Product Development Chicken

Sometimes it is difficult to speak up when you know you have problems. Not many people want to be the person who is perceived as holding up progress, probably a self-preservation mechanism.  However, when it comes to project work and teamwork, we can ill afford to play such games.  Enter the game I call “product development chicken”.  Since this phenomenon is not likely restricted to product development, though that is where I see the ubiquitous application, perhaps a better name would be project management chicken.

I noticed this affliction years ago when I worked as a tier one supplier to the automotive industry. I will confess right here, I do not play this game. I have never been one to believe in hiding but actively pursue uncovering the facts.  Actually, I err on the side of disclosure quickly even when we may not know if we are really at risk.  However, the game works like this.  The project is underway, working with multiple entities.  Each part of the team has its own set of deliveries, risks, and challenges. These may even all be cataloged in a risk register, though often it is not.  As the project progresses, our team constituents may notice some risks coming to fruition that will likely affect the project achieving the objective.  For example, we may start to suspect that we will not meet our specific delivery date.  Rather than articulate this to the project quickly, and promptly – where we can manage expectations or devise action taken to reduce the likelihood of being late, the team member hides the problem.  They hide the problem, waiting for somebody else’s risks to come to fruition.  Once the project is late or over cost and in the midst of a “firefight”, their issue becomes less of a concern. The project never marks or notices them.  Upon somebody else’s trauma coming to the fore, they breathe a sigh of relief. Then they quickly and quietly set about cleaning up their area of trauma in the hope of having the situation resolved before the solution to the present problem.

So why do I call this product development chicken? It is like the bicycle game (or as my brother and I used to do on motorcycles) where nobody wants to change the heading until they absolutely must, and somebody will likely have to “fess up” to a problem.  This may make you feel better, but it does not help the project to achieve the end results desired.  We can solve these types of issues with well-defined metrics, constant follow-up, and a good communications plan.

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