Pigs in Zen

pig and chikcen-512

A pig and a chicken are talking one day and the chicken says to the pig: “Hey, pig, we should go into business together. Let’s open a restaurant.”

And the pig replies, “Ok, what would we call it? What would serve?”

“How about ‘Ham and Eggs’? That’s what we would serve, also.”

The pig thinks for a moment and says “I don’t think I like this idea. You would just be involved but I would be COMMITTED.”

(cue the sad trombone sound)

I have never really liked that joke.

I am glad that the majority of the community has decided to deprecate it.

Apart from the obvious cultural snares that are inherent in the joke, it’s really irritating and uncomfortable to be working in an organization where people are running around calling each other “pig” or “chicken”.

When people haven’t heard the cute little joke, there is no context and they are like “WTF???”

Not really a good way to focus on “individuals and interactions”.

However, even deeper than all of this is a flashback I had to my high school years and George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

We have organizations being run by the farmers of the world in a traditional command and control approach. And it sucks for the animals. But at least they are producing SOMETHING.

Then, there is an uprising and an upheaval of the power balance by the pigs to something which is initially more equitable for all of the animals on the farm. Things are great from their perspective… for a while.

However, gradually, the pigs begin to install a system which is far more oppressive and tyrannical than anything they had under the farmer. The farmer at least had a strategic view of farm operations and bigger picture thinking than the pigs, who simply wanted to… well… pig-out.

And, as the story goes, it didn’t end very well for the chickens in Animal Farm.

Similarly, over the years I have seen Agile transformation teams become like the pigs in Animal Farm wielding Agile as a weapon to further their own agendas and establishing a rigid structure of process in the name of Scrum; which is contrary to the values of Scrum and the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto.

Based on my experience over the last 9 years, there are 5 key tools that we can use when approaching organizational transformation to ensure that we don’t fall into the trap of becoming zealots for process in the name of Agile:

Organizational Vision — Create understanding across the organization of what they are trying to be and why.

Transformation Backlog — Build a backlog of changes and refinements and ensure that it is ordered by highest value at any given moment.

Communities Of Practice — Establish groups that will support learning and growth across the organization. Begin with people who are passionate about opportunities and innovation.

Regular, Organizational Level Retrospectives – Conduct regular retrospectives for the transformation effort so that EVERYONE understands what is working well, what isn’t working well, and what experiments they would like to run.

Think Globally, Act Locally Mindset – Decentralize decision making by de-emphasizing uniformity and “consistency” across the entire organization. We don’t want battle droids or clones assembled into “teams”. We want autonomous, free-thinking, knowledge workers who are motivated toward helping the organization be successful.

I am planning to elaborate further on these at the Scrum Gatherings in Shanghai and Prague, assuming my proposals are accepted and also at other venues where I have been invited to speak.

But for now, I would like to ask the remaining few who are telling the Pig and Chicken joke to let it die a somewhat dignified death.

In the profound words of Morrissey:
“I wish I could laugh, but that joke isn’t funny anymore…”

Peace and blessings.