Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Are you working for a Cargo Cult

I've discovered an interesting article.

http://www.computer.org/software/so2000/pdf/s2011.pdf

What do you think?

Ged Byrne
Friday, July 26, 2002

I'm not currently working for one, but my last job was in a "commitment organization" environment that fits the description.

Once, when I complained about getting a poor review (for having delivered my portion of a project on schedule without putting in overtime), my manager explained that the way to get a good review was to put in lots of visible overtime to bring in the project early, at which point I'd be given another project and the cycle would repeat. The fact that the other two people on the project brought in their portions late but got better reviews (because they'd put in overtime, and thus were obviously working harder) was just icing on the cake.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they're long out of business.

Steve Wheeler
Friday, July 26, 2002

I'm in one that has a couple qualities of a cargo cult.  At times, we occasionally appeal to "other companies have these problems, so it's not that bad."  Often I think that being like most other companies is the absolute worst thing to be aiming for.

anon
Friday, July 26, 2002

Incidentally, I think the nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman first came up with the 'cargo cult' analogy.  He used it with reference to the social sciences trying to use the language and surface appearance of the hard sciences in order to gain respectability (at least in the early days of psychology, sociology, etc).

Sherlock

sherlock_yoda
Monday, July 29, 2002

This is the single best article on software development that I've ever read.

Years ago, in the midst of an unpleasant and (in my opinion) ultimately worthless ISO 9000 certification effort, I told fellow workers that ISO 9000 was cargo cult quality.  Looks like others think so, too. 

And Steve McConnell nails the lid on endless arguments in this forum in one well-written paragraph:

"In this magazine and in many other publications, we spend our time debating whether process is good or individual empowerment (in other words, commitment-oriented development) might be better. This is a false dichotomy. Process is good, and so is individual empowerment. The two can exist side by side. Process-oriented organizations can ask for an extreme commitment on specific projects.  Commitment-oriented organizations
can use software engineering practices skillfully."

Great article.  Thanks for pointing it out.

Hardware Guy
Monday, July 29, 2002

Ever notice how the threads that require reading something of substance have the lowest number of comments? 

That's all I have to add.  I think the article is pretty much spot-on.

the cluetrain
Monday, July 29, 2002

The Cargo Cult is an interesting and amusing analogy, although I think the common term for the phenomenon is "form over substance".

I have seen a few instances were the Cargo Cult analogy could be applied, but, for the most part, it doesn't apply to my current employer.  To the extent that we have a process or require commitment, we get results.  But we don't have the form down that well, so the Cargo Cult term doesn't apply.

OTOH, the C++ object oriented software we are developing has gotten to be some of the most complicated interdependent software I have ever seen.  This might be a case of applying the concept (OO development), but not getting the results.

mackinac
Monday, July 29, 2002

>>>Ever notice how the threads that require reading something of substance have the lowest number of comments? <<<

Reading the article isn't "required".  You'll notice that one poster provided us with interesting related information about the source of the Cargo Cult analogy.  The fact that that information was already in the referenced article is an indication that he probably did not read the article.

mackinac
Monday, July 29, 2002

So you don't have to read an article in order to comment on it, eh?  Ergo the high quality of discussion on this board.

the cluetrain
Monday, July 29, 2002

I love it when I find an article like this. 

I have ideas in my head that I can never quite grasp, so when I read an article that sums it up so nicely it's great.

Ged Byrne
Tuesday, July 30, 2002

beware of the anti-cargo-cult.

This is where something is not done because it is done somewhere else.

The need to continually differentiate one's organisation from the competition.

This can hurt just as bad.

*Hint: never trust an organisation with more than two sentences in its mission statement.

tapiwa
Thursday, August 01, 2002

Also beware the anti-anti-cargo cult.  Unfortunately, I can't remember why; I have problems with more than a couple of levels of indirection.

And I figured the mission statement fad was over when the local car wash posted theirs.

Hardware Guy
Thursday, August 01, 2002

Hmmm. "Our mission is to wash cars"?

I wonder whether mission statements eventually do more harm than good. If every day you're presented with a poster saying "our mission is X" and you actually don't care very much about X, then you'll be constantly questioning your own commitment.

Adrian Gilby
Thursday, August 01, 2002

Anti-Cargo-Cult...

Like the people who won't make their software user friendly, because thats what Microsoft do?

Ged Byrne
Friday, August 02, 2002

Does someone care to briefly give a hint to me what a Cargo Cult is? I am not natively english speaking.

René Nyffenegger
Friday, March 05, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home