April 5, 2006
@ 06:11 PM

Recently, someone commented in a meeting that we were playing "schedule chicken". I hadn't heard the term before so I looked it up. That's where I found the excellent post Schedule Chicken by Jim Carson which is excerpted below

Schedule Chicken
Given the above setup, it's difficult, if not impossible to accurately estimate project delivery dates. Even when you're brutally honest, spelling out
all the things that must occur for you to meet a date, the dependencies get lost in the footnotes in the appendices at the end of the book. Management "pulls in the date" to something ridiculous that they can sell to their bosses. Their bosses do the same. And so on.

Since everyone is using largely fictitious dates as part of a mass delusion, you would think no one expects to make them, no one will make them, no harm. This is sorta true. Each technical lead assumes that the other leads are lying even more about how long it will take them to deliver.

The ruse continues past insignificant milestones until just before something is actually due. The more seasoned managers will delay admitting to the obvious for as long as humanly possible, waiting for someone else (more junior) to "turn" first. The one who does is the "chicken," and is subsequently eviscerated by their boss and made a public example of all the incompetentcies in the universe.

After this "chicken" has been identified, and summarily punished, all the other teams update their schedules with slipped dates that are slightly less than the "chicken's." The process may repeat itself a few times. Key point: You don't want to slip first. Or last.

The question I have for my readers is simple, what do you do once you realize you're a player in a game of schedule chicken?


Wednesday, April 5, 2006 6:46:26 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Update your resume and hire a new boss. Perhaps even a new company. Someone up fairly high is an idiot if this happens so you will want to get out now and beat the rush. Oh and maybe sell the stock while it is still worth someothing.
Wednesday, April 5, 2006 6:55:17 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Switch to a "Release early, release often" mentality, and try to ship fully working software every couple of weeks. Steadily add the features requested by the other technical leads, while ensuring quality with a battery of automated unit tests.
Thursday, April 6, 2006 5:21:33 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare, you're very well spoken. I admire this.
Fred Yearwood
Thursday, April 6, 2006 5:26:52 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

Don't slip first. Or last.
Thursday, April 6, 2006 6:15:08 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It's easy: don't slip.

Schedule chicken isn't a game a platform guy can play. Everyone is after you in the race - it's more like schedule relay. The later you are, the later everyone else is. So everyone has incentive to make the first runner successful because then the team wins the race against the competition.
Thursday, April 6, 2006 8:47:41 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Lead by example and demonstrate integrity; let the decision-makers know the true status of your project. Have confidence in your job skills and your ability to get another job, just in case that doesn't work out too well.

In the long run, you'll be happier with yourself going that route.
Thursday, April 6, 2006 11:25:19 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Changing the game is worth trying as said above "Switch to a "Release early, release often" mentality, and try to ship fully working software every couple of weeks"
Thursday, April 6, 2006 5:56:07 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
The one thing to always keep in mind: "When you find yourself in a hole ... stop digging." Then ask for help.

The agile practices for making deliverables often is fine, but the key thing to overcome is the unrealistic schedule. Someone has to address the risk management of it all, and fix it so that there are early warnings rather than day-before launch chicken events.

I don't know how you empower your management. Without that, it can't work though.
Friday, April 7, 2006 7:17:02 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It's tricky. Realistically, there's not a lot you can do except try to win: deliver something that compiles and could theoretically work.

If the overall project manager is reasonable, competent and not under impossible pressures, you could try taking him or her aside and PRIVATELY explaining that there's schedule chicken going on, and it would be a good idea to descope or extend the deadlines. Then, if the suggestion comes from the overall manager that the project may be in trouble and there is a possibility of doing something about it, the other teams will start saying things like "well, we could use a little extra time here..." and "maybe if we delayed this feature..." and things can get back on track.

The obvious problem is that if the overall manager is reasonable, competent and not being pressured to attempt the impossible; then you probably wouldn't be in a schedule chicken situation in the first place.
Friday, April 7, 2006 2:16:25 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Everyone here is making very mature suggestions as to how to deal with this. That's boring.
My suggestion: State that you have in fact already met the goals, that your team, consisting of you, the guy with the headphones, and 20 kilos of coffee, have the solution in hand but are waiting for one important component. Choose the team in charge of providing that component based on 1. They have a pretty realistic schedule as regards your part of the project
2. You hate their project leader.

Saturday, April 8, 2006 5:23:53 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
The definition cited seems to leave out the explanation of where the term comes from. There is a popular kid's game (at least where I grew up), called "Chicken". As you know, a "chicken" is a fraidy-cat (balk balk). Two kids get on their BMX bikes, on a narrow dirt trail, perhaps 20 yards apart, facing each other like medieval jousters. They both charge toward one another full speed. Whichever one veers off the path to save his skin is a "chicken", and the other is the alpha-dog courageous lion. This is is how kids learn about the physics of bicycles colliding, how to fall without breaking bones, and so on. You can play the game on balance beams (fallen log, top of a wall, etc.) Knowing that; I guess the idea of "anything chicken" is self-evident.
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