In agile project management, you have frequent meetings of the project team (usually daily).  The goal of these meetings is twofold:

  1. team members come together to present any “obstacles” that the group coordinator is charged with clearing and
  2. team members may provide any “daily data” (like the number of hours needed to complete the in-flight task). 

These meetings are designed to be short, and agile methods like Scrum suggest that you ask everyone to remain standing during the meeting.  Fifteen minutes should be a reasonable meeting length. 

In order to keep these meeting short, the only people who can speak are people who have obstacles or information that others need to take action on.  The key word is action.  If information isn’t salient for ‘right now,’ it shouldn’t be discussed in this forum. 

The people who can speak are ‘pigs.’  Other stakeholders may attend but they should not speak (much).  These people are called ‘chickens.’

The terms ‘chickens’ and ‘pigs’ comes from the statement: “In a ham-and-eggs restaurant, the pig is committed but the chicken is simply involved.”  Numerous versions of this statement exist as jokes or humorous anecdotes.

Why define this again? I went looking for a good definition of the “Chickens and Pigs” metaphor and my search didn’t turn up a lot of useful hits, so I thought I’d add my own definition that I can link to. 

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

One thought on “Agile definition: Chickens and Pigs”
  1. Looks like I’m going to be in Bermuda till "at least the end of March". I’ve had the wife and baby out for the last three weeks which has been nice, and could have been nicer if my accommodations weren’t a 400 sq foot studio … but I digress.

    Something I wanted to touch on that you kind of hint at here, and that is the word "structure". I think I’m going to need spend a full blog post on this, but simply put, "Agile has all the structure of waterfall, it’s just that most of it is invisible".

    You said ***

    These meetings are designed to be short, and agile methods like Scrum suggest that you ask everyone to remain standing during the meeting. Fifteen minutes should be a reasonable meeting length.


    The quote I pulled out hints at the inherent structure. According to Larman’s “Agile and Iterative Development: A Managers Guide,” the whole idea behind "standup meetings" is that people don’t like standing around for all that long. Therefore the meeting stays as short as possible. One leads to the other, you don’t have to set a time limit, the standing will do that.

    My standard example of invisible structures in Agile is the (possible) lack of requirements documentation. It’s not that the requirements are never captured, it’s just that we have "Bob". Bob is a customer, possibly the customer evangelist, when the developers have a question, "do we use foo, or bar" they go to Bob and say, "Bob, we can use either foo, or bar to get this job done, foo would make x easier to do later, but bar would y a no brainer" and Bob says, "Well when you put it that way, go with foo, we need x soon, the need for y may never come". Like I said, invisible structure.

    Also, for anyone who has ever taken a shuttle around Microsoft. Have you ever noticed that little Tupperware thing of candy on the seat? Have you ever thought about it as a form of structure? I submit that the candy on the seats performs the structure of keeping the shuttle drivers driving sanely and gently. Other wise the candy would be spread across the bus like graffiti.

    I took a shuttle from Millennium one day and when I got on the bus, I noticed that the little Tupperware thing was not present. "Hmmm, I thought, that’s interesting" I then proceeded to have one of the roughest rides outside of an inner city bus that I have ever experienced.

    I have found it useful to look for the invisible structures. Why put the foos ball table and the pool table in the central lobby … I’m not sure it was intentional, but it might encourage use, but not overlong use, "take a break, not a vacation"

    So to draw it back to the original, the point of a stand up meeting, is to provide an invisible structure for keeping those status meetings as short as possible. "Only pigs can talk" is another structure, but if it’s in place, it’s more obvious.

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