A project is in trouble and is far too visible.
A project is about to melt down. Much criticism is directed at
the project, its staff, and its leadership. People on the
project are getting beaten up by rumor, management interference, and continual demands for replans, and their
morale is suffering.
- The project is of some importance and cannot be scrapped.
- Changes must be made, at least externally visible ones.
- For any hope of completing the project, the team must be kept intact.
- New leadership, organization, and context must be found, and fast!
Redraw the organization charts, showing the
troubled project and leadership placed into a new, larger context,
possibly demoting it in stature. If you must, toss out a ScapeGoat
or a CulpableGoat
other than the charts, don't change anything else.
Administratively, the project is now protected
as well as being placed in a safer position within the bureaucracy.
The illusion of a committed, forceful, and decisive leadership is preserved.
Let's face it: reorganizations are difficult
and seldom happen. Frequently, the only change is to the org
chart, moving names around, redrawing boxes and arrows, as
though the rearrangement of the symbols
reorganize the corporation, division, department, what-have-you.
The name CargoCult
is drawn from the phenomenon of certain South
Sea islanders who believed that by building mockups of airplanes
and constructing runways that they could bring back the planes
and all the wealth that accompanied them during World War II,
when advance U.S. bases in the Pacific used the islands as
staging areas. In other words, by reconstructing or simulating the artifacts of a situation, they could effect its occurrence. Such is the case with org chart cargo cultism.
Richard Feynman wrote a nice story about it; Cargo Cult Science [http://www.physics.brocku.ca/etc/cargo_cult_science.php
The positive aspects of CargoCult
emerge when you just want to
get critics off your back. Perhaps you are rectifying the
situation but just need to buy a little more time (you might need to enlist the help of a willing and understanding manager or colleague). Redraw the
org chart, publish it, and let the confusion, anger, amazement,
and political intrigue obscure the real outcome, i.e. no real change
at all. Usually, those wannabe Machiavellis
most enamored of org charts are the very people who you need to
tie up for a while as they try to determine how to scavenge
the most benefit from the apparent
shift of power. It's
good for a few laughs, at least.
Anecdotally speaking, the most extreme case
of this I have encountered was at my previous company where
I was assured by an executive
vice president that his division was a flat, team-based culture,
with no hierarchy, because, "we don't have org charts. I forbid them!"
Thus, with the simple elimination of the paper
representation of the division,
an entire 1,600 person entity was restructured. In fact, it
was a CryptoCracy
, in that there was certainly a deep hierarchy in existence, but no one was allowed to articulate its shape. Once the "troubles" came however, changes had to be made. Subsequently, org charts were introduced as
problems surfaced, apparently for the specific purpose of redrawing them
and thus, mirabile dictu! rebuilding the organization. During the six reorganizations I witnessed (in 18 months!) although the charts would change, the powers did not, as either peoples' loyalties did not correspondingly shift, or displaced managers would find new avenues through which to wield their old power. True, now and then some real change would occur in the organization, but it was fascinating to observe the changes in the org chart held as proof rather than any real change. Another name for this might be Voodoo Doll Management.
A historical example of this same phenomenon may be the case of Earl Long, governor for Louisiana, who, when confronted by legislation that prevented him from serving a subsequent term as governor, ran and was elected as lieutenant governor instead, with a willing and subservient crony in the governor's slot. Earl still ran things, though bureaucratically he was the #2 man. In a sense, he just changed the org chart, for all the difference it made.
Ex-Governor "Garotinho" ("Little Boy") did the same in Rio de Janeiro. He managed to get his wife Rosinha ("Little Rose") elected because the law would not let him be governor again, and she named him Secretary of Security, so he could retain his power over the police and continue leading the city mob (mainly drug dealers). In fact this 3rd mandate is happening right now (2004).
The chart is not
the organization. The best you
can hope for is that the chart reflects
the de facto organization,
but chances are, if you're relying on charts to navigate your
realm, you're really hopelessly lost as to its true nature. It
may be time to ask yourself, "Is this
one of those CryptoCracy
that jerk Olson was crowing about?" If it is, perhaps you'll be
desperate enough to try to MapTheRealm
Related Patterns: JimCoplien
's Organizational Patterns[http://www.bell-labs.com/user/cope/Patterns/Process/org_structure.html
] "Firewalls," "Gatekeeper," "Patron," and "Developer Controls Process" are very useful at preventing situations where CargoCult
may be needed, and may even be used along with it. You might also look at ContainmentBuilding
, which is a particular flavor of CargoCult
. Another one is ManagingUpward
(revised 96/4/5, thanks to Linda Rising, DavidDeLano
, Russ Corfman, Sherri Scott, Jeff Scott, Bipin Patel, and Karel Hull at AGCS for the workshop and review!)
A partial defense of the natives' behavior
has been moved to DiscussionOfCargoCult
Please join the DiscussionOfCargoCult
. Or go to CargoCultProgramming
for another common phenomena characterized by blind following of forms without understanding.