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I'm working on a project with a partner that involves developing a mobile app and corresponding server. I won't bother with the specifics, but both involve a fair amount of work (both require some custom algorithms as well as thousands of lines of code). This project will serve as a final for one of our classes.

Originally, we agreed that I would write the server and he would write the mobile application. I stayed up for a couple nights straight and got together a working server in no time. He told me he was bogged down with papers/family life/etc., but he'd handle the client side.

About two weeks went by and still no progress had been made. I had some free time so I figured out how the app needs to be written (i.e. writing out the pseudocode and sketching wireframes). When another week went by and still no work had been done, I went ahead and wrote a good deal of the client code. My partner is also my friend and I trusted him when he told me he would do his part and he was just totally bogged down.

Now the project is due on Friday and I'm still the only one who's actually done anything. I find out today that he still has yet to write a single line of code because he's so busy (but not so busy that he couldn't go to a baseball game, a concert, and spend all of Friday night getting drunk).

I'm not sure how I want to approach the situation. Even if my partner finished the project on his own, I've still done 80%. I don't think its fair if he gets an A because I killed myself to do the work of two people. At the same time, if I tell the professor how little he's done, the professor will fail him (rightly so) and I will lose a friend.

How can I get the credit I deserve for my work without losing my friend? I feel like I have the Hobson's choice between getting credit for my work and keeping a friend.

EDIT: I did choose a specific answer as my accepted answer, but all of these answers are of really good quality. If you're having a problem similar to mine, I highly suggest reading through all of the answers here.

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How can I get the credit I deserve for my work without losing my friend? I would think it would be difficult to accomplish both. Probably best to chalk this up as a lesson in choosing collaborators more carefully next time around. –  Mad Jack Apr 29 '14 at 0:04
There is nothing good to be accomplished by saying anything at all to the professor. You will almost surely lower your own credibility, whether or not you also lower the credibility of your collaborator. E.g., the professor was not responsible for your choice of collaborator in the first place, and is also not obligated to believe you, and so on. Better to retain your dignity, and learn a lesson about choice of collaborators (as opposed to friends, etc.) –  paul garrett Apr 29 '14 at 1:10
@ahjohnston25, as in my answer below: don't take his word, finish the project yourself. If your friend has already proven his unreliability, don't hope for a miracle. But/and don't try to "get justice" by talking to the prof. Nothing good can come of the latter. Have you received an injustice? Yes. Remediable in this life? No. –  paul garrett Apr 29 '14 at 1:19
If your friend expects you to work for his grades, maybe he's not that good a friend after all. You don't need to discuss anything with the prof: just hand in your solution/documentation under your name alone; it's not up to you to decide how to deal with a slacker, that's the prof's job. Be fair and communicate that to your friend, though. If he's fair he'll go to the prof himself. Maybe he can get out of the thing as if he never even started. –  Raphael Apr 29 '14 at 10:23
Ahh, group projects in college. Actually, what you will really learn from this is how the whole industry works: It will never be fair and you will most likely sometimes work much more than other guys, have a better solution and still have equal or less success than others. The thing is to suck it up and still concentrate on your own work: Will you be happy with your final product if you leave aside the struggle with your partner? The you should be happy and proud of yourself. And also: You are not alone on this one - Everyone had such projects at college, I guess –  dirkk Apr 30 '14 at 7:25

11 Answers 11

up vote 71 down vote accepted

When students come to me with problems like these, I very rarely just take the side of the active student against the "lazy" one.

If you work in a group, you're both responsible when the dynamic doesn't work. And keeping the group dynamic healthy is something every student should learn. I know how difficult it is, I've been both the lazy student and the active one.

It may feel to you like there's nothing you possibly could've done. But that's never true. You started the project by immediately splitting the work load, and reducing the level of necessary communication to a bare minimum. He took the easy half, because he was busy. When his work started to lag behind, you began to write specifications for him.

All this combined probably sapped his motivation. Every step along the way took the challenge out of his part, while he still had those thousands of lines of code to get through. Meanwhile you felt like you were doing more than your share, but you were getting things done, and things that you designed, problems you solved.

In a healthy project, you communicate and you meet often. You don't divide the workload to minimize communication, you use your shared expertise and you design together. That way, you both stay motivated, because you both feel like it's still your project.

What you're doing now is focusing on everything that he could be doing differently. That may be the fair option (cause you're doing all the work), but it's not a productive option, cause that's not a dimension you control. you should be asking yourself what you could've done differently. it may feel unfair, but it's something you can actually implement, so you'll feel a lot less powerless.

