The subproject chicken race Martin Jansson

With subproject I mean when larger project have a need to split the project into minor parts. The essence of a chicken race is “Each player prefers not to yield to the other, the outcome where neither player yields is the worst possible one for both players.”

The goal for the larger project should be to release in time, with expected quality and so on. The goal for each subproject is usually to do their part and then integrate with the rest. The big problem is when something goes wrong or when one of the subprojects are delayed. In an unhealthy situation the subproject will not tell anyone. They will do all in their power to wait until someone else speaks out that they have been delayed or have problems of some sort. At the project meeting where all subproject managers are asked about delays, quality etc they will hold up a illusion of success. This can go on for a long time. Everyone is waiting for the first one to speak out, letting the rest get some extra breathing room and perhaps some extra time. The whole situation has turned into a chicken race.

The subproject managers will go about each other trying to see if someone is infact late and perhaps bring it to the surface. It is very apparent that everyone might be working towards their subgoals, but very much against the major goal. Naturally this is not always the case, but I have seen it happen many times. It is probably most common when there are many subcontractors and when the company culture promotes this behavior.

My only advice is stay to the truth, as you see it. If you are delayed do tell the others so that they can plan accordingly. In many cases you can change from making the short term decisions which might be costly, to more long term decisions that will be better for everyone. Keeping an openness amonst the subproject managers and über project managers will enable you to move more swiftly. Still, in some cases you might get kicked out as a subcontractor if you are delayed, in those cases you had better have a good plan B.

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