Guest Post: Mystery Blogger Reveals CAP System Cultural Tensions

An alternative perspective for the Scottish SAF project was put up on WordPress, and then quickly taken down for some reason.

Fortunately the full text was caught by Google’s caches. You can read it here:

[ NOTE: it has now reappeared and can be found here: ]

The work is credited to I. T. Bob, but that is clearly a pseudonym. Whoever wrote it, they are clearly a big fan of the Delivery Director and the changes he introduced.

I find this post fascinating. As is often the case when immigration is being discussed anybody criticizing the influx of new workers is charged with racism.

Growing up in a country where racism is prominent, I had hoped I would not encounter the same bigotry when I moved overseas to begin my position on the CAP project. It turned out that was just wishful thinking.

I don’t want to talk about racism. It is emotionally and politically charged. I want to have an objective discussion about culture clash. This is a clash of cultures, not races. We have a situation where people from different cultures work together, and the cultural differences lead to communication problems that are subtle yet have a big impact on the bottom line.

The first sign of culture clash is in the author’s clear loathing for the ScottishSaf blog.

If you think that is humorous, then I hope you never return to my blog. It is that type of ignorance that is ruining our society. Allowing that joke to be posted on a self-proclaimed whistleblower blog is a perfect example of the lack of morals and inferior intelligence that most likely caused the owner to lose his position on the CAP project.

It is clear that the author does not approve of the proud tradition of telling the truth to power through satire. Author Angelique Haugerud explains the importance of satire:

“Jon Stewart, Bassem Youssef, and the satirical Billionaires deploy ironic humor to query the powerful and to insist that elected politicians owe voters an honest accounting of their actions. In their words we can hear echoes of ancestral humorists: Aristophanes of ancient Greece, court jesters through the centuries, Jonathan Swift, Voltaire, and Mark Twain.”

Here in the UK we value satire so highly that it is protected by law:

The author of the ScottishSaf blog turned to satire after observing the ineffectiveness of the whistleblowing regulations. The fact that the issues are now appearing on the front pages of the Scottish press and in the BBC news reports shows the power of satire. In a nation that values fair play and the triumph of the underdog satire is the rhetorical sling that allows David to defeat Goliath. It is a vital aspect of the British culture.

Not all cultures are the same. Every one of us views events through a cultural filter that affects our understanding of events. If this is not taken into consideration then it can cause problems.

For example, consider the Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes. In his book Outliers Malcom Gladwell links plane crashes with the cockpit crew’s cultural background:

“What they were struggling with was a cultural legacy, that Korean culture is hierarchical… You are obliged to be deferential toward your elders and superiors in a way that would be unimaginable in the U.S.” he added.

“That’s dangerous when it comes to modern airplanes,” said Gladwell, “because such sophisticated machines are designed to be piloted by a crew that works together as a team of equals, remaining unafraid to point out mistakes or disagree with a captain.”

Like an airline crew, delivering a complex software project requires a team of equals working together.

I. T. Bob describes a situation where there is healthy negotiation between skilled professionals and management.

The response from leadership always seemed to be “What is the deadline that we can meet?” or “How long until you can get it corrected?”.

Yet the author presents this as a bad thing. This is clearly the effect of their cultural perspective. The author then praises the new Delivery Director for introducing a new culture, a culture that they approved of:

I was in my position for almost a year before I saw someone removed from a project for poor performance. Dominic Prabhu joined our leadership team later that same year and I personally felt as though he made some positive changes to get the project back on track and reign in the scope.

The culture introduced was a culture of blame.

A blaming culture is one in which people are reluctant to speak out, take risks, or accept responsibility at work because they fear criticism, retribution, or worse. Possible signs of a blaming culture include gossiping and side conversations, ambiguity about who is responsible for what, casting blame on outside parties such as customers, and attempts to conceal mistakes.

Anybody working on the SAF project will recognize this as the culture introduced by the new Delivery Director. They will not recognize the culture of casual racism invented by the author for their ad hominem attack.

I have to feel sorry for the rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead when he tried to deal with this situation. It is almost certain that he asked the questions “What is the deadline that we can meet?.”

Had the team still been the dedicated professionals who had been working together to deliver, he would have received a realistic answer. It wouldn’t have been good news, but it would have allowed for realistic planning.

Instead those capable of speaking their minds had been eliminated as ‘poor performers’ and replaced by yes men who would quietly work hard in a heroic attempt to achieve goals they knew to be unobtainable.

The result was that the rural affairs secretary was given false information, which he then took to the people of Scotland.

The following was the first of many false promises given:

“Our aim was to pay a first instalment of at least 70 per cent and even higher if possible – whilst at the same time doing all we can to avoid Scottish farmers facing incorrect payments, or the loss of funding through EU disallowance that others faced in the past,” said Lochhead.”

The developers knew the truth, the farmers knew the truth.

The only people who didn’t know the truth were the Scottish government. Nobody was speaking truth to them anymore. They were being told what they wanted to hear by a team that feared “criticism, retribution, or worse”.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Korean Air recognised the problem and did something about it.

“But then a small miracle happened. Korean Air turned itself around. Today, the airline is a member in good standing of the prestigious SkyTeam alliance. It’s safety record since 1999 is spotless. In 2006, Korean Air was given the Phoenix Award by Air Transport World in recognition of its transformation. Aviation experts will tell you that Korean Air is now as safe as any airline in the world.”

These cultural issues can be addressed, but not if anybody who draws attention to them is going to be accused of racism.

Cultural diversity brings benefits to any project. However, for this to work the issues of different work cultures need to be addressed. While I. T. Bob accuses others of racism, he is blissfully unaware of his own cultural bias. He demonstrates this bias in his praise of the Indian work ethic and his scorn for the collaborative approach that is common in Scotland and the rest of Europe.

The cultural bias is evident in the boast that “I always strive to achieve my target dates for deliverables, even if that means burning the midnight oil and then watching the sunrise from my desk the next morning. It is my personal drive and work ethic that have made me successful over the years.”

Is this really demonstrating a good work ethic? To me it sounds like an inability to estimate and plan effectively. The death march projects that require this work ethic were rejected as bad practice by the industry decades ago:

Each and every team member brings their own cultural perspective to the project. Unaddressed, these cultural differences create friction. Friction that can usually be overcome by a diverse team. However, when the cultural balance of a project is suddenly shifted, as it was on the SAF project, it is going to cause trouble.

– GB


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