Gus and the breakfast police

At breakfast on the second day of Agile on the beach I was queueing behind my friend Gus Power. Gus asked for two sausages and was told he could only have one. I knew what he was about to say next so I intervened in the interest of trying to keep the queue moving at some speed slightly faster than stopped, and said "And you can't trade one item for another either".

So Gus had just one sausage. And Odette was not allowed a fried egg either - but could have scrambled egg. I thought for a moment and, when it was my turn, I said - "I'll have the maximum I can have of everything please." I got one piece of bacon, one scoop of scrambled egg, one scoop of beans, one scoop of mushrooms, one of those reconstituted potato croquette things, two pieces of toast, two individually wrapped "bricks" of butter, two plastic containers in the shape of a miniature thumb-sized bath containing marmalade, and... a sausage. I walked over to where Gus and Odette were sitting and joined them. I gave the sausage to Gus, explaining that I didn't want most of the food - but I did want Gus to have two sausages.

The point of this story is not to whine about the conference. It was a really excellent conference. The breakfast staff usually serve students which may have something to do with the somewhat draconian rules. The point is that overly rigid rules foster bureaucracy and generally end up self-defeating. The intention behind the rules, to avoid waste, is laudable. But rigid rules and their associated lack of trust in both the servers and the served simply creates more waste. A system like that invites people to live down to its expectations.


  1. Brilliant post Jon... I'm mad at myself for missing AgileOTB.

    I loved the post because , firstly, it was entertaining. I could totally imagine that scene and the potential for radical responses from Gus when faced with that limitation.

    More than this though, I loved that it made me emerge questions that may have some relevance to other things going on around me.

    At what point do well-intentioned controls become over burdensome?

    How might communication and expectation setting/management have been designed into the whole sausage incident? What difference might it have made?

    If something is not valuable to anyone, why does it persist?

    The question of trust you bring up is also very interesting for me. Is this lack of trust real (i.e. broken system) or perceived (ok system, badly communicated) or non-existent (y'all got a jobsworth serving that sausages).

    Thank you for sharing and the pondering continues.

  2. A familiar tale. For me the lesson is that it is perfectly possible for the breakfasters to collaborate to improve their experience in spite of the rules - as you amply demonstrated. Don't moan about the rules, find the way around them!

  3. Hi Matt,
    I agree. Unfortunately the rules are often harder to work around than in this case. And lots of people don't actively try to work around them - they meekly accept them.