In the modern business world the liturgy of methodologies has become akin to customary rituals performed by religious congregations, and the onslaught of trends and anxieties to be strategically aware of has become the equivalent of a series of new gospels prophecizing doomsday if you do not take these things into account.
We want to continuously improve operations, to create enjoyable work environments for employees, to delight customers, to reduce waste, to create innovative products, and so on – ultimately, to remain competitive and thus remain in business.
And so, just as religious groups gather under the banner of common beliefs and tenets, many of us in business somehow unite under the banner of methodologies, buzzwords, fads, or existential angst. In other words, we adopt some new “business religions” either in part or wholesale. Some even become “monks” by devoting their entire professional existence to one or more of those religions.
Within this analogy (which I’m sure, while apt, isn’t very original or groundbreaking), buzzword-spouting businesspeople, practitioners, consultants and influencers serve as the clergy guiding their flock (organizations and individuals) through rites and ceremonies. Like ministers in an organized church they preach the gospel of whatever “business religions” they adhere to, urging their followers to embrace their tenets and strive for what they promote as ways of organizational liberation from real or imaginary threats.
Regardless of the “business religion”, its adherents and its believers find solace and guidance in their chosen paths towards “organizational salvation” from what they consider to be a problem or threat, adopting variations of methods and rituals, just as different denominations of a religion interpret and practice their faith in unique ways. For an obvious example look at the world of Agile, its 12 principles, and how those have been converted into different ritualistic methods that should each deliver us from a lack of “agility”.
So, while this list is a tongue-in-cheek exploration of what I see as some prevalent “business religions” in 2024, there are important lessons that this analogy can deliver when it comes to how their proponents deal with questioning and skepticism, and how the regular waxing and waning of trends and fads can turn these fervent into the “religiously prosecuted” (though clearly this is an exaggeration).
After all, just as actual religions provide a sense of purpose, identity, community, and stress relief in a confusing world full of moral dilemmas, so do those “business religions” (the number 14 is arbitrary) provide equivalents within the world of business.
14. The Temple of the Nimble
Adorned with certification credentials, devotees of adaptability and collaboration gather to honor the Agile Manifesto and pay homage to its revered principles by performing the rituals of Agile methodologies . Led by esteemed Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, and Product Owners, the congregation engages in ceremonies of sprint planning, daily stand-ups and retrospectives; for, every backlog item is a scripture, and every sprint a step on the pilgrimage towards agility.
13. The Sepulchre of the Okra
Those driven to set goals gather to honor the teachings of Doerr and Grove and pay homage to the rituals of setting ambitious objectives and measurable key results. Led by the esteemed Champions, they engage in ceremonies of quarterly planning and check-ins, seeking enlightenment through the pursuit of stretch goals and continuous improvement; for, every key result and achievement is a testament to the liberating powers of striving for clarity, focus, and accountability .
12. The Hall of Profound Knowledge
Seekers of quality gather here to honor the transformative teachings of Deming through the rituals of statistical process control and PDSA cycles in the pursuit quality as a way of life, by embracing the ethos of customer focus, process optimization, and employee empowerment; here, every defect is an opportunity and every improvement a testament to the enduring legacy of quality management.
11. The Citadel of Craftsmanship
Idolizers of code resilience and functionality gather here to honor the tenets of software craftsmanship through the pursuit of test coverage and disciplined coding practices. The denizens engage in reverent rituals of writing failing tests first, then writing code to make them pass, and finally refactoring for elegance and simplicity; here, every test failure is an opportunity for improvement, and every passing test a triumph of software integrity.
10. The Silly Synod of the Sigma
Adorned with decorative belts of various colors purchased from global belt vendors, devotees of the Sigma gather in this bazaar of bureaucracy to pay homage to the revered sigma symbol by pursuing operational excellence through the droll dance of process perfection, stacks of discs, red-tape rituals, and rigorous DMAIC cycles; for, here, every deviation is a disaster, and every improvement initiative an excuse to indulge in more metrics and statistical strangeness in the pursuit of more belts.
