Former physicist and Nobel prize winner Richard Feyman writes in his book ”Surely you are joking, Mr Feynman” about Cargo cults. This has now become a term for doing and not being agile and just doing it. Cargo cults are tribes in the pacific who was visited by airplanes, dropping cargo during world war II. So when the Americans left they continued to wait for more cargo with manually built fake runways and airplanes, hoping this would do the trick.

When i am coaching at agile wannabe companies i often see signs of cargo cults. These signs are often in the language that we speak and more about this in another post about semantics. Examples on cargo cult behaviors are how we rename things, and we think this will do it for us. Like renaming project managers to scrum masters and having long sprints instead of waterfall process.

  • Project managers > Scrum masters
  • Business analysts > Product owners
  • Waterfall > Sprints
  • Reports > Charts
  • Allocation > Assignement

I believe that the shift from doing to being agile is started when the first manager dares to empower his team. Until then the agile movement has been about doing agile, often in a guerilla implementation by the developers. But I have a simple tool to check if we are being agile or on our way. It is two simple questions to your manager:

  1. Who is today granting the approval of vacation requests?
  2. If answer is the manager then follow up with the same question but change today to tomorrow.

If the answer is the manager on both these questions and you do agile, you probably have a cargo cult. But if the answer says the team (of course) then you have a good starting point for a discussion about the empowerment of a team that you can follow up with questions on salary setting, recruiting, buying stuff etc. The trick is how to get there and cultivate an environment where this is possible, and it starts with doing agile. A good tool for this is delegation poker.

It is not until one (1) manager is on the bright side of agile, with an agile mindset, you can start being agile.

/Ove Holmberg

The sad part though is that you will never become agile. It is a paradox to become something that always morphing. But you can do your best and that is to try.

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