The term "death march" is commonly used for software projects that are behind schedule, over budget, have no end in sight, and yet must be completed. There is a book with that title.
I've recently become involved in one of these projects. I should say "re-involved," because I was involved with the project a year and a half ago, and I quit. As an independent contractor now, I feel less pain than the employees do: I get paid by the hour and can set my own schedule, whereas they have to work unpaid overtime, and they are shackled to their desks.
Yesterday, one of the developers had to go to a doctor. The stress and long hours had led to high pulse rate and other signs of anxiety. The doctor told him to go home and get some rest, which he did.
We're all glad that nothing more serious happened. Managers express surprise that anyone would work himself so hard. I've only been involved with this for a few days, but here's what I've observed:
- Requirements and UI design are still changing.
- Work that was originally estimated to take three months has now been scheduled for completion in three weeks.
- A manager stops by every hour to get a status update.
- There are a couple of hour-long meetings every day. Plans are changed during each meeting.
Yeah, I can't imagine why anyone would feel pressure, with management being so "helpful."
He's young. I remember when I was younger. I tried to meet crazy deadlines. I took it personally when managers demanded faster progress. I blamed myself for everything that went wrong. I worked myself sick.
Now, with a couple of decades of seasoning, I know better. If you're involved in a death march, it is due to your managers' incompetence, not yours. Work at a sustainable pace, and remember that no matter how loudly the managers are screaming, there is no need to sacrifice yourself for the good of the company.