The Law of Triviality for Scrum Masters

Bicycle shelter - Law of triviality for Scrum Masters

Scrum Masters should know that there are many laws and theories about behavior. Behavioural laws range from complicated to fairly simple, and knowing them can help with a wide range of scenarios.

What is the Law of Triviality?

In 1957 C. Parkinson made an observation that a group will give disproportionate weight to trivial things. If we have two decisions to be make, the more complex topic will receive far less attention. The theory is that the simpler something is for people to grasp, the more time they will spend on it.

Parkinson’s example is a board discussing the building of a nuclear reactor, and a bike shed for the staff. When discussing the reactor, most people can not grasp all the complex details and are likely to spend very little time on a decision. A bike shed on the other hand is simple. People understand the concepts of locking bikes away, and can grasp the purpose. The board will discuss everything from the color of the shed to what type of roof it should have. We are more likely to focus on what we understand when we get into complex decisions where we have less understanding.

How does this help Scrum Masters?

Developers often make complex decisions. The team will talk about how the work will be done and technical details during sprint planning.  Applying the Law of Triviality to this meeting, we can guess that more complicated technical decisions will likely be dealt with swiftly and vaguely. In my experience, teams will try to push off these types of decisions. They often make vague comments that they will handle it.

Decision making at the last responsible moment should be embraced, but teams should be encouraged to spend time exploring complex and technical issues. In order to make a decision at the last responsible moment, it is important to know what that moment is. If we don’t discuss these issues, it will be hard to tell if we still have the time to put the most valuable thing in place. Knowing the Law of Triviality, Scrum Masters can coach the team manage their time-box more wisely.


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