Cider House Rules

June 5th was my first retrospective with the team since being appointed as their Scrum Coach.  One of the main challenges that the team had was that as a ‘NICE” team, they had fallen into a culture of group-think and consensus-driven decisions.  As we all know, this is a problem, because when everyone has to agree, no one agrees, and nothing gets done  The he net result is team stagnation, abd the stifling of individual creativity.  I’m sure the irony here isn’t lost to the reader!

As a Scrum Coach it was obvious was going to have to introduce a whole series of changes.  As a NICE team, they were likely to insist that they consensually agree to those changes.  This would impede progress immensely, and severely limit what I could do in helping the team help myself.  In order to change this dynamic, I used a technique I’m calling “Cider House Rules”.  In the 1985 book by John Iriving there is a list of rules tacked up on the bunk house that the laborers are living in.  From the screenplay of the movie:

HOMER: It’s a list of rules, it seems.
MR. ROSE: Whose rules?
MUDDY: They’re for us, I suppose.
MR. ROSE: They aren’t our rules.  We didn’t write them. I don’t see no reason to follow them.

Its completely irrelevant to the point I’m making – but I’m sure you want to know – so the rules are:

  1. Please don’t smoke in bed
  2. Please don’t go up to the roof to eat your lunch.
  3. Please – even if you are very hot – do not go up to the roof to sleep.
  4. There should be no going up on the roof at night.

Cider House Rules are rules imposed arbitrarily by someone who is not affected by them (the film is really about abortion and a woman’s right to choose, but we aren’t going there today).  I explain to the team that I’m going to introduce some Cider House Rules, and that they are called this because I’m imposing them, and I know I’m imposing them, and yes, they may be stupid and irrelevant, but that’s the point, and I’m imposing them so live with it. Immediately someone says “What, aren’t we going to vote on them?”  The look of indignation is palpable.  “No” Mike says – “That’s the whole point”.  There is some silence as everyone digests this.  “I loved that movie” piped Marla (gotta love Marla!)

The Cider House Rules (CHR) are, I believe, going to be one of my most powerful agents of change.  Firstly they will allow me to slip in changes into the team’s Working Agreements without having to negotiate with the team or particularly explain myself.  Introducing new agreements as Cider House Rules allows the team to try out the rule informally.  If a rule proves useful, we’ll promote it to a formal Working Agreement.  If not, then we can drop it after a suitable time, or when the team gets bored of it.  Second I have a plan to use them to break the team from group-think by getting to team “commitment/engagement” (the “E” in T.E.A.M. of course) around decisions and rules that they don’t individually, or perhaps even collectively, agree with.  Initially the rules will come from me.  Before long, the team  individuals will be creating these themselves – I’m thinking I’ll draw up a rotation to allow members to add a CHR for the upcoming iteration during the retrospective.

My first round of Cider House Rules that I laid out at that meeting were mostly around the Stand Up:

  • No loud talking in the Team Room – whispering only is allowed.  (the noise in the room had been driving me crazy anyway, since I moved in two weeks ago, so this one was actually for my own benefit!)
  • Any infractions of the team’s Working Agreements would incur an on-the-spot penalty of one dollar.
  • The team was to use my new card-wall view for the Stand Up
  • Everyone must move their cards to the correct lane before the stand up
  • No one must be late to the Standup
  • Everyone must come prepared with Burn Up and Burn Down hour estimates for all of the stories in progress

When I came to write these up on the Team Room wall, I actually cheated subtly, and having introduced the rules as Cider House Rules, I quietly promoted the last three to Working Agreements.  This was more to accelerate the adoption of Best Practice agile, more than teach engagement, so I mention that here as a footnote.

Cider House Rules

  1. No loud talking in the Team Room – whispering only is allowed.
  2. Infractions of the Working Agreements incurs a one dollar spot fine.
  3. The team was to use my new card-wall view for the Stand Up

(new) Working Agreements

  1. Everyone must move their cards to the correct lane before the stand up
  2. No one must be late to the Standup
  3. Be prepared at the  Stand Up with Burn Up and Burn Down hour estimates

Next week I plan to introduce something silly – like for example that we finish each Stand Up and meeting with a group chant of the Cobra Kai motto: “Strike Hard, Strike First, No Mercy!”  Let’s see how this works out….


Paul Osborn

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