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Wed, Feb 12, 2003

Playing 'NASA Chicken'

"There is a tendency to play 'NASA Chicken' within the aerospace industry, which is to wait to address safety issues that might delay the development project, in hopes that someone else from another division or another company might bring up something else that might push the project past its deadline," according to Joseph Grenny, best- selling author of Crucial Conversations, Tools for Talking When Stakes are High and organizational consultant to several aerospace companies.

"We first heard the term 'NASA Chicken' at a company we work with," states Grenny. "Someone is afraid to 'Push the Red Button,' a figurative term to describe the process to stop or delay the project, because they hope that someone else from another team will push the button first and thereby avoid the political and economic risks that would come from stopping the project. As the project deadline gets closer and closer, you have a bunch of people waiting and delaying to push the button, hoping someone else will push it first, becoming like a game of Chicken, saying, 'Who will push it first so I don't have to?'

"There's a vicious cycle here. Farther from the deadline, it's easy to delay raising concerns and hope other organizations will admit to their own problems first. But then the closer you get to the deadline, the harder it gets to push the button, so to speak, because the delay is much more disruptive and more pressure is on you to make the date. It's an ugly, dangerous, but all too common game," explains Joseph Grenny.

"We have no information that this has been the case in this Columbia disaster. But we often hear from people that we consult within the aerospace industry that the pressures to meet deadlines are intense and that they often feel like they need to suppress safety concerns," concludes Grenny.



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