2008-05-02

The Buck Stops

I loathe group projects. Despite the years that have passed since I was in school and forced to work with a smattering of half committed nincompoops, I remember well the pain of the group project. I thought I'd left those those days behind, but I have sadly learned that the group project is alive and well at my work; not because of the people I work with, but because our company frequently has to work with other companies on the same project.

Just this last week, I was in the room as members of three companies sat down to discuss the less than stellar performance of our jointly produced project. It was then that I started to have flashbacks. There was finger pointing, blame shifting, spinning, and every other tactic you'd expect from an under performing group member suddenly being assessed by the professor. We all suspected that one of the companies hadn't done its job (thankfully, not mine) and was circling the wagons to deflect blame -- as the simplest cause for the failure was a component for which they were responsible. But, they insisted that there were software defects, that the installed parts weren't that different form the specifications, and their engineers had done the necessary calculations to prove it on paper.

This went on for days. With our collective reputations on the line, my company painstakingly discounted every possible defect in the system, one at a time, until finally, the delinquent group member had to admit, begrudgingly, that they had NOT done their job, and it WAS THEIR FAULT. At this point, were we relieved that the problem was solved? No! We were frustrated and angry that four days and a dozen people's time were wasted in chasing down nonexistent problems.

Of course, we do deserve some blame for not being more insistent that they own up to their responsibility, but there is only so much you can do do motivate an ass that refuses to budge -- and you end up shouldering the load yourself to make any progress at all. This is what I really hate about the group project, being held hostage by one's own work ethic in the face of uncooperative and lazy group-mates.

Truman was right: The buck stops here. No one is ever served, least of all ourselves, by avoiding responsibility. Not only do we invariably look bad, in the end, we accomplish nothing.