the “O” word popped up today and i can recall reacting rather negatively to the concept. having recognised my emotional response :), i’m trying to gather my thoughts so i can examine the role of overtime in a production environment with reasonable judgement. and in scanning through many articles, my reaction is more accurately against planned overtime, than overtime in general.

Indeed, when a project starts planning for overtime consciously, there are bigger issues that will lead to some demise, sooner or later. Something’s always gotta give. An interesting extension to this concept is subconsciously, or even unconsciously, planned overtime.

Subconscious planning is probably based on a mix of the following [and not limited to this list]:

  • good intentions
  • a desire to please
  • ego and pride
  • manipulative characters
  • messiah-complex
  • politics

You’re subconsciously factoring in a hero-effort *somewhere* along the lines, and you know it. Maybe you’re just not stopping for long enough to be upfront about it? You have the experience, you know about chaos, and you really should be more accurate by now. But you override sound reason. And that’s where unconsciously planned overtime differs. You didn’t know at all that what you were planning would involve a super hero push to try and rectify the quickly deteriorating project. Basically, inexperience in the domain you’re managing.

And i guess that’s how software got it’s reputation for being so overtime-driven. Unconscious planning in the early days was due to not knowing just how hard software [your project] really can be. But we’ve learned that and moved on from there. We have the statistics and collective experiences of many to testify: overtime kills. So, today, if you’re putting in overtime, you got to ask: what kind of planned overtime are you dealing with?

Of course, there’s always gonna be unplanned overtime. Power failures, natural disasters, trauma, sudden massive economic instability and similar left-field events are not usually factored into _any_ project. But they also don’t occur every day, or every week, even every month. These are rare occassions. Not your run-of-the-mill experiences that justify a demand for working overtime.

So where does overtime fit in, apart from natural disasters? For me, it would be when the team decides they want to do something _extra special_. Something out of the ordinary to take advantage of a window of opportunity or close a critical gap. And if your software is always full of critical gaps… 🙂 need i say more? It’s that extra burst of special energy that contributes significant value, and therefore requires that extra special commitment.