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Are Long Work Hours Hazardous to Your Project?

24 replies on 2 pages. Most recent reply: Jun 3, 2006 11:11 AM by Juancarlo Añez

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Nitin Borwankar

Posts: 3
Nickname: nbor
Registered: Mar, 2004

Re: Are Long Work Hours Hazardous to Your Project? Posted: May 29, 2006 7:53 PM
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While that may be true in some projects, I do not see a necessary correlation between pressure and long work hours, and a break-down of established processes.

Perhaps you do not see it because

a) you haven't looked at enough projects
b) you have looked but overlooked the correlation
c) you are unfamiliar with Gay-Lussac's law which says
"when a system is subjected to stress it reacts so as to reduce the stress"

In a software development system under stress, bypassing process relieves instantaneous stress ( while it increases net stress due to accumulation of defects) - hence developers are tempted to bypass process.
This has been empirically demonstrated to the point where it's almost an axiom. If we disagree about this we are not talking about the same universe.

In many ways, processes become even more important when working long hours and under pressure,

True but that's irrelevant when bypassing the process gains time and gets you home earlier, for the first few days at least. Pressure leads to short term thinking, which leads to bypassing process.

since fatigue can lead to absent-mindedness and hence sloppiness. The
processes are there to guard against the effects of such sloppiness.


all very true in principle ..... but not in practice where many people will think simply of relieving instantaneous stress and se ethe process as an instantaneous stress generator. Pressure causes people to make less rational decisions if they are not used to pressure.


This is evident in the work of emergency workers who must excel in their results under extreme pressure. That is precisely why a pilot in distress must “fly by the book,” and why ingrained automatic responses are the main objective of training firefighters, police offers, and paramedics.


This is where your logic breaks down completely. Emergency workers train for emergency stress situations as a part of their job. They are professionally trained to be cool under stress. Comparing them to the average software developer is somewhat absurd in my opinion.

When was the last time you had a class in college, or some training elsewhere, where a manager who didn't understand the software process periodically stuck his head into your workspace asking "why is this taking so long" and other similar inanities? Software developers are not given professional stress training as emergency workers are which is why they go "out of process" under stress.

Yes, it is possible and necessary to work long hours in "burst mode" occasionally. Suggesting that mode as regular institutionalized practice is highly questionable. Bottom line -- it is not sustainable.

The XP people, whatever else you may think of XP, are right on this count.

Charles Haws

Posts: 24
Nickname: hawscs
Registered: Nov, 2003

Re: Are Long Work Hours Hazardous to Your Project? Posted: May 29, 2006 10:18 PM
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> Of course, I did not imply that people should work long
> hours - in fact, regularly working long hours, I think,
> are to a great extent a sign of an ineffective work
> environment (or an ineffective person).

Part of the problem is what I think of as an incentive for abuse. Management often pays no cost for those extra hours, so it can look to an inexperienced manager like a good thing on paper. I think the simplest way to solve that is to modify the incentive. Don't make it impossible to ask for overtime, but make it not free. After all, if this is rare, then the extra cost to the company will be quite small.

> My point was merely that a good organization or team has
> procedures in place that guard against most errors that
> can occur as a result of fatigue due to long work hours.
> Many of the XP practices, in fact, are designed as such
> guards, e.g., pair programming, test-driven development,
> etc.

I agree again. But I think that even so, more mistakes will happen and the benefits of those extra hours would be pretty minimal. And in most cases where overtime is a significant problem, I doubt they're agile anyway.

Nitin Borwankar

Posts: 3
Nickname: nbor
Registered: Mar, 2004

Re: Are Long Work Hours Hazardous to Your Project? Posted: May 30, 2006 12:33 AM
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I said in my earlier post

> Perhaps you do not see it because
>
> a) you haven't looked at enough projects
> b) you have looked but overlooked the correlation
> c) you are unfamiliar with Gay-Lussac's law which says
> "when a system is subjected to stress it reacts so as to
> reduce the stress"

I should have said " Le Chatelier's principle" not Gay-Lussac's law.
Which brings us to the newly discovered "Borwankar's principle" - get your facts right when you go challenging someone else's statements :-)

Jared Quinert

Posts: 1
Nickname: xflibble
Registered: May, 2006

Re: Are Long Work Hours Hazardous to Your Project? Posted: May 30, 2006 12:39 AM
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I know we have evidence in our team of how only a few days of long hours can rapidly reduce productivity. I would imagine Ron's similar experience with the effect of extended hours would be a strong argument against your claim that 'Sustainable effort and long work hours...are not mutually exclusive'.

