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So Why Should We Avoid Death-March Projects?

Simple. They're mind-numbingly insignificant. You know that win, lose, or draw, the project will be declared a success—whether it manages to deliver any useful functionality or not. This is why we should avoid death-march projects; they pretend to be a challenge, but in reality they're no-brainers. Sure, we have to put in a ton of hours and get stressed from arguing over minute details that don't really matter, but they're not a real challenge.

Truly challenging projects leave a team energized with a sense of real accomplishment, whereas death-march projects invariably leave the team feeling cheated. Small wonder that a common outcome of death-march projects is that the team disperses and the people leave. Tracy Kidder recorded this in his excellent book The Soul of a New Machine (Back Bay Books, 2000). After Data General shipped the titular machine, the fleeting sensations of success failed to make up for the months of sacrifice and stress, so most of the team left.

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