Bureaucrat's Handbook
Developing Antidotes for Bureaucracy

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Range Chicken
Waiting for a colleague to take the fall

Launching a rocket successfully requires many complex systems to work perfectly along with close cooperation from all team members. In the early days, things often did not go well. As the countdown approached zero, a room full of launch control officers each monitored the systems they are responsible for. Several may get a signal, perhaps a red light visible only to them, indicating their system was faulty, several seconds before the launch. But why bother to stop the countdown and take responsibility for delaying the launch when you can simply wait for a red light to go on for someone else in the room? Let the other guy speak up and take the blame for failing to launch. Imagine the tension in the room as more and more launch control officers each realize their system has failed, no one has yet halted the launch, and the ill-fated launch will occur in a few seconds if no one is wiling to accept responsibility now.

It might go something like this on a computing system upgrade project: The project completion date is only a few weeks off. The workstation installation team is several weeks behind schedule. They promptly announced their concerns to the project manager and are receiving lots of attention and blame. Although the network installation team is a also few weeks behind schedule they have hidden their problems from the project manager. They are depending on the late workstations to delay the project long enough to hide their own lateness. But now there has been a breakthrough, the workstation problems have been solved and they will be done on time. The networking team problems are now revealed and become the critical path, time has been lost because they hid their problems, and they will now cause the project to miss its schedule.

Failing to highlight flaws in the team's plan or performance is common practice in the many bureaucracies we work in today. Why rock the boat when someone else eventually will? The answer is simple once you decide to always do your best.

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