When I first started working for my current tech company as an intern, I jumped into a project that was late, and we had to pull lots of extra hours to get the project done. I didn't think much of it at the time, because we were doing a lot of 'new' (or new to us) features and it was exciting. Didn't help that we started the project 3 years late, but who doesn't like a challenge?

Five years later, I've worked on 5 different multi-year projects (some in parallel of course). All but one were started late, all were planned poorly and took more time than management thought they would. This was despite several of us pointing out management repeating certain mistakes, and giving management feedback that was never acted on. The end of each project included lots of overtime, including this current project, which is now at 8+ months of overtime.

The problem to me isn't the extra hours, but because the hours seem like they for making up for bad management (instead of for cool new features). At five years, this seems like a chronic issue with the company. Has anyone else had a similar experience, and have you experienced this sort of issue getting fixed? Is this an issue a non-management type employee can fix, past giving lots of feedback?

closed as off-topic by gnat, The Wandering Dev Manager, Chris E, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Masked Man Apr 8 '16 at 17:12

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  • 1
    All you can do is calculate how much you make for every hour of work, and see whether retraining as a plumber gives you a higher rate. Or leave and come back as a contractor on an hourly rate. – gnasher729 Apr 6 '16 at 22:01
  • I think we use different meanings for the word "overtime". Unless you're saying that employees actually did a cumulative total of 8 months' overtime (evening/weekend work), i.e. 5,840 hours, for the current project. – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 9 '16 at 18:25
  • Lightness, I meant 8 months of working overtime. 8 months worth of hours in overtime... is probably a huge amount of overtime. : ) – myriad360 Apr 30 '16 at 4:38

Unfortunately, this is an above-average scenario in the IT world in the USA. Above average because you actually manage to deliver the work regularly.

This is an example of the "eleventh hour heroics antipattern," which is unfortunately quite common in the IT world. One of the chief reasons for it is a culture of blame. That often goes pretty high up the management chain. Unless it is replaced with a culture of incremental improvement (not one that pays lip service to it, as is more common), then you can expect it to remain; cultures like these generally have a lot of extra flannel sewn into a lot of pants seats.

The good news is that (if you want to) you can find a place where people really care about getting things done on time, break things up into small, incremental deliveries (don't just pretend to because it's fashionable), and really look at why things didn't get done on time when they didn't.

An article on some of the pitfalls of the SDLC, which is as true now as it was when it was written in 1999, is Alistair Cockburn's Characterizing people as non-linear, first-order components in software development. I reread it at least once a year. You may find it interesting. (It had my full attention in the first paragraph, with "The short of the story is that we have been designing complex systems whose active components are variable and highly non-linear components called people, without characterizing these components or their effect on the system being designed.")

  • How do you know the OP is in the USA? – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 9 '16 at 18:26
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit A good question. Writing style? Psychic powers? Of course, I don't know, but I'd bet on it. – BobRodes Apr 13 '16 at 2:52

Is this an issue a non-management type employee can fix, past giving lots of feedback?

Not really, all you can do is soldier through it and wait for the bad managers to retire sometimes. I've worked at a few places like this, I actually got a LOT of valuable experience under pressure and don't regret it. But I never managed to change their entrenched management until years later after I had left and came back in charge and did some restructuring (went on a sacking spree), the same management were making the same bad mistakes a decade later.

It's valuable experience for a young man, but don't let yourself get burnt out, and be VERY careful to keep your back covered at all times (just in case everything falls to bits and they need a scapegoat).

  • You can try to get management interested in tracking tools, so everyone had some sense of how much remains to be done and what is waiting for what. You can try to get them interested in Continuous Delivery, where the are more release dates but each release is a smaller chunk if added work and what ships each time is only what's ready to ship. There are a few other tools and approaches that might help everyone see exactly where you are, where you want to be, and what it will take to get there. But unless at least one team is willing to invest in playing guinea pig, getting acceptance is hard. – keshlam Apr 6 '16 at 5:52
  • Yep, five years without an improvement isn't a positive sign though – Kilisi Apr 6 '16 at 7:20
  • "went on a sacking spree" mehehehe – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 9 '16 at 18:27
  • It's a good strategy to clean up the dead weight in a company by bringing in a outsider troubleshooter temporarily and giving them the top job for 3 months or so. Upsets everyone but gets rid of entrenched cliques that are holding back progress and gives everyone a wake up call. – Kilisi Apr 9 '16 at 20:35

As noted this is an industry problem, but it's not as widespread as some people have said. It is one that as a rank and file developer you are not going to change. I stayed way to long at a job that ran like this. It's time to move on, the grass really is greener.

When you start looking, look for jobs that mention Agile. This methodology is focused on measuring what scope of work you CAN complete and then selecting features/bugs that management desires the most that can actually be completed in the same time. It is heavy on continuous feedback and updating expectations and even processes.

It isn't without it's faults, but it does put pressure back onto project management/product owners to prioritize and select the features you can get done, not how long it's going to take to get them ALL done.

You have done your time, now it's time to take what you have learned and apply it somewhere else.

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