Do you have any metrics or experiences that back this up? Do you have any tips or techniques you can share that you've found measurably sustain productivity in the face of pressure and fatigue?

I think XP-style metrics give a team a good indication of what effect extended hours have on their productivity. They can then use prior experience to make informed decisions about whether working more or less hours is going to help them meet a deadline. I'm not so sure other approaches to progress tracking yield the same insight, so we're perhaps more easily deluded into thinking that our heroic efforts are, overall, helping.

Achilleas Margaritis

Posts: 674
Nickname: achilleas
Registered: Feb, 2005

Re: Are Long Work Hours Hazardous to Your Project? Posted: May 30, 2006 6:28 AM
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Yes, long work hours will only hurt people and productivity in the long term. But for short burst periods in may be ok, depending on the project.

NASA software engineers work for 6 hours only, and with one big break in between. Of course NASA writes a program 3 times (3 indepentent teams write the same software and then results are compared), but it is nice.

On the other hand, I had a friend that she worked over 14 hours a day in the mobile phone sector, but she could almost handle it, because the environment was friendly and people could easily spent their hours in endless discussions.

Graham King

Posts: 5
Nickname: grahamking
Registered: Apr, 2004

Re: Are Long Work Hours Hazardous to Your Project? Posted: May 30, 2006 7:54 AM
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" after a successful product launch, team members can relax in style on the Riviera, "

Are you hiring ?

Keith Ray

Posts: 658
Nickname: keithray
Registered: May, 2003

Re: Are Long Work Hours Hazardous to Your Project? Posted: May 30, 2006 10:28 AM
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> spent their hours in endless discussions

That would be energizing for an extravert, but draining for a introvert.

Isaac Gouy

Posts: 527
Nickname: igouy
Registered: Jul, 2003

Re: Are Long Work Hours Hazardous to Your Project? Posted: May 30, 2006 12:37 PM
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> I should have said " Le Chatelier's principle" not
> Gay-Lussac's law.

Gay-Lussac's law
http://www.chem.csus.edu/gaslaws/gay-lus.html

Le Chatelier's principle
http://www.chemguide.co.uk/physical/equilibria/lechatelier.html

Leo Lipelis

Posts: 111
Nickname: aeoo
Registered: Apr, 2006

Re: Are Long Work Hours Hazardous to Your Project? Posted: May 30, 2006 4:47 PM
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> "Many of my coworkers died in the past few years"
>
> May I ask how old they were?

One I think in 30s or younger and two others in 40s. One person was killed, one had a stroke (right at work, while working overtime) and another one died from cancer.

My main point was that life is brief. I do think that a stressful work environment fosters negative health conditions, but I wanted to make a more general, more "philosophical", if you will, point.

Even if you could develop a strategy to keep the bad effects of working a 60 hour week to a minimum, would it be wise to do so? I think the answer is no.

People who experience a happy creative burst and people who live to work are an exception from the rule.

Juancarlo Añez

Posts: 12
Nickname: juanco
Registered: Aug, 2003

Re: Are Long Work Hours Hazardous to Your Project? Posted: Jun 3, 2006 11:11 AM
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>> If you say to a manager "I can get that done in a week," the manager adds 40 hours to the development schedule. Unfortunately, you probably meant "I can get than done in 80 hours." Time estimation erros like that pile up pretty quickly and ruin life for everyone else. <<

That's precicely why Extreme Programming includes a practice of continous estimation. Tasks are rated on difficulty using cookie points, the team is rated for speed using cookie-points/week, and everything is re-estimated at the start of each iteration. A new XP team may get wacky estimates for a couple of iterations, but that's it; the system has built-in the positive feedback loop required for precise estimates.

The estimation practice has no mention of weekly work hours.

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