Cargo Cult Agile – It’s More Than Just Stand Ups

Most people associate daily stand ups or daily Scrums when they think of Agile.  And they are often the first practice that is adopted. I have observed some teams adopt the daily stand ups and a little of other practices (often with smells/anti-patterns) and say they are Agile.

The adoption of agile methods and practices is clearly producing enviable results by improving quality, time to market, productivity, increasing transparency and ROI. Agile is simple, but it is not easy. Few things that are truly worth doing are easy to do, and the adoption of Agile is no exception. As a result there is a propensity for Cargo Cult Agile teams looking for a silver bullet.

Cargo Cult refers to a phenomenon during World War II in the South Pacific where the natives observed what the Allied Forces were doing. The natives were not aware of the modern civilization, however, they did observed that certain actions of the military resulted in supplies of food, clothing, equipment and various other cargo being air dropped. When the war ended, the flow of goods and cargo ended too. Not understanding the underlying mechanisms for the delivery of cargo and in an attempt to attract further deliveries, the natives engaged in ritualistic practices such as building crude imitation landing strips, aircraft and radio equipment, and mimicking the behavior that they had observed of the military personnel operating them. However, no matter how well they mimicked the military actions, the cargo did not return.

In Agile we sometimes behave like Cargo Cult by imitating the superficial Agile methods and practices without having any understanding of the underlying essence. We adopt the daily stand up meeting because it is easy to do and many Agile teams use it. However, if the team is synchronized, communicating and collaborating well, the daily stand up may not be required.

What works for you, your team, organization, etc. can bring another person, team, etc. to a screeching halt. No practice will work for everyone or every team in every context. Before adopting any practice or technique, you should ask yourself does it make sense and does it align with the Agile values and principles? Does it help me deliver software more quickly to my customers? Does it help with achieving technical excellence? Will it help my team to be more effective?

You not only need to know the ‘what’ of Agile but also the ‘why’. Just because jumping jacks works for someone else, it may not work for you.

5 Comments on “Cargo Cult Agile – It’s More Than Just Stand Ups”

  1. The problem here is that almost all of Scrum/XP/Agile is cargo cult practices.

    They allegedly worked for others, now they want to inflict them on the masses.

    The best way to avoid this is to be in charge of your own process and don’t use any cargo cult process such as Scrum or XP.

    Software Maestro

    • Software Maestro,

      Adopting Scrum, XP or any other approach is Cargo Cult if you don’t look and think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. My view is that there are many practices that can be adapted for your specific circumstances and environment. No process is perfect. Every approach to development has some potential for improvement. Ultimately, the goal is to remove every barrier between teams and the success of projects, and fluidly adapt the approach, the process and the software as conditions change.

  2. Pingback: Cargo Cult Agile – It’s More Than Just Stand Ups | Agile Development

  3. I think many project managers believe that Agile is just a set of best practices, and there’s a huge cargo cult thinking involved in Agile projects. In any case, I would like to share with you this article on cargo cult project management. I hope you’ll find it light and fun!

  4. Pingback: Applying some agile principles to managing marketing programs, when adding one meeting kills others | Techie, Volunteer, Runner

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