Schedule Chicken

Everybody knows this scenario: a project of some size and many components, perhaps software and hardware, is under way. More than one team involved is slipping behind its schedule, but is loath to report such delays, hoping instead that some other team will give in sooner and admit delay. Of course, it's best if the team that "loses" ScheduleChicken is one that other teams are depending on for inputs of software or hardware. Thus, schedule slips are contagious due to these dependencies, and the "losing" team takes the heat for slippages that really would have occurred anyway. It is not unusual for all teams to play ScheduleChicken to the bitter end, with delay finally revealed at some integration interval, or even at system integration. Then the fighting really begins!

In the interest of historical reference, the game of "Chicken" was popular in the 1950's, when fearless teens would drive cars at high speed at one another to see who would veer first to save his/her neck. Whoever did first was the "Chicken." (What Darwin would have thought of this ritual might have filled a few pages in his journal (EvolutionInAction). One can only guess.) Another variation involved racing toward a cliff to see who would brake first, as in the movie "Rebel Without a Cause." I think that should read as invented in the movie. Documented cases of the real thing are pretty far and few between. On the other hand ScheduleChicken is certainly real enough.

ScheduleChicken, though not played for thrills, does arise from the same motivation as regular Chicken, which is to save face in front of one's peers. That is, one strives to avoid becoming the LongPoleInTheTent. -- DonOlson

AntiPattern, big time. -- RonJeffries
There's a story, perhaps apocryphal, from AT&T in the 1960s. Bell Labs was involved in the development of the Safeguard anti-missile system. Every few months, senior technical managers would be gathered on a small atoll in the South Pacific for firing range tests. Before the target and missile (each pretty expensive) were actually launched, each manager was asked, "Is your sub-system ready?" If everyone said yes, the test was carried out. If not, it was scrubbed. Thus, "Range Chicken": hoping that someone else will cancel the test, so you don't have to admit your part isn't ready. -- PaulChisholm
I've seen this happen at CapeCanaveral? during the early 80s, except there it was called SandBagging. If a group wasn't ready at a particular point the countdown, they would have to put a hold on the countdown. Other groups who were also not ready would take advantage of that extra time. You could detect the presence of sandbagging when the first group finally released the hold, another group (which was supposedly ready during the hold) would immediately place their own hold on the countdown. -- JimWeirich
SandBagging is a term used in bowling, too. When a league first starts up, your handicap is determined based on initial averages. The object is to score lower than you are capable of in the beginning, so your handicap is larger. I've seen this in play in development, when some implementations haven't taken as long as scheduled, but the schedule is still all used up so that budget isn't take away, and so expectations for other parts aren't increased. -- NancyFolsom?
In an ExtremeProgramming team, we avoid ScheduleChicken by letting measured results speak for themselves. Today we had a meeting with our sponsor. Our progress chart shows that we are on Iteration 8 of 16. We have about 40% of the tasks complete, 10% "in process". She saw, and we confirmed, that this looks good but not great for 100% at the end. We discussed that we have reasons to believe we'll speed up, but that we can't prove it. No surprises.

An XP team prides itself on telling the truth. Management can't find anyone who knows better than the team does - they may be able to find someone who will lie. Don't worry about people who will lie, the truth will out. -- RonJeffries
I have been fortunate to have had some pretty good project managers. In Oslo in 1998, we had two organizations playing schedule chicken. This page came out about that time. I told my crowd about it, and they gave wry grins - because they knew they'd lose... sure enough, our group simply spoke up with where we were, and the other group always merely agreed with us, although we could tell they were relieved each time we delayed. In the end, we all integrated at the same time, so it came out all right. -- AlistairCockburn
This wonderful analogy is related to the phenomenon of "The other piece is late, anyway" described in "Hatching a Catastrophe", MythicalManMonth. -- PaulCrowley

CategoryAntiPattern CategoryScheduling

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