The Scrum framework has long been a beacon for teams striving for increased collaboration and efficiency. One of the most well-known metaphors within Scrum is the tale of pigs and chickens, which serves as a guiding principle for team involvement.

We have introduced a new meeting enhancement feature – the Observer Role – designed to bring a new dimension to your agile meetings. This will now allow you to have people join any meeting as a “view only” participant. This is a really useful feature for agile coaches, new recruits, cross team collaborations or for the supportive and empathetic leader.

You can find out more about the observer role here.

The pigs and chickens story in scrum methodology

Before delving into the Observer Role, let’s revisit the classic metaphor of pigs and chickens in Scrum methodology. This metaphor originates from a simple but profound story illustrating the levels of commitment within a Scrum team.

In the story, the roles of pigs and chickens are used to differentiate between team members. Pigs are considered fully committed – they are the ones “in the game,” responsible for the project’s success. On the other hand, chickens are involved but not committed. They might provide input, but it’s the pigs who have skin in the game. Think of it as Eggs Vs Bacon. To illustrate, here’s a funny ditty:

Scene: A cozy barn where Cluckington and Porkington are having a chat.

Cluckington (Chicken): Hey Porkington, I’ve been thinking about this whole pigs-and-chickens thing in Scrum. What’s the deal with that?

Porkington (Pig): Ah, Cluckington, it’s quite simple. In the world of Scrum, we’re all on a team, working towards a common goal. But the pigs and chickens metaphor helps distinguish the level of commitment each member has.

Cluckington: Commitment, you say? I’m committed to laying eggs every day; isn’t that enough?

Porkington: It’s more about being fully invested, Cluckington. You see, in our Scrum team, the pigs are the ones with skin in the game. They’re the folks committed to the project’s success, contributing directly to the end result.

Cluckington: So, what does that make me, then? Am I not contributing?

Porkington: Of course, you contribute, Cluckington! You’re like a chicken in the metaphor – involved, offering ideas and feedback, but not entirely committed like the pigs. It is not about the quantity of contribution; it is about the level of skin in the game.

Cluckington: Fair enough. But sometimes, I feel left out. Is there a role for someone like me who wants to be part of the process but isn’t a pig?

Porkington: Funny you should ask, Cluckington. Recently, in our agile meetings using TeamRetro, they introduced an Observer Role. Observers are like chickens – present and contributing by being a fresh set of eyes without actively participating in the discussion.

Cluckington: That sounds intriguing. It’s like being part of the process without being in the frying pan, right?

Porkington: Exactly!

Cluckington: I like the sound of that. It’s like having the best of both worlds – involvement without the pressure.

End Scene: Cluckington and Porkington continue their barnyard banter, embracing the diversity of roles within their Scrum team.

The importance of observers in team meetings

Observers play a vital role in providing fresh viewpoints without actively participating in the discussion. Their outsider perspective can bring new insights, identify blind spots, and foster a more inclusive environment. This is especially important in complex projects where diverse perspectives can lead to better decision-making.

For the safety and acknowledgment of all team members, observers will always be named in TeamRetro. This transparency ensures that everyone understands their role and contribution to the meeting. It also fosters a culture of trust and openness within the team.

Value for the team, Scrum Master, and the observer

Whichever way you look, inviting a trusted observer into your agile meeting can serve up a buffet of benefits.

  • For the team
    • Improved collaboration: Including observers fosters an open and inclusive team culture, encouraging collaboration beyond the core team.
    • Opportunity to get new perspectives: If wanted, the team can have the observer look at their process, their dynamics or ask for any feedback after the meeting.
  • For the Scrum Master
    • Enhanced facilitation: The Scrum Master can leverage the observer role to facilitate more insightful discussions and guide the team toward better outcomes.
    • Risk mitigation: Observers can identify potential risks or challenges that the team might overlook, contributing to more comprehensive risk management.
  • For the observer
    • Learning opportunities and onboarding: Observers gain valuable insights into the team’s dynamics, processes, and challenges, providing a unique learning experience.
    • Networking and acknowledgment: By being named and acknowledged, observers feel a sense of belonging and appreciation, fostering positive relationships within the organization.
    • Bridge gaps: Observers can act as conduits for knowledge transfer between different teams or departments, fostering cross-pollination of ideas and practices.
    • Guidance from afar: Seasoned team members can take on the observer role to mentor less experienced colleagues, providing guidance without directly intervening in the discussion. These discussions can happen after the meeting.
  • For the leadership
    • Holistic perspective: While leaders may have a broad strategic view of the organization, they can gain a nuanced understanding of team dynamics and ground level processes in the observer role. This can contribute to more informed decision-making.
    • Understanding team challenges: Observing without actively participating allows leaders to empathize with the daily challenges of the team which can lead to more empathetic leadership and breaking down silos.

Rules and considerations for the observer role

One of the key conditions is that the observer must do just that… observe. So, here are the rules of engagement (or non-engagement as the case may be). This is important for all observers, no matter which level or role you have!

  1. No active participation (Hands-off approach)
    Observers should refrain from actively contributing ideas, comments, or votes during the meeting. Their role is to observe and absorb without influencing the team’s decisions in any way. It might be tough, but resisting the temptation to intervene while still actively observing to make this role work.
  2. Named and acknowledged
    Observers will always be named during the meeting for transparency and accountability. This ensures that their presence is known to everyone, promoting openness and trust.
  3. Respect team dynamics
    Observers should be mindful of the team’s dynamics and avoid disrupting the natural flow of the meeting. They are there to enhance, not detract from, the team’s collaborative process.
  4. Confidentiality and safety
    Observers must adhere to the same confidentiality and safety standards as other team members. Any information shared during the meeting, including discussions and decisions, should be treated with utmost confidentiality.
  5. Limited frequency
    To maintain the integrity of the observer role, team members should rotate through the position to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to benefit from the fresh perspective without becoming a permanent observer.
  6. Feedback channels
    Establish channels for observers to provide constructive feedback if requested, outside of the meeting. This allows them to share their insights and suggestions without disrupting the flow of the team and respecting boundaries.
  7. Clear communication
    Team members and observers should communicate openly about expectations and boundaries. This includes clarifying the purpose of the observer’s presence and any specific areas they should focus on. For example, you could ask the observer to take notes on what behaviours helped to progress the meeting positively or which parts of the process did the team get stuck on.

By sticking to these rules, the Observer Role becomes a powerful tool for enriching team dynamics, fostering learning, and promoting a culture of continuous improvement within agile teams.

So, as you embrace this new feature, remember the essence of the pigs-and-chickens metaphor and how the Observer Role complements it by bringing external insights into your agile meetings. Perhaps it’s the new recruit joining the company and you want to show them how an agile meeting works. Perhaps it the leadership wanting to be more understanding of how the team operates, or perhaps you have an agile coach whose role it is to help guide and develop the team as they embark on their agile journey.

TeamRetro is here to empower your team with the tools you need to thrive in an ever-evolving agile landscape.

Happy observations!