a computer model to simulate the behaviour of a group of animals. The team found that two kinds of individuals were best able to move the herd in the destination they wanted to go - those that were very hungry or those that had the least to loose if the herd was split into two.  The paper may explain the matriarchal nature of many herd animals such as elephants and sheep - but sounds like it gives scientific backing to the tactics I normally employ to herd developers to lunch when I really need to:

  • Be very hungry (which, lets be honest, is my default state)
  • Pick a destination and say that you are heading there now.  People can come now or join a different herd.

Usually by setting a clear direction and deadline a group of like minded people will follow - the worst that can happen is that you get your lunch at a time and place that suits you.  In fact having a clear idea about the destination is pretty much a good thing in all parts of software development - but lunch is one element that I have to get right.


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