Organizational Commitment: Pig and Chicken – Part 2

agile-safari-pig-and-chicken-part2

Many people really don’t like the original cartoon (See Pig and Chicken Part 1). However, in order to get to Part 2 (and 3), I had to start at the beginning!  Tweet the Pig and Chicken Part 2 Agile Safari Cartoon!

Part 1 is supposed to show how the team members are the ones who are “fully invested” and “really committed” to getting the work done — hence they are the pigs. So, as the story goes, the Development Team (in Scrum) are pigs, who commit to the work for the next iteration (or sprint). They are “on the hook.” As I noted in Pig and Chicken Part 1, many see this as insulting — to everyone. Yes, this is just a cartoon! But many believe it creates divisiveness between team members and non-team members.

So Who Are the Pigs and Who Are the Chickens?

Who cares! This is a cartoon. It’s a Metaphor. If people do not want to be pigs or chickens or turtles or rabbits or rhinoceros or dogs, I suppose they can create a cartoon with humans in it. :)

Seriously, what if there is a chicken on the team… is that the end of the world? Heck, what does that question even mean… it’s supposed to be a metaphor! This comment, from Part 1, zeroes in on this issue as well.

“. . . The big problem I see is that some people who don’t want to realize that the metaphor is, well, a metaphor, take to labeling people as “pigs” or “chickens”.  This is bad enough when taken out of context, but it is even detrimental when the people involved (or is that committed) do understand the context.  Reinforcing the idea that “these people can talk” and “these people can’t” and applying the labels pig and chicken respectively just papers over the bigger issue that exists. . .”Kent McDonald from  a comment made on Pig and Chicken Part 1.

What about organizational commitment? What would it mean or an organization to commit to the teams and the teams to the organization?

Commitment Doesn’t Mean Shut-up

We want the team to commit to the most valuable and important features/work (as the business has ranked them). We run into people all the time who can’t decide what the most important work is and don’t give teams time to focus and deliver.

The only way a team can commit to features for an iteration is if the entire organization commits to helping the team succeed! When “commitment” is a way for the team to say “don’t talk to me — you are not on the team”, then you have a different problem.

Commitment doesn’t mean shut-up & disengage! In fact, it is the opposite! It should mean to collaborate and engage!

Sidebar: If you are asking if teams still commit or forecast instead, check-out Scrum Commitment or Forecast.

Explore and Learn From the Pig and Chicken

What if you used the cartoon to consider what organizational commitment means to you. Agile works when everyone in the organization is on board, at least at some level. Certainly each team is committing to get the work done in the iteration, but what if everyone is committed to delivering value to the customers by helping the teams?

  1. What would it mean for everyone to support the teams?
  2. What would the impact be, if everyone is committed?
  3. How would each team react? (ask them — don’t assume)
  4. What is stopping you from collaborating and committing as an organization?
  5. How would people who are not on development teams be affected? (ask them — don’t assume)
  6. What other questions can you think of that might be interesting to explore?

Consider a Pig and Chicken Retrospective: Show people Part 1 (cartoon and article). Have them outline and discuss positives and negatives of the cartoon on a board/flip chart. Next, show them this cartoon (Part 2) and have them take the same steps. Then answer the questions above.

What has changed?

I’d love to hear about how this went or your thoughts.


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  1. I think the whole pig & chicken metaphor started out to prevent managers from co-opting standups and other team meetings. I think the intention was to let teams learn how to self-organize without having the managers take over every meeting and tell them what to do. But personally I’ve always thought it was not the best way to do it.

    If a team wants to do standups such that only the programmers give a status, I guess so be it, but personally I find that leaves a lot of people out. As a tester, I feel I ought to be a full participant, and on most teams I’ve been on the past 15 years, I have been. On my current team, I can certainly chime in with “helps” and “interestings” but when they go around the room for status and “what did you do”, I’m not called on.

    I think a lot of teams would do well to get help from a professional facilitator for all kinds of meetings, and learn to let everyone have a voice without the meeting taking too long.

