Politics is a game we're asked to participate in each and every day. But when your project's future is on the line, do you want to play around? The penalties and risks surely outweigh any reward. Discover how to extricate yourself from these losing battles.
It may look like a crisis, but it's only the end of an illusion. –Rhonda's First Revelation
Sharkey, the sales VP of ÜberDenke Software Products, firmly believes he needs to have the next release of the UDCRM product in three months. Engelbert, the software engineering VP, estimates a minimum of twice that long—six months—to implement all the new features. During the discussion, Sharkey drops some thinly veiled threats:
- Do you think we need to consider outsourcing this development?
- I wonder why our competitor manages to get software out, but we can’t.
- Perhaps we need to see the company president about the schedule.
Getting the message, Engelbert eventually agrees to “try to get the software done” in three months. Engelbert calls a meeting of the development group leaders and shares the story: "Marketing insists that we ship the next version of UDCRM in three months. Sharkey already has a quote from an outside vendor, so I had to agree to the schedule. Let me know how we're going to get this done."
The developers head to their cubes and start to ponder how they will get the work done in three months. No matter how much they try to shorten their schedule, their estimates range from three and one-half months to eight months to deliver the next version of UDCRM. Engelbert figures that Pamela's estimate of three and one-half months is close enough to three months, so he shaves off two weeks and declares that as the team's schedule. He rewards Pamela by making her the project lead.
Objectives for Play
In the abbreviated story above, there may or may not be a valid reason Sharkey wants the three-month date. There may be legal considerations (HIPA, EPA, IRS) involved. Perhaps COMDEX is in three months, and Über-Denke needs to be ready to demonstrate the product. Or maybe a key client has agreed to pay to have UDCRM shipped in three months. Sometimes the"Big Boss" has determined that a particular date (usually 1 January) is a good day to start using a new system. And just maybe, Sharkey fabricated the date out of pure imagination.
Likewise, Engelbert may or may not have had valid reasons for his initial estimate of six months. Based on the new features and changes to infrastructure, six months could have been a valid number—even optimistic. Perhaps previous experiences with marketing always have ended with Engelbert's estimates cut in half, so this time he doubled his best guess for how long the next release would take.
When Sharkey arbitrarily chooses the release date, and Engelbert pads his estimate, they become enmeshed in a liar's contest. A liar's contest is a dynamic interaction arising from a conflict between two people who hold different values for an outcome. The winner is the contestant who emerges from the game with his lie unchanged. The loser is the participant who believes the other contestant’s lie and changes his lie to match. Neither contestant is ever forced to tell the truth.