When Will Chickens Become Pigs?

“When pigs fly.”

According to Wikipedia, this phrase is known as an adynaton – a figure of speech so bizarre that it describes an impossibility. Here are some more examples of adynatons:

  • “It’s raining cats and dogs”
  • “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse”
  • “If my significant other catches me, I’m dead!”

All adynaton kidding aside, I’m quite serious about turning chickens into pigs.

Really.

Pre-2011 versions of The Scrum Guide included a business fable to illustrate the difference between members of a Scrum team and everyone else.

A chicken and a pig are together when the chicken says, “Let’s start a restaurant!” The pig thinks it over and says, “What would we call this restaurant?” The chicken says, “Ham n’ Eggs!” The pig says, “No thanks, you’d only be involved but for me it would be a real commitment!”

The moral of the fable revolves around commitment. Those who are part of a team are more committed to the goals of the team than those who are not part of the team.

There’s a corollary to this moral. Those who are the most committed, get to speak first. Those who are less committed, speak last or not at all. This is why visitors to Scrum team events such as the Daily Scrum, are there to primarily observe, listen and learn – with mouth closed.

Although this differentiation between those on the team and those not on the team originated in Scrum, it’s not limited to Scrum. I’ve observed it in other Agile methods such as Kanban as well. In fact, one could argue that it underpins the very definition and mode of operation for any “team” toiling and committed toward a common goal and purpose.

Under most circumstances, this differentiation is reasonable. Those who are doing the work are in the best position to discuss and decide on how to do the work. When impediments to the work show up, the teams that are able to resolve the impediments on their own will grow in capability and confidence.

But what happens when the work changes substantially or the impediments become insurmountable for the team? Should the team persist in separating the chickens from the pigs? Should the team continue to be pigheaded and forage ahead on their own hoping for a miracle? Teams that know their limitations will not hesitate to ask for help. When that happens, everyone needs to be a “pig”.

Here are some examples using my favourite “chickens”:

  • If you’re the Business, have you committed someone from the Business to be a Product Owner or Business SME for the team? If you have, have you given them sole business decision-making authority for what the team needs? If you haven’t, what can you do to grant them that authority?
  • If you’re a Leader, have you taken the time to be present with the team regularly? If you have, how many impediments have you resolved for them? If none, how much attention are you paying to what ails the team?
  • If you’re HR, have you ever visited with a team? If not, why not? If you have, have you noticed opportunities to help with conflict resolution, recruiting or learning? What have you offered to help in any of those or other people-related matters? If you have helped, how has the team responded?

Every team I’ve ever worked with love it when they get visitors. It makes them feel special and that what they are working on matters. Agile ways of working offer many opportunities to visit with teams including the daily stand-ups, planning sessions or review sessions. They’re also great opportunities to turn chickens into pigs.

Here are some suggestions on how to start down the path of turning chickens into pigs.

The next time you invite visitors to your team sessions, make them feel welcome and valued. Give them opportunities to help. Provide them a forum for questions and feedback AFTER your team has had their turn. Thank them and ask them to come back often.

The next time you visit a team, listen with an intent to serve. Show curiosity and interest in the team’s work AND the team itself. Provide thoughtful feedback. Share context. Offer help by asking what the team needs. Listen, don’t lecture.

Before you know it, you’ll be a poster child for Deming’s 14th point for management:

“Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.” 

– W. Edwards Deming

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