Anyway, that's a lesson for the next project. For this one, I'd say remain detached. It's not your responsibility to make sure John learns something, and you'll get the same grade either way. Talk to him, tell him you're unhappy with the way the project's gone and ask if you could've done anything differently to get him more motivated. Let him know you don't expect to be working with him on future project and you're better off as friends than as collaborators.

Just make sure you don't get angry with him. Anger might've been productive halfway down the project, but you're too late now.

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Thank you. This might not have been the answer I wanted, but it was definitely the one I needed to hear. –  ahjohnston25 Apr 29 '14 at 2:56
I do like this answer... but I would hesitate to add, don't get angry with the friend if this is a solitary occurrence. Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me. People make choices. He's chosen concerts and drinks over other commitments. If this is a one time occurrence, okay: it's a mistake and bad communication. If this has happened before - inside or outside of this class - it's now a pattern of irresponsibility. Either way, this can contain a valuable lesson outside of course-work. –  WernerCD Apr 30 '14 at 14:59
@WernerCD, I guess at that point whether to be angry or not becomes more of a personal choice on the friendship level than a tool to help the collaboration. It depends a lot on what that kind of confrontation means to you personally. Nevertheless, people are always more likely to look outward for problems than inward. That's a known cognitive bias, and it helps to look out for it. –  Peter Apr 30 '14 at 16:40
@Peter Definitely. Again, I like this answer - it actually focuses on "YOUR" part and improving the next situation from your end. Also, anger is subjective and would depend on person and circumstance. I see some similarities to lending money to family - what do you do when it goes wrong? You have to decide what is more important - the money or family. In this case, the friendship or the grade. Do you get angry or forgive (and forget the money/grade)? Or brush this off in name of framily? My point was trying to simply be: don't let this be a pattern of bad things if you forgive and move on. –  WernerCD Apr 30 '14 at 20:08
Good answer. When I read a question like this, I think, why are you in a situation where you're asking "How to handle a colleague who hasn't pulled their weight" instead of "How to handle a colleague who isn't pulling their weight" –  Ben Aaronson May 1 '14 at 15:35

Do not attempt to talk to the prof about it, as in my comment above. There are too many ways that that could go wrong for all of you, and surely not giving "satisfaction", such as it would be, to you.

The goal of not having someone get credit for a thing they didn't earn is dubious for fairly obvious reasons, and even though it's more understandable that you'd not want someone else to "get credit" for something you did, in overtime, ... the situation of collaboration with a partner chosen by you tends to put you in a situation of having little ground to stand on. And the rest of your life will provide you with very many more examples of people aiming for, and receiving, more credit than they earn.

Lesson: good friends are not necessarily good collaborators. Indeed, in the future, consider that a botched collaboration might ruin a friendship, thus, do not hastily choose collaborators from among friends. (Pity, I know...)

The possibility that you get less credit than you earned is also just a presagement of many events. Although one should generally avoid such situations, especially if one has bills to pay and such, it is unavoidable... So keep your internally-generated stress level as low as possible, even while recognizing the failings of many people... e.g., one's friends.

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I had a similar experience in a programming course. My partner started to claim to have some problems doing it, so when I finished my part, he decided I should take part of his task. After a few iterations, he was left with a quite trivial piece of code, plus the documentation (easy, but boring).

Long story short, I ended up doing it all by myself. For orthogonal reasons, the relationship with my friend was quite delicate, so a frontal confrontation would have been messy. Instead, I submitted it without making comments, but every file had the auto-generated header including author:@David. A few days later, the lecturer asked me why was this, and I just explained what happened.

In retrospect, my handling was not so good, as I didn't try hard enough to solve the problem before the deadline was biting. But it is too late now. If he is your friend, and you want to keep it, you should talk to him first, don't let the problem rot. Now you have to decide if he has enough time to make it up to you, or if you should inform the grader (together) and reach an agreement (for example, split the grade).

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For convenience, let us refer to your friend as "John." As a friend of John, you should be gracious in accepting his personal failings, mistakes and idiosyncrasies. At the same time, that does not preclude that you should deal justly with him.

As I see it, here are your two choices:

  • If you are lenient with John on this occasion, perhaps in the future John may do something similar in his workplace, where the consequences are more severe.
  • On the other hand, if you do what is right by telling your professor what has happened, then John may fail the class. However, he could always take it again, and learn it properly the second time. If John is a man of good character, he would respect you more as a friend than before; but if he is not, such a friend is not worth having, in my opinion.

One of the most important things for a young man/woman to learn is that "for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." In other words, "for every action there is a consequence."

