Scrum Bestiary – The Chicken

Thursday, October 16, 2008 – 4:00 AM

Chickens lay eggs...Rounding out the Scrum Bestiary with its original two protagonists… the pig and now the chicken. Both the pig and the chicken come from Jeff Sutherland’s original sketch about who does what in a Scrum standup meeting.

Chicken’s don’t contribute to your team’s goals in any way. They’re hangers on who may want to seem to be on the team without actually being on the team. Chicken’s may exhibit other bad behaviors associated with foxes (stealing resources) or seagulls (occasionally turning up to randomize the team).

How to spot a chicken? They’re the dead weight in on your project. To quote Sutherland:

“If you look at most corporate meetings you will see 50-80% excess overhead. These are the meetings that Scrum eliminates on day 1 if done properly.”

It’s important to note that there are two types of chicken in my opinion. The ones that know that’s what they are and the one’s who either think they are or are pretending to be pigs.

The manager chicken: People who sometimes turn up to meetings to simply observe (often called “chickening in”) are usually managers trying to gauge the status of the sprint. They are able to review the sprint burndown charts and backlogs so only turn up occasionally. All this is largely OK because they and the team know that they are chickens.

They’re observers and may be able to help occasionally. The team should feel free to ask those management chickens to help them remove impediments and help them complete the sprint. In agile teams managers are facilitators. Occasional management attendance also shows the team that the project is important enough for people to take an interest in it on a regular basis.

The just a chicken: On the other hand people who are on the team but continually find reasons for failing to complete work for the team are not OK. They are pretend pigs and are sucking the life out of your team.

This second type of chicken says things like:

“I can’t to anything on the project today. I have to attend a lot of unrelated meetings.”

“I know I wasn’t at iteration planning but I think you need to change your choice of stories for this sprint. These ones are more important (to me).”

“I need to be part of the team because their work impacts my deliverables for my other project. I need to know what’s going on.”

What to do with that chicken. Keep them out of the team’s way; don’t let them talk during standup meetings or attempt to change the teams direction during a sprint. Over time you should try and convert them into something less like dead weight. Convince them to become pigs or at the very least cows, in other words get them to commit and contribute. Alternatively convince them to go elsewhere.

Note: I differ from Sutherland slightly on my interpretation here. You should read his original post too. My definition of the first type of chicken aligns more with his description of “people who have their jobs on the line if the Scrum doesn’t deliver.” They should attend the meeting expecting to be asked to help the team. I am one of those people hence my differing viewpoint.