Implementation Games

I must have read  “Implementation Games: What happens when a bill becomes law” 20 years ago; it  enumerates all the various ways that big projects can implode.  It is a useful list.

The list is based on the author’s study of some large projects.  These projects are the really hard ones.  For example, trying to create jobs in a poor section of town.  Tough problems are the ones that culture, structure, and markets have all failed to solve.  The ones where Government is left holding the bag, trying to create public goods from scratch.  Needless to say most projects like this fail.

The author grows kind of pessimistic toward the end of the book. I don’t think he appreciated how hard the problems he studied really are.  That said, he collected quite a list of syndromes.  They help in diagnosing when things are going south. Avoid these tar pits.

One of the syndromes he names is “piling-on.”  It is the tendency for projects to accept an increasingly long list of goals and requirements overtime until such time as there isn’t a chance they can successfully execute on any but a small subset. This syndrome combines well with “Budget Games” since each time a new goal get’s added it is often possible to capture a bit more budget to help pay for it. Together they can make for some really amazing failures.

  • Diversion of Resources
    • Easy Money
    • Easy Life
    • Budget Games
    • Pork Barrel
  • Deflection of Goals
    • Piling On
    • Vague Mandate
    • Keeping the Peace
  • Limits to Administrative Control
    • Tokenism
    • Massive Resistance
    • Incompetence
  • Dissipation of Energy
    • Stubbornness
    • Turf Battles
    • Not our Problem

I doubt it’s still in print, so if you want to read this you probably have to go do a good library or possibly in the used book market.

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