Cargo Cult BDN

Just because it looks like one doesn't mean it is one

Are your networks fit for purpose or are you drawing them out of superstition?


Variety is (not always) the Spice of Life

Cargo cults were first seen in the Pacific after WWII. Islanders watched US forces build airstrips. Then planes arrived full of cargo. The war ended, the airstrips closed and the planes stopped coming. Logic suggested that if you build airstrips, the planes will come. And so the islanders copied as best they could in the vain hope that they could attract new planes with more cargo.

A quick search on “cargo cult management” will bring up a raft of articles on how the same logic gets applied in business circles. We make assumptions and copy without a proper understanding of the original situation. And then, like the poor old Pacific islanders, we wonder why the planes won’t come.

A few years back I worked on a programme that introduced BM into parts of the NHS. Within a couple of months we saw that people were drawing their Benefits Dependency Networks in a variety of ways. Some of this was due to the tools they had. Visio obviously offered more depth than filling cells in a spreadsheet and the diagrams would look very different in style, if not in content. But it wasn’t just the tools. People adapted the BDN to their own understanding of the method and their personal preferences. At the time I viewed it as the evolution of local dialects, a natural progression and not a major issue. Indeed, possibly a good thing.

Now, I’m not so sure. Maybe natural selection isn’t yet happening as it should and the weak are thriving. I’ve started to come across a few BDNs that can’t perform their function. Ones where the links are all right angled connections that overlap so it appears that everything in one column connects to everything in the next. Others have objectives in the middle so the chain of cause and effect isn’t rational and the cart is pulling the horses. There are people out there who are mistaken about the quality of their method and the subsequent benefits they choose to deliver. They are not doing quite as well as they think they are.

The APM specific interest group wrote a pamphlet on embedding BM in the enterprise. I think it’s time we all worked on embedding good BM in the enterprise. I don’t want to go as far as mandating one methodology. I’ve got my own (superior, naturally...) way of doing things and I don’t want to give it up. Many other people will feel the same way. However, I think there’s scope to use our formal and informal networks to share good practice on the fundamentals. When people work in a vacuum their practices change over time without anyone checking if they are still valid. Before long the minor dialect change risks turning into nonsense that’s performed more out of superstition than business value.