9. The Chapel of Empathy
Disciples of whimsical workshops gather to frolic in the fields of fuzzy front-end creativity, paying homage to the perpetually rebranded principles of Design Thinking by relishing in the juvenile junction of playful prototyping and double diamonds. Here, hope springs eternal that perpetual reinvention is just one ideation session and one post-it note away; for, just as everyone had forgotten about them, HBR wrote yet another article, and thus it’s time to exaggerate earnestness about empathy once again.
8. The Sanctuary of the Board
Disciples of visual stimulation gather here to honor the principles of workflow management and continuous improvement by adorning boards with colorful sticky notes, paying homage to the divine order of work in progress limits and flow efficiency. Guided by gentle reminders to “visualize, limit, and improve” in battling the bane of bottlenecks, the flock is guided towards achieving an overview and the hallowed flow; for, here, everything not on some board effectively does not exist.
7. The Shrine of Standing
The craftsmen gather here every day in the pursuit of collaboration, transparency, and adaptability. Led by a Master under the guise that this ceremony is a catalyst for transformative change, and in no way an enabler of micromanagement, they solemnly recite age-old incantations about yesterday, today, and any impediments. As sprints come and go, the backlog grows, and burn-down charts rise and fall they all find solace in the daily respite from the avalanche of distractions.
6. The Monastery of the Standard
Strivers of holistic business performance gather in the “Gemba” to pay homage to the timeless wisdom of the revered arch-sensei’s teachings on waste reduction, standardized work, and continuous improvement. With each whispered invocation of the Three Ms they exorcize the value streams from the demons that prevent JIT and Respect For People; for, every breathless incantation of a Japanese word is one step closer to transformation.
5. The Doctrine of Disruption
A cacophony of buzzwords and bravado echoes through the halls, as the clergy streams their podcasts simultaneously to global bro-sciples who live and die by tenets such as “disrupt or die” and “move fast and break things”, heedless to the collateral damage of the bait-and-switch playbook; for, here, every pivot is a prophecy, every round of funding a validation to the ego , every pitch deck a scripture, and every failed venture a badge of honor.
4. The Liturgy of the Lock
Disciples of digital complexity gather here virtually to pay homage to an ethereal entity known as “the Cloud” and, more recently, as “the Serverless”. They chant incantations of scalability and elasticity, placing their trust in promises of adaptability and peace of mind, heedless of dependencies, billing dark patterns, and the looming specter of vendor lock-in. For, here, placing your bet on tech giants who could snuff out your business in an instant is an indication of tech and business savvy.
3. The Abbey of the Algorithmic
Amidst the whirring of GPU fans and the moneyprinting press, practitioners of the religion of “AI” don their virtual robes and chant the hymns of automation and optimization as they design pitch decks of businesses built on the quicksand of third-party APIs. For, here, everyone shall be made obsolete, everything can be faked, every new LLM is a stepping stone towards AGI, and every chat with ChatGPT a triumph of silicon over synapse.
2. The Sanctum of Scale
Amidst the hum of jargon and the pursuit of alignment and synchronization, practitioners gather to seek salvation from the chaos of organizational growth by extoling cross-functional collaboration, heralding the dawn of a new era in enterprise agility. Here, every backlog refinement is hailed as a victory over complexity, every sprint planning session a ritual of renewal, and every scaled agile release train a testament to the power of consultants telling executives what they want to hear.
1. The Vuvuzela of the Vuca
The faithful anxious gather here in strategic planning sessions plagued by existential dread, in which they chant the mantras of “adapt or perish”, “expect the unexpected” and “we live in an age of intense disruption and change”; for, here, every disruption is hailed as a sign of the times, every change as a challenge to be conquered, and every uncertain outcome an opportunity to innovate within some framework.
Are you sure that the concept of religion is waning globally? Or did we merely create new ones that provide us with a sense of identity and the possibility of sense-making in an evermore confusing world?
How did it come to this? These two books explore answers to this question:
The author believes in using most of those methods and taking heed of most of those ideas judiciously, as a means to valuable business ends, instead of as the ends themselves. No methods practitioners or consultants were harmed in the making of this content.