Done with Chickens and Pigs

If you’re not familiar with the concept of Chickens and Pigs, it’s based on an old joke in which a chicken and a pig set up a restaurant. The chicken wants to call it “Ham’n’Eggs”. The pig says, “No thanks. I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.”

The story is used in Scrum and other methodologies to suggest that only “pigs” – the people whose bacon is on the line – should have the right to speak in stand-ups. This deliberately excludes management.

Yesterday, Dean Leffingwell spoke on the subject at Agile 2011. He pointed out that the practice calls out the chickens as the “bad guys”. “Wrong!” he says. “These are the people who run the company.” Quite aside from some cultural implications of calling people “pigs” – it doesn’t go down well in countries which consider pigs to be unclean, for instance – excluding management from stand-ups can be disrespectful at best, and damaging at worst.

I finally decided to be done with the Chicken and Pigs analogy and practice after a roleplay organised by Derek Wade, in which the manager had something very important to share – something that would have reduced the stress the team was experiencing, as well as the workload, the weekend’s overtime, and the risk to delivery that was approaching our fictitious team.

The manager started to speak. “I…”

“You’re a chicken,” the Scrum Master announced. “Next!”

Let’s not.

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16 Responses to Done with Chickens and Pigs

  1. Chris Matts says:

    Here, here!

    Is and allways has been a terrible concept. If you think about it, the question being asked is “Do we eat ourselves, or do we eat our children?” Both the Chicken and the Pig are engaged and commited to the cause. The only cultures where the concept works is those where eating your children is acceptable… Yuck a dee doo!

    The “Chicken and Pig” concept is normally promoted by what I call “The Seagull”. A bird that flies into the farm yard, flaps around making a lot of noise, and then flies off leaving a load of guano as a legacy. Guano that the Chickens and Pigs need to clean up.

    Wonder who the “Seagulls” are? 😉

  2. Chris Ford says:

    I absolutely agree that the Pig/Chicken metaphor is clumsy. If it’s used to disparage the opinions of enablers (managers) then it’s toxic.

    However, it should be absolutely clear who is accountable for delivering on committments at the end of the sprint and who is not.

  3. Assaf Arkin says:

    Another way to look at it: how do you make daily scrum not turn into an ad hoc product planning? We limit it to “people who push code”. Any time we let that slip, it devolved the process.

    But there’s a different issue here. The job of the scrum master is not to shut up management, no matter how fun that sounds. Their job is to filter out *disruptive* interruptions.

    Sounds to me like, either they don’t know what their job is and focus on ceremony, or don’t know how to communicate to those around them (i.e. the manager).

    In our case, when something important happens there’s a head’s up before the meeting, and the scrum master makes sure the team is notified. That’s their job,

  4. Tobias Mayer says:

    OMG! Are people seriously still using this archaic approach to teaching Scrum? I thought it had died out years ago. How desperately sad that someone in 2011 has to run a session at the Agile conference to disparage this. And I thought Agile XX was supposed to be the cutting edge 😦

    • liz says:

      Hi Tobias, as far as I know nobody is teaching it. I haven’t used the analogy myself for a while, but I’ve heard it and allowed others to use it if they wanted. I’m changing that now, and taking a stand. No more chickens and pigs on my watch.

  5. Hi Liz! So glad that our simulation session on Double-Loop Learning created an opportunity for this failure to surface. Thanks again for being part of it!

  6. I’ve been phasing it out for a while now, along with other divisive scrum terminology:

  7. Scrum by the book is outdated. But too many newbies only get it “by the book” via someone who is new to the coaching scene. The pigs and chickens concept is archaic and plain wrong. We do need to plan our daily work, but we also may need other whole team quick meetings too. Long live teamwork and effective group communication. Down with the barnyard metaphors. We all have skin in the game.

