The expression crack the whip has two meanings. It can be in the sense of a boss (or parent), becoming more strict about work expectations, or it can be referring to the kids game, Crack The Whip. This post is about the latter, but as applied to work.
I have been doing headquarters staff work for several years now. One of the issues with it is that you are collecting data and information from people who are not really interested in providing it. Then giving it to people who will not take no for an answer and have high expectations of the quality of the work as well as the data.
The game crack the whip is described this way on wikipedia "One player, chosen as the "head" of the whip, runs (or skates) around in random directions, with subsequent players holding on to the hand of the previous player. The entire "tail" of the whip moves in those directions, but with much more force toward the end of the tail. The longer the tail, the more the forces act on the last player, and the tighter they have to hold on."
So what happens, is a person several steps removed organizationally has the task to put together some information. Each person has to clear the information with his boss before it can move up the chain of command. Everyone is busy, so it is sometimes difficult to get an appontment. Typically, in the headquarters function, we have given the business units as much time as we dare, recognizing that once the data comes in, we still have to analyze it.
Anyway, as the data works its way up the chain of command and time grows shorter, anxiety increases, the data comes in late, and the headquarters guys end up working until the wee hours trying to incorporate the late data and come up with a coherent story.
This is not to say that HQ people are saints, just that being the last one in a long chain is really hard.