Scrum for Chickens

Chicken wants to start a restaurant but needs start-up capital. He asks Pig to invest. Pig says, “Great idea; what are you thinking of naming your enterprise?” “Eggs and Bacon,” Chicken replies. “No thanks,” Pig snorts back. When Chicken asks about the sudden change of heart, Pig responds: “Because you’re only involved . . . . I’m committed.”

If I had been at the meeting where the fathers of Scrum chose “Pigs” and “Chickens” to represent their world, I would have likely argued for a different metaphor, but alas, here we are: Pigs are committed and Chickens are only involved. Every day Pigs are moving some software project forward; it is the full-time job for some group of developers, designers, database administrators, business analysts, a Product Owner and a ScrumMaster (use of twenty-sided dice is optional). “Chickens” are all of the other stakeholders on the software project, including high-level executives, customers, department heads, system users, etc.

The metaphor of Pigs and Chickens is intended to create and keep order for the Pigs involved in the day-to-day grind of the project. Turning all of the other stakeholders into Chickens (regardless of their rank or influence) is at least partially about removing pecking-order politics from the process of software development (where it doesn’t help).In a healthy Scrum environment, a Chicken of high influence can wield his power with the Product Owner if he chooses, but not directly with the Team. The work of the Pigs requires solitude, focus, and time; Chicken politics are a distraction at best and a source of frustration and erosion at worst.

To fully explain Scrum, the intricate mechanisms of the Pigs would have to be exposed because right or wrong, Scrum is Pig-centric. Instead of justifying why this is the case, let me instead explain how you (as a Chicken) can make Scrum work for you.

Chickens want their software project to be successful. They want high functionality, rapid delivery, and zero bugs. Here’s a piece of good news: Pigs want the exact same things; Pigs, just like Chickens, want to see the right kind of return on their investment.

It’s easy to drum up childhood memories of bright and colorful pop-up barnyard books and talking animals when discussing Scrum. Likewise, Scrum brings to mind another memory from childhood: the importance of keeping a promise. The Sprint (an iteration of development, usually 1 to 4 weeks) is a promise to complete a certain amount of work in a specified amount of time and a promise that the Team’s output will meet a particular standard and be production-ready by the end of the Sprint. On the other side, the Chickens (via the Product Owner) promise to keep the scope of sprints fixed and only change direction in that short window of time between sprints. Each animal has a promise to keep on a Scrum farm.

To be the kind of Chicken who has influence on a Scrum project, start by cultivating a cooperative relationship with your Product Owner. If you’re involved with a project and you don’t know who the Product Owner is, you are either on the outer rim of the farm or your project may not be using Scrum. If you’re fortunate, your Product Owner is one reliable and competent man or woman who has your best interests at heart and wants to produce a world-class piece of software on your behalf. If your Product Owner is more than one person, then try to build rapport with each person and help make sure they all stay on the same page when it comes to the things that are important to you.

Attend the project-related meetings to which you are invited. In particular, come to the end-of-sprint demonstration meeting. In each such meeting, there is an opportunity for anyone (Pigs or Chickens) to give input into what he/she thinks should be done next. It’s an opportunity to formally lobby for a feature or fix that you consider worthy of being at or near the top of the Product Backlog. When you have only a limited relationship with the Product Owner, this is the best place to garner grass-roots support for your ideas.

Learn to write great User Stories. The Product Owner spends a lot of time with a collection of User Stories called the Product Backlog. User Stories are the terms of the contract between Pigs and Chickens. Learning to write them well will earn you respect among the Pigs and be a direct benefit to both the Product Owner and the project as a whole.

Understand the Team’s Velocity and how to use it. For Chickens that are sitting in the end-of-sprint demonstration and wondering about the “points” being awarded by the Product Owner, these are Story Points and they are the currency of Scrum. Some are earned with ease; others require blood, sweat, and tears. Every User Story has a Story Point value that is assigned by the team (when few details about the Story are known) as a relative measure of effort. The average number of Story Points earned in a Sprint is the Team’s Velocity. For Pigs, Velocity is a measure of the efficiency of their genius and for Chickens, Velocity is a tool used in predicting the future.

Imagine that you compose a User Story on behalf of a customer who requires a particular feature. What can you tell this customer about when his feature might be available? The Team’s Velocity can give you a clue about when your Story might make it into a Sprint if nothing else changes between now and then. Assume that the Team decided your Story is worth 8 points. In looking at the Product Backlog, you can count about 150 points in the Stories ahead of yours. If the Team’s Velocity is 60 (meaning that they are expected to close about 60 Story Points worth of Stories in a single sprint), your Story is likely to be at least three sprints away. If your Story is 30 points from the top and the Team’s Velocity is 200, then your Story is likely (but not guaranteed) to get done in the next sprint.

As Chickens, your contribution is important. Chickens who make a difference in their Scrum projects are Chickens who nurture their relationships with the Product Owner, who always promote the keeping of promises, who actively participate in the process, who use User Stories to communicate their ideas, and who use the Team’s Velocity to set their own and their customer’s expectations. As much as the Pigs would like it believe it, it isn’t just about them; having smart, educated Chickens (like you) around is part of what is making your project a success. The more you participate, the better it becomes.

5 Responses to “Scrum for Chickens”

  1. Robert

    Hey Vic – very good stuff! As a chicken, I have to know how to help you all move along and how to stay out of your way – this helps. I also appreciate how you’ve spelled out the process in a way that all other chickens can understand. I see in another blog that Adam added cows to the pasture, now I need to know whether I am a chicken or a cow…..

  2. Adam Dennis, VP, Prod Dev, Dominion Dealer Solutions

    @Robert – It depends on your role in the meeting and how you behave as to whether you are a chicken or a cow. If you are a clear stakeholder, then you are a chicken. If you have marginal interest, and speak out of turn, then you are a cow. So, the moral of the story is that it is your choice whether you cluck or moo.


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