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Chicken in Business

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In my previous post, I discussed the game of Chicken, where two kids in denim jackets and James Dean haircuts get into cars and drive toward each other at high speed. The first one to swerve loses, but there’s a real possibility neither one will blink and both will be hurt. If you’re an improviser, it often pays to be the one who blinks. Yes, you go with someone else’s ideas instead of your own, but the scene and show will be better for it.

In business, one of the most common ways to play Chicken is what’s called Schedule Chicken. In Schedule Chicken, managers face off against each other in a meeting room and none of them is willing to admit that they will not meet whatever obviously unrealistic deadline has been placed in front of them. Because they agreed to that schedule at the start of the project, whoever blinks will be blamed for causing the project to slip if they have to ask for more time.

Unrealistic schedules are deadly. In her Harvard Business Review article “How to Kill Creativity”, Teresa M. Amibile notes:

Organizations routinely kill creativity with fake deadlines or impossibly tight ones. The former create distrust and the latter cause burnout.

In business, it can be tough to say that you have no chance of meeting a schedule, regardless of how optimistic it might be. If the other managers or workers on a team say that they can make their deadlines with no problem, it means that you are the one causing the slip. Of course, it might be complete fiction that the other teams could have been ready in time, but if you’re the first one to admit that you won’t make it, you’re the one who gets the blame.

How you solve the game of Schedule Chicken depends on your corporate culture. Companies that follow a philosophy of not shipping until something is ready can reduce the possibility of Schedule Chicken, especially if they don’t set final deadlines until the project is well underway. For multiyear efforts, final deadlines and announcements should be kept out of the press as long as possible. Companies that use agile development and roll out small updates frequently avoid Schedule Chicken by shipping when the update is ready and not announcing times until the next increment is ready to go.

Written by curtisfrye

September 20, 2012 at 1:02 pm