When the chickens start to squawk

A Pig and a Chicken are walking down the road.
The Chicken says: “Hey Pig, I was thinking we should open a restaurant!”
Pig replies: “Hmm, maybe. What would we call it?”
The Chicken responds: “How about ‘Ham’N’Eggs’?”
The Pig thinks for a moment and says “No thanks. I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved!”

From http://www-acad.sheridanc.on.ca/APPL27670/macartbr/rulesandregulations.html The Scrum crowd talk about pigs (the core development) and chickens (those around the project who are interested and/or directly impacted by the project.)

A key aspect of Scrum is that the development team have made an explicit commitment to deliver a working product with the functionality agreed to in the iteration planning. As a quid pro quo for their autonomy and ownership, they are now on the line to deliver on their agreed collective promise.

The daily scrum is where the pigs gather to ask three questions to each pig in turn:

  • What I have accomplished since our last daily Scrum
  • What I plan to accomplish between now and our next daily Scrum
  • What (if anything) is impeding my progress

In theory, the chickens listen in. If there are any questions or the Scrum Master needs to clarify any points then there is a short follow-up meeting after the daily scrum.

However, I have observed Scrums where the chickens started to squawk, and no longer remained as passive bystanders. There are a number of reasons that this can happen. The primary one I’ve seen is that some managers used to more traditional command-&-control mind-sets just cannot handle the transition to Agile. Some is just a force of habit, some is just a level of aggression, kicking mud around the sty, to assert their control over the proceedings.

To get around this there are a few approaches. The first step is to just tell them outright that their question isn’t one that will be answered on a Scrum, and the Scrum Master will deal with them afterwards. A mature development team will have no problem doing this and will move straight on without giving the chicken time to speak. A more inexperienced team might wobble, especially if the chicken has some authority or can influence their promotion/pay/bonus.

I’ve seen this handled in a more passive-aggressive manner by allowing the chicken to waffle on until the time-box ends at which point the Scrum Master cuts them off and say “Well, that’s it for today as we’re out of time.” This is probably the worst path; the chicken will be annoyed and – more importantly – the development team has been deprived of a key step in the process of tracking their work among themselves.

Just here is where the Scrum Master has to earn their keep as sheepdog to defend the team, because this behavior must be stopped early in the process to allow the Scrum to work. Depending on the personalities involved, you will need to tailor your approach. What I’ve found best is to talk to them one to one and find out what their real concern is. If it is project based, then they need to understand the roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner, and how they can use the regular iterations to get the information and encouragement they need. If it’s just a personality issue then you may need to take it above them and get a bigger dog to bark them down. This can be a doubled-edged sword so tread carefully.

However, if you agree to become a Scrum Master, then you should think this through as a what-if? By taking on the role you become the defender of the team and the process. It is your job to stop squawking chickens, so you may as well ask how you’re going to deal with this situation and then hope it stays hypothetical.

As an aside, I have another approach to dealing with noisy chickens. They get sent to a ‘scrum’ that is a scrum in name only. The Scrum Master and a couple of developers start talking about the work ongoing or just finished, and they are allowed to be interrupted left, right, and center. The chickens feel empowered that they are flexing their muscles and controlling the show. It’s a show only for their benefit as they don’t get to hear all the developers, or the 3 standard questions, or any problems the Scrum Master is fixing.

In short, this isn’t the daily scrum – that happens earlier and somewhere else. The chickens are not in the pigsty and don’t really know it. However, so long as they get to say their piece and cover their asses, they don’t actually care.

Sometimes arguing with people is a bit like mud-wrestling with a pig. You can struggle and fight as much as you like but after a while you realize that the pig is enjoying it.

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