Finally, the movie The Emperor's Club may be relevant. Very briefly, Kevin Kline plays a teacher who decides to change grades to favor a student, but later regrets his decision.

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I personally would be too alone for my tastes if I lost all the friends that would respect me less if I made them retake a class. :) –  Gordon Gustafson Apr 29 '14 at 3:45

Some people are just lazy, there is nothing we can do. Good friends do not always make the best study mates. And in cases like yours, you really can see how a friend can be irresponsible and leecher. My advice to you is, let this be a lesson to you. Do not talk about this to your professor and you get your deserved grade while he gets his undeserved grade.

And this nice lesson will result in the fact that you will always choose the people that you are going to do a project with much more carefully.

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Aside from anything else you should check your institution's code on plagiarism. If you submit the work jointly when you literally did every single part of it, then you might be guilty of a serious infraction (helping your friend to cheat the assignment) for which you would be held responsible if caught.

Best outcome is probably if you can persuade your friend to do one of:

  • contribute significant work to the project right now, even if it's inevitably less than half, so that it is at least a joint project as required.
  • take his name off the project and accept the fail. Maybe that means you've done a project solo when it was supposed to be a group assignment, which might mean you fail too so check the rules on that. If collaboration was supposed to be an important part of the assignment, then whoever is to blame you have in point of fact not completed that part (and for that matter arguably you wouldn't have seriously collaborated even if he'd done his end, since the first thing the pair of you did was split the project in two).

I don't think its fair if he gets an A because I killed myself to do the work of two people

With respect, you created that situation when you went significantly past 50% of the work. It's not fair, but it's how group assignments work. It also wouldn't be fair if you did 50%, he did 20% and you got a bad grade because the project was incomplete. I think (although I'm not sure) that the purpose of group assignments in part is to teach you a lesson along the lines of how important it is to develop the ability to persuade others to get some freaking work done. A lesson that you have hopefully learned and therefore deserve the grade.

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At least at my institution, the plagiarism rules are very unclear in this situation for the person doing the work; Sufficiently unclear that I ended up going to a student ombudsman when faced with an almost identical challenge. –  Matthew G. Apr 29 '14 at 14:54

Different people have different activity curves. Some plan to distribute the load evenly over the time remaining, others prefer to sprint doing everything in the last 24 hours without sleep.

Students with very different activity curves may both study with success, but they are not well suitable for working in a single group.

The "sprinter" also gets into nasty situation, staying without the necessary communication and cooperation during these last hot hours, because the "careful planner" is not ready (or even not capable of) the enormous burst of activity very close to the deadline. This is likely to happen, have your coffee maker ready then.

Attempts to do part of the partner task almost never work in the intended way. Trust. Wait.

You can try, this time, to adapt to your friend. For a single time, everything is a good experience. If this is something really not for you, simply avoid the shared projects later.

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I don't think this has been said yet but.. if I was a teacher knowing that one of the student did all the job, I would fail both, because we are in university and what is evaluated is not only the capacity to solve the submitted problem, but also the team cohesion and capacity to collaborate efficiently.

Actually, studies about group dynamics show it is not so simple to have every team member do his share, and the more members they are in the group, the higher is the probability that some of them will hardly do a tiny part of the job.

From another point of view, I would suggest you to reconsider the problem, because you are in the perspective "It is unfair that we get the same grade when I am the only one who actually did something", and you are too focused on the grade and work acknowledgment... But you did not come to university only to get good grades and being acknowledged, right? Your main goal is to learn. If possible learn things that will be useful in your professional life. Be happy, you just learned a lot about group dynamics, and that friends are not always the best colleagues, and since you did all the work for two people, you probably also learned a lot on what you are currently studying and will probably get a better grade than your friend in final exams because you practiced a lot more than him.

Now getting back to the point, when I was in junior high, I had to make a presentation with 3 colleagues. I did my part, but they just printed some encyclopedia extracts. Then the teacher said that my work was worth a 20 while theirs were worth a 0, and that since it was a supposed to be a teamwork, he would take the average. As a result we all got a 5. This is the reason why I don't think anything good will happen if the teacher figures out that you actually did all the job.

Plus it is always better to keep an ace up one's sleeve, so I'd say nothing, submit the work as is if had been done by both, and wait for the result. If the teacher figures out by himself or you get a low grade, you can still explain things afterward. If you both get a good grade, don't feel like it is unfair, because you got more than the grade you deserved (since you got the job done without actually managing to work as a team), and as for your friend, try to be happy for him, managing to get credit for something he did not do, but keep the whole story in mind, you don't know what life will bring, maybe there will be an occasion for him to repay you later in another domain, taking you to the airport or helping you when moving from your former house to a new one.. etc.

