I’ve become fascinated by the parallels drawn between Cargo Cults and the software development methodology ‘Agile’ (Scrum is a subset of Agile).
Most people will have heard of Cargo Cults, remote Pacific island outposts that were occupied during World War 2 by Allied troops and whose inhabitants subsequently believed that the provisions dropped from the supply planes were from the Gods. Most have vanished, but on Tannu island near Fiji and New Caledonia things are still going strong. The locals worship both Prince Philip and a black American GI called simply ‘John Frum’ (John From America).
“Their followers believe that either an American WWII soldier named John Frum…will somehow come into possession of all the food, clothes and guns that the West currently owns and deliver it all to them. The cargo cults believe that, once that’s happened, the remaining population of the world will disappear, leaving them in control of what they believe is rightfully theirs.” 
This odd short film (from a less politically correct era) I found below, shows the futility and absurdity of it all.
”Every year on February 15th, natives of Tanna Island in the Republic of Vanuatu hold a grand celebration in honour of an imaginary man named John Frum. Villagers clothe themselves in homemade US Army britches, paint “USA” on their bare chests and backs, and run a replica of Old Glory up the flagpole alongside the Marine Corps Emblem and the state flag of Georgia. Barefoot soldiers then march in perfect step in the shadow of Yasur, the island’s active volcano, with red-tipped bamboo “rifles” slung over their shoulders. February 15th is known as John Frum day on Tanna Island, and these activities are the islanders’ holiest religious service.” 
Some local prophets started to say that the islanders were the ones who truly deserved all the cargo – that it had been dedicated to them by the gods – but that Westerners were crafty and had unfairly taken possession of it all. People started to believe that, if they imitated the Westerners, they would start to receive the same things, so they built the outer shells of planes out of wood, made landing strips in the jungle, and waited on the strips all day with flags, hoping to guide a plane into land. Some of the elders still go to the airport every day and wait for planes to arrive, in the hope that John Frum might be on one of them.
Agile software development refers to a group of software development methodologies based on iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams.
“Agile methods or Agile processes generally promote a disciplined project management process that encourages frequent inspection and adaptation, a leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork, self-organization and accountability, a set of engineering best practices intended to allow for rapid delivery of high-quality software.” 
Scrum is a subset of Agile. It is a lightweight process framework for agile development, and the most widely-used one. A Scrum process is distinguished from other agile processes by specific concepts and practices, divided into the three categories of Roles, Artifacts, and Time Boxes. Scrum is most often used to manage complex software and product development, using iterative and incremental practices.
So Cargo Cults are used as a metaphor for software development practices.
Cargo Cults wait for the airplanes to land. They are doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No planes land. They replicate the same wrong or incomplete circumstances trying to obtain the same past outcomes.
“Cargo cult software engineering is easy to identify. Cargo cult software engineers justify their practices by saying, “We’ve always done it this way in the past,” or “our company standards require us to do it this way”—even when those ways make no sense. They refuse to acknowledge the tradeoffs involved in either process-oriented or commitment-oriented development. Both have strengths and weaknesses. When presented with more effective, new practices, cargo cult software engineers prefer to stay in their wooden huts of familiar, comfortable and-not-necessarily-effective work habits. “Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is a sign of insanity,” the old saying goes. It’s also a sign of cargo cult software engineering.” 
Note to Self:
- The absurdity of the religious practice as ritual.
- Need my own Cargo Cult!
- Virtual landing strip?