Why Agile is Like Football: Chickens and Pigs

ART01x - edited feature imageSurely you’ve heard of the Agile methodology, but may not have been able to truly find a way to implement or, in some cases, explain the concept to your peers and superiors. In this article, the BI Pharaoh demystifies one of the aspects of Agile, tackling the chick and pig concept as it relates to the project and stand up meetings, all while comparing it to something we are all too familiar with— American football. Go Cowboys!

If you have been involved in an Agile/Scrum type project for longer than 10 seconds, it is highly likely that you have heard the term chicken and/or pig.  I will run the risk of being redundant to make sure no IT professional is left behind, and no one is abandoned in the dark about chickens and pigs; seasoned Agilers, bear with me.

Once upon a time, a chicken and a pig were having a conversation. Let’s skip the fact that chickens and pigs don’t usually talk, much less to each other in each other’s language, and let’s just go with it here. The chicken says to the pig, “Hey Pig, I have an idea. Why don’t we open a restaurant together?”  To which the pig in all of his infinite pig-like wisdom replies, “Hmm, I don’t know. Sounds good, it could work, but what we would name this restaurant?” The chicken replies quickly, “How about we name it Ham-N-Eggs.”  The Pig then says without hesitation, “Nope, I’ll have no part of that thank you very much. I’d be COMMITTED, but you would only be INVOLVED!”  You see, to create ham and eggs, the chicken would just need to donate the eggs that he has laid, however the pig would have to put his life on the line for the success of the restaurant.

This is where we get the concept of chickens and pigs as it relates to the agile process— chickens are involved, but pigs are committed.  I should have explained that in a prior engagement when I told a young lady she was a chick on this project, but she was a pig on the last one. Not sure I’ll ever live that one down.

In football, there’s an abundance of individuals that number in the millions each year who scream, jump up and down, sport team t-shirts, paint themselves the team colors, have cookouts in the parking lots, and generally act a fool during the game. It is absolutely amazing to watch. They are called fanatics, or fans for short. I’m sure you’ve seen them as well— maybe you are one. It can be said that these fans are involved.  But because a fan doesn’t have to take a hit, catch a pass, run the ball, make a tackle, or take a cortisone shot to stay in the game. He or she may be fanatical and involved in the atmosphere of the game, but they are not committed. The fans’ stats are not updated at the end of the game; they don’t get another win/loss added to their record.

Agile is the same way— there are people who are committed to the delivery of your project and there are people who are involved in the project.  Typically speaking, the delivery team members are the committed individuals and we call those people pigs.  They are tied in every which way to the delivery of the product and will be served as bacon if the delivery doesn’t happen. Basically all other individuals are considered chickens.  This concept really comes to light during your daily stand-up meeting. During the stand-up meeting anyone can attend, however only the pigs can talk. This is something you want to make sure to enforce in your stand-up, or your stand-up meeting can become a runaway train.  Because just like fans at a football game, chickens in a stand-up tend to make the most noise. Now, I will say it is imperative that you explain the chicken and pig story to those newcomers. In these days of hyper political correctness, you want to make absolutely sure you all parties are on the same page before you call a grown woman a chicken, and God forbid – A PIG!  Just be prepared to get looked at funny…. Just trust me on this one, you don’t want that!

Scrum teams have a tendency to discount the voice of the chicken because of the roles.  I would encourage you to keep this in mind; while fans are not on the field, it would be foolish to think that they do not influence the outcome of the game.  Both in the NFL (National Football League) and the NBA (National Basketball Association), statistically there is a difference in home team advantage for both regular season games and the percentage jumps 10 points or more for playoff games.  While there can be numerous reasons why, the presence of the fans would have to be included in the overall equation. Simply put, fans (and chickens) are part of the team. They may not be directly responsible for the day to day outcome, they don’t write code, but they are very valid.  How much fun would it be playing in the super bowl to an absolutely empty stadium?  No screams, no cheers, no boos, no wave, no nothing.  How much fun is that?  None at all!

So the moral of the story is simple; pigs, value your chickens!  They complete the meal.  After all, you are the reason they crossed the street to begin with.  Go marinate on that.  Keep ‘em happy, keep ‘em involved and most of all….

Keep it Agile.

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About Dewayne Washington

Dewayne Washington is a senior consultant with 20+ years of experience in BI and Analytics in over 2 dozen verticals. He heads a BI firm known as The Business of Intelligence. He is the author of the book Get In The Stream, the ultimate guide to customer adoption and his Data Warehousing and Mobile Solutions implementations have been featured in CIO Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. Dewayne is also a sought-after speaker and mentor for organizations striving to leverage BI and Analytics to meet business goals, thus earning him the title, BI Pharaoh.

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