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Honestly, college students are terrible project managers, so most group projects are done by a single person anyway. Usually the strongest student (or the one who cares the most) realizes it's easier to do all the work themselves than to prod the others to do their share.

I would just do all the work yourself, because class projects kind of have to be designed so that it's possible to work individually. At this point you're much more familiar with the codebase than he is, so it will be much easier for you to write the client than him.

If you still feel bad about it, remember that you got much more out of this class than he did. Next time you have to write a nontrivial piece of software, you will be better at it because of the work you did in this class. Not to mention job interviews are coming up, and it's much easier to talk convincingly about a project if you were the one who did most of it.

(By the way, I recently had the opposite problem, where my partner and I were fighting over who got to do all the work, because we were required to work in teams, and both of us wanted the practice. Sometimes I did the homework sets without telling him because otherwise he would have done them first.)

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+ For you got much more out of this class than he did and you will be better at it because of the work you did in this class. This answer tells why homework is important. –  scaaahu Jan 28 at 5:12

Not enough information:

  • which year are you in, and how much grade does this count for, and how important is the class?
  • would failing be a minor issue, or cause major GPA damage, or to lose a summer internship, recommendation for grad school, or what are the $$$ consequences?
  • are you honestly telling us you didn't know anything about your friend's work ethic until now? What was his track record on previous projects? Did you ask?
  • don't pick a friend as a project partner, unless you personally know them to be reliable.
  • different colleges, courses and professors have different mechanisms for handling the team dynamic, giving credit, handling denunciations and members flaking out. Some professors do handle this situation, others don't want the headache of intervening, or they figure this acts as an early first real-world lesson. Usually the TAs (or admin staff) know the deal. You should have found out what the general procedure is - at the start, when you're choosing team-members, not at the 11th hour. (Expect the best, plan for the worst)

Anyway, my reactions:

  • sounds like you could have completed this all as an individual project. (Once you realized you could, why on earth didn't you? And don't email or give him the code or wireframes, dammit. Unless you're using SCM, in which case make sure your 'Author:' name appears on all your checkins)
  • when you agreed milestones and your friend started not delivering, you should have warned him you would remove his name from the team by (date) if he did not deliver (milestone). And actually meant it. Early on, would have been more credible. Constantly kicking your teammate's ass to do basic work is no fun.
  • anyway now you're at this late stage. Find out how the professor/course/college handles such situations. But let's assume they don't get involved.

  • this is important: you also learned something about your own judgment, and specifically, when taking teammates, be more skeptical and discerning, ask questions, sit back and observe whether they take responsibility, schedule stuff, manage communication, deliver it. Or just go and get drunk. Be ready to fire a team-member. Have a fallback. Learn what would happen in the extreme case you couldn't find a suitable teammate, or had to submit as an individual project.

  • if you had fired the guy in week two and submitted the entire working thing as an individual project, I really can't see why you wouldn't get an A/A+. You're not obligated to carry him.

I'm not sure how I want to approach the situation. Even if my partner finished the project on his own, I've still done 80%. I don't think its fair if he gets an A because I killed myself to do the work of two people. At the same time, if I tell the professor how little he's done, the professor will fail him (rightly so) and I will lose a friend.

How can I get the credit I deserve for my work without losing my friend? I feel like I have the Hobson's choice between getting credit for my work and keeping a friend.

  • well yes, but you got yourself into this situation, and learned a crucial life lesson. You do have to make that choice. It will depend in part on how significant this grade is. Unless he's a tool, I don't see that he'd stop being your friend, but if he did, he's evidently not that good a friend.

Yes you do have to make that decision now. Decision time. So: decide which is more important to you? Fill in the blanks for us.

  • going forward, a more pragmatic expectation of human behavior on teams is that a large fraction of people will be lazy, bad communicators, well-intentioned but not very good, or just suck up your productivity for a variety of reasons etc. So: think ahead, plan accordingly, communicate clearly, document who did what, anticipate dependencies, deal with unacceptable behavior.
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Thanks for your answer. To answer some of your questions, failing would be detrimental, i met him through research work (which he's always been very reliable on). I used Git so I have records of everything I created and when. I didnt kick him off immediately because i figured he'd be decent enough to eventually do his part. –  ahjohnston25 Apr 29 '14 at 15:19

I also dont recommend talking to the prof, but if you do, I suggest being smart about how you tackle the subject by instead working from a constructive angle.

For example, go in asking how to motivate someone to deliver their best work. Or ask how they (professor) handled working with people who cant pull their own weight.

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