  8. Responding as much to the comments as to the post; although Liz’ analogy is an excellent one and very instructive, addressing and dismantling command&control structures is key to successful adoption. The system of silos and hand-off that is waterfall so stymies self-organisation and so successfully pits local optimisations against each other that some radical instruction/language may be required to get things moving. Above all else; old habits die hard.
    Humour can help in the delivery of a difficult message (although regularly refreshing/replenishing the joke stock is probably a good idea) but it can be fiendishly difficult to pitch correctly; that which makes one person laugh could send another into a rage.
    So, although the pig and the chicken (and even the seagull) may have had their best days – the message behind these metaphors is every bit as current as it was way back when. Truly facilitating self-organisation is not only beyond most managers, it is often alien to all their training. Early on it is often also all-too-tempting for the team to slip back into being told what to do – in many ways it is easier than taking responsibility.
    Therefore, faced with a transition and depending on your analysis of existing (power) structures you may well, correctly, decide to accept that the organisation is in a Shu state and lay down the law in an almost dogmatic fashion, which would include (at least initially) precluding non-team members from speaking during the stand up.

  9. YvesHanoulle says:

    I came into agile from the XP part. One of he values of XP is respect. When I heared the scrum story rejected it right from the start. It’s not respectful to people.
    I like that Dean stresses even more that we need them.
    Lots of people (even coaches) think they are better at managing a company. if that was true they should create their own company and walk the talk.
    I have done coaching for small startups, although I did not always agreed with what the creators of these companies did. I respected them for what they did. Talking the risk to create a company based on their idea’s.
    The idea of calling them or anyone else chicken or pigs never accured to me.

    Everytime someone uses the metaphor I have to think who is again the pig and who the chicken?
    (Yes I know why it is like that. I just give this example to show that I really never use it…)

  10. Mike Vizdos says:

    Hi all,

    I agree that using this “as stated” is bad. This is one of the reasons I started the comic strip(s) about this back in 2006. I have almost 100 comic strips using this “chicken and pig” analogy and I still teach it as a basic concept — that you have to make a choice of which role you play — you cannot play both.

    And then I’ve spent years commenting on how things are wrong and how things really need to be looked at in the real world.

    I live in the real world.

    I love the concept.

    And I love that it starts tough conversations like this one!

    Here is the original cartoon (if anyone is interested):

    As usual… would love feedback and would still like to use this to make sure people don’t take the chicken and pig story to a dogmatic level!

    Thank you.

    – mike vizdos

    [getting ready for flames but know I have the best of intentions with this story!]

  11. Liz, people are still teaching it. There are CST’s that still use the story…

  12. For me the Pigs and Chickens story remains one of most influencial classic Scrum metaphores.
    This short story touches various aspects and can be read in many different ways. Surely, if one narrows the meaning of the story down to negative aspects and present it as being a tool for excluding potentially important voices from outside of the typical Product Owner – Scrum Master – Development Team triangle of Scrum roles or even as being a tool for offending various groups of people then yes – the message of the story is not very fruitful. However, this story is typically used in a constructive way – to show very clearly one of the fundamentals of every software development methodologies – division of Roles & Responsibilities as well as Communication Plan. IMHO the story does it extremely well especially when compared with amount of time one needs to spend to read it.

    Let me now comment on your argument of deliberately excluding management. Well, excluding management as you call it, is simply not the goal of not allowing them to speak during standups. I am sure you agree that Standups are not the best place for discussing various ideas of interested parties. The point for me is to emphasize that all comments, opinions, good advices, wishes, etc. coming from outside of the PO – SM – Team setup:
    1. must be cut-off from having any direct or indirect influence on Team’s current Sprint Contract
    2. must be cutt-off from distracting Team fullfiling the current Sprint’s contract in any way
    3. must be centralised through Product Owner who is the only party in Scrum to make decisions on what will be done and in which order.
    To be clear – yes, it is ultimate Product Owner’s responsibility to hear all of what people say and assess value of these ideas for the project regardless of the originating parties.

    I have been referring to the pigs and chickens story in my own work for years. I must say I find it very useful. One of the ways in which the story turns out valuable is clarifying and maintaining common understanding of Scrum approach to Roles & Responsibilites and Communication Plan for various parties. I also do not hesitate to quote the story publicly on my blog –

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  14. Jean Desbiens says:

    Metaphors serve a purpose. The spirit of it is still valid, but people sometimes oversimplify and follow the letter without much thoughts and end up ignoring important stakeholder, like managers, that are committed, not merely involved. Clearly that metaphor, like others, has been abused.

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