While studying physics as an undergraduate in San Diego, I had the great pleasure of working as an intern for 4 years, nearly full time for the Naval Ocean System Center (NOSC, now called SPAWAR: Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command). This was a research lab staffed mainly by civilians, and run by Navy top brass. The projects on which I worked cannot be fully discussed even today. I had a Secret Clearance and worked in one of those vaults like you see in the movies. It was a concrete building with no windows (at least in the lab areas). The only entry was a large bank-like vault door with a grim security guard closely scrutinizing each person as they approached.
So-called “Waterfall” or “Phase-Gate” product development methodologies often give management the illusion that they are under control of the project, while they are actually just meddling and slowing it down. Each formal gate meeting or project review is an opportunity for every manager to put the project team under scrutiny about what they have accomplished and whether they should continue with the next phase. I have been on both sides of the PC projector for many of these reviews, so I know what I am talking about.
When a gate checkpoint meeting or formal review is approaching, the project slows down. The project manager and key technical contributors view the meeting as an opportunity to show their value or possibly to slip up, which may affect not only their project, but quite possibly their personal ranking and stature. Therefore they spend a lot of time and emotional energy on perfecting slideware – deciding what to emphasize or perhaps what to obfuscate about the progress of the project. These meetings drive other suboptimal behavior as well; for example, in order to show a “quick win” at a review, the team may take on a quick, low-risk piece of the development instead of concentrating their talents on retiring the higher-risk elements as early as possible. These deferred high-risk elements can cause major project problems and delays later.