Agile in the Jury Room

Hand holding Scales of Justice

A few months ago, for the first time in the multiple decades I’ve been eligible for jury duty, I finally received my summons. Despite my best hopes to be excused, I ended up serving on a jury.  

We were among the first post-quarantine in person juries in our county. The case was nothing notorious, mostly a she said/she said situation. We sat dutifully, listened to both sides of the case, and after a few days of testimonies, questions, and summaries, the attorneys rested their cases and we were sent into our deliberation room. 

As with any group of strangers, no one spoke up after we were instructed to select a jury foreman. And, as any good Scrum Master would do, I reached out to this jury “team” and tried to get the conversation going.  

No good deed ever goes unpunished and, after speaking up, this group of 11 strangers agreed on one thing and selected me to be the foreman. 

So I jumped in. 

Looking at the time, we had roughly an hour before we would be told to take a break for lunch. To be honest, I hoped we didn’t need that much deliberation.  

Team Working Agreement

The first thing I did was “launch” our jury. I suggested a “working agreement” and we set some communications guidelines. Here’s the structure I proposed: 

  1. Take a straw poll of the verdict. This way, if we all agreed at the onset then we wouldn’t have much to discuss. 
  2. If we are not unanimous, then we will have discussion and I will be sure everyone has the opportunity to add something or ask questions. 
  3. We will decide on a time period for discussion and, at the end of the timebox I will bring the discussion to a pause to check in with anyone who has not spoken yet or if there is a need to dive deeper into the discussion. 
  4. If there would be no discussion, we would take another straw poll.  
  5. Rinse and repeat until we reach an agreement or lunch. 

I tore a sheet of paper into 12 pieces for the anonymous vote. Everyone passed their votes forward and we counted. Not Guilty…Not Guilty…Not Guilty…Not Guilty… the votes went as the pile of votes shrank. It was looking like we were going home early! 

Votes #10 and #11 changed that. 

It was not unanimous. It was 10-2 in favor of acquittal. So the discussion began… 

Avoiding Group Think

Moderating this discussion was a fascinating experiment in how 12 people listening to the same exact words sometimes heard different things or interpreted them differently. You could easily see how jurors apply their own experiences, biases, and worldviews as a filter for what they hear in the courtroom. And bringing 12 people into agreement is no easy task. As the discussion waned, I reached out to those who hadn’t said much. 

At the end of our timebox, the group agreed to the second straw poll. Again, 12 torn pieces of paper. Again, Not Guilty…Not Guilty…Not Guilty… This time the vote was 11-1. 

Before now, I did not directly call out the minority votes. I facilitated the discussion so everyone had the opportunity to speak. After this vote, though, I asked if the single Guilty vote wanted to share why their vote didn’t change. He let the group know that while didn’t believe she was not guilty, he didn’t believe she was guilty either. 

One of the things I had as a takeaway from the judge’s instructions was that our job was to decide, based on the state’s case, if the state’s attorney proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was indeed guilty of the charges.  

Our job was to provide the feedback (the verdict) on the state’s product (the case against the defendant). Much like the Sprint Review, we were the stakeholders reviewing the product and letting the developer (state’s attorney) know if it was good enough to be released. 

Through that lens, our holdout vote asked questions and clarified some of the things we’d previously deliberated on. As a group, we discussed what it meant that the state’s attorney did not prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  

You never know when or where you’ll be applying your Agile skills…

That discussion dwindled and I took advantage of the lull in the conversation. I asked if the group needed another straw poll or if we were ready to vote. We all agreed it was time for a final vote. 

This time it was unanimous: Not Guilty. 

We went into the jury room at 11:00 and had reached a verdict by 11:30. I let the bailiff know we were ready. They brought us back to the courtroom for the pomp and circumstance that is a verdict reading.  

For those of you who have not had jury duty – it is totally what you see on TV. The jury foreman stands up and reads the verdict. It’s also a little bit nerve wracking. 

The judge briefly spoke to us before he thanked and released us, but we were still done before lunch. We organized the discussion and wrapped it up with some efficiency. Everyone felt heard and everyone treated each other with respect.  

You never know when or where you’ll be applying your Agile skills, but efficiency, equity, avoiding group think, and bringing people together are valuable EVERYWHERE, even on jury duty. 

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