Cargo Cults

Back in World War II, in what is now known as Indonesia, Japanese and American forces set up base camps. These base camps were set up to provide supplies and ammunition to the forces in the region. Planes were called in using radios. The operators would wear headphones and talk into microphones and call in the planes.

To the primitive indigenous people, this was like magic. They would see the actions of the soldiers and see the outcomes of cargo, the precious cargo drop from the heavens via air drops. Be brought in by planes. Spectacular battles would be fought on the ground and in the air. Then all of a sudden it would all stop. The cargo that they treasured so much that would come from the heavens no longer came. The people that brought it, gone. What were they to do.

So, the indigenous people would try to mimic what the soldiers did. They made radios out of wood, Headphones out of coconuts, planes out of sticks and straw. No matter what they did, no matter how much they tried, the cargo would not come.

The same can be said about those that try agile and DevOps without understanding. For whatever reason, for example, a manager or C level executive reads about how Agile is getting results much quicker and with much better quality than traditional methods. They may even read a couple of blog posts. They read that Agile/Scrum has stand ups, Sprints of 2 weeks. So they implement that.

You might even get a planning session, only a hour or so, just long enough to assign tasks to the team members for the sprint.

Here, we see Cargo Cult activities in action. These practitioners of agile go through the motions. There may be some improvement (That just shows how dysfunctional Waterfall is), but most of the time, they will fail and not understand why. Therefore the thinking is that Agile is a failure and does not work.

In these cases, the thinking is that the process has all the magic.

Another variation is that CI or CD is implemented. Again, the system may have some benefits, but most of the time it fails. I this case, the thinking is that the magic is in the technology.

Again, cargo cult. Going through the motions. Following the process without understanding, and expecting the magic to happen.

Primarily, these approaches are both wrong and miss the point. The magic itself is in the people. When the people accept agile, work towards making it work. Try to learn, try to improve. That is where you get the speed, and quality. The process and technology are supporting roles to the people.The process is there to help the people communicate. The technology is just a tool to help embed quality and speed up development.

When the people stop “doing agile” and start “being agile”, the cargo cult phase morphs into the being phase. It just clicks.

At least  that is how I see it. I’m still waiting for things to click. If it has clicked for you, I’d like to know your story.

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