    • Lisa, thanks for the comment! That seems quite challenging for anyone to be ‘part of a team’ and collaborate without being involved. Maybe they forgot that a Scrum “Development Team” is NOT only the developers, but everyone developing the features, including testers! :)

      I totally agree about the facilitator. One approach I really like is to have a Scrum Master (or whoever) from another team facilitate. That way they really are impartial and in many cases don’t even know what is happening (a good thing). Sometimes that requires some extra training that people are just starting see as a need (facilitation training).

  2. Hi Jake

    Jake,

    +1 on Lisa’s comment.

    Loving the discussion on Chickens and Pigs. Linda Rising did a great keynote at Agile Prague on “US” and “THEM” mentality [Note: language warning] ( https://vimeo.com/107981919 ). Chickens and Pigs is ALL about creating “US” and “THEM”. It is also completely the wrong way round. Normally the manager is the Pig and the team are the chickens. How often have you heard of the entire team being sacked for a failure? And how often the manager?

    The Chicken and Pig metaphor has NO place in an organisation that wants to collaborate.

    If your manager is dominating the stand up, then the place to discuss that issue is the retrospective. Talking about Chickens and Pigs simply dehumanises people…. Dehumanisation is what any rascist group does to justify their abuse, and to silence the oppressed. Perhaps Chickens and Pigs is a way to spot Roleism. If people in your organisation uses the Chickens and Pigs metaphor, try to see who is suffering from Roleism.

    Keep up the discussion.

    • Chris, thank you for the comment. I agree. Good advice on roleism and who will actually get sacked!  

      Your points made me think about how so often we assume people perceive things the same way that we do. We might start using the original cartoon as a way to explain something simple about teams focusing. We might plan to then explain that it is really just a simple way to think about it, so don’t take it too far. Then we explain the ‘next step’ and ‘suddenly’ everyone is supposed to just switch over to a new way of thinking. We really have to ask and work with people to find out what is really going on. How true is the first cartoon? How true is the second in the organization? Can we actually assess that without judgement?

      Thanks for continuing the conversation and taking it up a notch (or three)!

  3. I also really liked your articles Jake, especially calling out the “bad smells” that might be associated with commitment. I was looking for a harder definition of commitment that is at the root of some of those smells, and couldn’t find it, but when I searched for definitions of commit, I found this:
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/commit
    : to say that (someone or something) will definitely do something : to make (someone or something) obligated to do something

    I think this definition has led to some of the abuse of the intent of sprint commitment.

    I like the concept of treating commitment, as towards creating a successful product.

    I also truly appreciate adding “wing and ribs” to chicken and pig metaphor.
    Appreciating the pain of a development team on a “committed” death march is one thing.
    Often with death marches, products fail and managers get sacked. There is commitment there to (from the sense of involvement, sacrifice etc.)

    Breaking down the walls within a team to engage and respect everyone and create a better view of what commitment should be is definitely a step in the right direction.

    Thanks for planting these thought seeds! You’ve given me good ammunition for if (when!) these topics come up again!

  4. I don’t really see how any of this will ever work when some people in teams do a lot of the work and others don’t. How about when you are asked to do work on your own time? There never seems to be a choice, never seems to be enough people to get the work done without killing yourself, under threat of bad performance reviews the team leaders look like the chickens, and the others are the sacrificial pigs.

Jake Calabrese

Jake Calabrese is a coach, trainer, and coach-consultant working to help organizations meet the promise of agile by going beyond agile practices to address culture challenges and help teams and leaders reach and maintain high performance. He has unique expertise as an Organization & Relationship Systems Certified Coach (ORSCC) and as a coach for Agile adoptions beyond software development that he brings to each client engagement. Jake created the AgileSafari cartoon series to introduce humor into the more challenging issues we have to tackle. Jake uses ideas from various areas of thinking such as: Lean, professional coaching, psychology, facilitation, brain-based training, improvisational, agile, kanban, and scrum. Jake regularly speaks at local and national conferences including Mile High Agile, Scrum Gathering, and Agile Alliance Agile20xx conferences.

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