Pigs, Chickens, and Stand-ups–Oh My!

Pigs, Chickens, and Stand-ups–Oh My!

I was talking to an experienced Scrum Master and Agile Coach the other day about agile in general and the topic of stand-ups came up. It seems he’d had an “experience” at one of our local agile group meetings where Daily Standup dynamics were being discussed.

Here’s a link to the session. It’s a meeting from our local Raleigh, NC AgileRTP group. The topic was entitled: Do You Stand Up? I missed the meeting, but he recounted the general discussion and flow for me.

The group consensus was that: ‘Chickens’ (interested bystanders, stakeholders, leadership folks, etc.) should not talk during the Daily Scrum. The rational mostly surrounded that at it would interrupt the teams conversations and flow.

The Scrum Master disagreed with this view and he (jokingly) said that—when he brought up his perspective, the crowd summarily dismissed him as being wrong.

His opinion is that literally anyone can talk at the daily stand-up. That it was too restrictive or prescriptive or agile purist in thinking to not allow non-team members to interrupt the team; particularly if they were “leaders”.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since our conversation, because although I see his point of view, I think I disagree with him. But let’s explore it and see where I “end up”…

I’ve been teaching Scrum for over 10 years. While I’m certainly not one of the Scrum founders, I’ve got a lot of real world experience implementing Scrum and coaching its evolution within teams.

Quite often in my introductory classes I ask the questions:

Who is the daily Scrum for?

Who attends?   Who speaks?

And what is the general purpose of the meeting?

I think these are healthy and basic questions. Perhaps they surround the topics in the AgileRTP meeting, and I hope I can triangulate towards whether I agree or disagree with my coaching colleague.

First, who is the Daily Scrum for?

It’s for the Team. In my definition, the “team” includes the Development Team (anyone doing work in the Sprint), the Scrum Master, and the Product Owner. It’s their meeting.  The secondary purpose of the meeting is for interested observers and stakeholders to glean information by listening. From that perspective, I’ve found them to be incredibly valuable and I often attend Daily Scrum’s within my organizations.

But all of that aside, the Daily Scrum is ultimately FOR the Team!

Who attends the Daily Scrum?

Clearly, triggering off of the above, the Team attends. I personally like the notion that it’s a mandatory meeting that the entire team needs to attend.

If someone is going to be “out of the office” or has a conflict, then I expect them to communicate their “state information” to another member of the team so that they are “represented”.  From my perspective, remote team members can dial-into the meeting, as long as the technology supports clear 2-way communication.

Obviously the cartoon and the Scrum Master I spoke to account for ‘Chickens’ attending the Daily Scrum. I’m fine with this, actually, from my perspective, the “more the merrier”. If you’re interested in what’s going on within a Scrum Team, come to the Daily Standup and listen.

But, you’re not a member of the team; that is unless you want to roll up your sleeves and do some work 😉

Who Speaks?

At the risk of sounding redundant, the Team speaks. It’s their meeting.

Clearly the Development Team speaks to the work specifically and how things are progressing towards the Sprint Goal. Everyone else listens.

What is the general purpose for the Daily Scrum?

This is a place where I might slightly disagree with many coaches. Many trainers and coaches speak in terms of the Daily Scrum being a “status meeting” of sorts. Where every team member dutifully recites their “state” by leveraging the “3 Questions”:

  1. What did I do yesterday?
  2. What do I plan on doing today?
  3. Are there any impediment(s) in my way?

Again, it’s for the team. But I don’t like the notion of it becoming an individual status meeting. Instead, I prefer that the conversations surround the Sprint Goal and the teams effort to meet their commitment to the Sprint.

  1. What did the team do to support their goal yesterday?
  2. What needs to be done today to support and progress the goal?
  3. What is standing between the team and achieving the goal?

The emphasis here on goal-orientation and team progress is an important one from my perspective. Therefore, does everyone have to speak? I don’t think so, as long as the team is progressing towards the goal and has a “game plan” for the day.

Well, I guess they can.

There are clearly no “Scrum Police” that will cuff them and escort them away for talking at the Daily Scrum. Or at least I hope not. But if you’ve been thinking about the meeting and the purpose, it’s not for the ‘Chickens’ or interested observers. Sure, they can glean a lot of information from it. But it’s for the team.

So I worry that ‘Chickens’ can derail the purpose. They can make the meeting “about them” instead of for the team. They can inject their opinions surrounding how the team attacks their challenges towards meeting their commitments. Literally and sometimes quite subtly, they can “steal the self-direction” from the team.

If I have a burning question or comment, I usually wait until the end of the Daily Scrum for an opportunity. I then ask the Scrum Master (and team) if I can ask a question or express a point of concern, or make a request. I’ve found that the simple act of asking reinforces the self-direction and purpose of the meeting.

And we need to remember that the final arbiter (facilitator) of the Daily Scrum is the Scrum Master. So ultimately they are guiding any ‘Chicken’ engagement in the meeting and keeping the team on-point.

So, after all of this rambling, do I agree with my coaching colleague that ‘Chickens’ can always talk and interact in the Daily Scrum? In a word, no.

I suspect in their implementation of Scrum the leaders are still largely “telling” the teams what to do. Yes, they may have wrapped it in a Scrum “wrapper” and with good intentions, but at the end of the day leadership must “let go of” their teams day-to-day execution. That is—unless the team ASKS for help.

And while we’re talking about the daily Scrum, let’s put to bed the notion of “Pigs & Chickens”. From my perspective, the analogy has run its course. In the early years it was a comical way to make the distinction of a self-directed Scrum team.

But even then, I felt it was disrespectful to leadership and managers who attended the meeting—relegating them to the role of a ‘Chicken’ and “bounding their beaks”.

Fast forward to today, and I don’t use it any more in my teaching and coaching. I personally believe it ran its course of usefulness and now only trivializes the roles and marginalizes the role of leadership within agile teams.

Perhaps we can start calling them “Interested Observers” or something equally respectful.

Thanks for listening and stay agile my friends,


Note: I want to acknowledge Michael Vizdos and the Implementing Scrum website for the wonderful cartoon.

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