by

CRUNCH CRUNCH BABY

Catharsis
Diatharsis
Damocles

I’ve personally experienced crunch time, both within and without the game industry. Ironically, the crunch time I experienced outside the gaming industry was far worse, so I’ll describe that.

I like project charts. They’re pretty. They show where everyone is supposed to be, what they’re supposed to be doing, and who they’re supposed to be working with. I appreciate mindless structure for its own sake, which is probably why I write computer programs. So when I bopped into work one day to see my project manager papering his wall with them, I idly glance them over.

“Hm, I think you did this wrong. You’ve got everyone down for a baseline of 60 hours for the next three months.”, I note, almost to myself. My manager just looked at me. “We have to complete Project X by September 1. We don’t have enough resources to use a standard work week.” I started to respond, but stopped myself. (You have gained skill in Office Politics! (30)) The reason why we didn’t have enough “resources” was that our company decided to let quite a few “resources” go because it was running short of other “resources”, namely income.

So I was looking at the next three months of long hours and no weekends. As a baseline. If anyone screwed something up – and software development being what it was, that WOULD happen – that baseline would stretch. And the longer it stretched, the more mistakes would happen. And the longer we would work. It was a cycle that didn’t have any prospect of ending, I thought.

I was wrong. Within 2 weeks, I was another “resource let go”. I took my generous severance package with a breath of gratitude. I didn’t particularly want to go through another death march.

The conclusion I came to was that the manager who made those pretty charts was not doing his job. His job was to tell HIS boss that meeting the September 1 ship date with the “resources” our team had was not possible. Because it wasn’t. I guarantee you they never made that date. They didn’t have enough people, and they were burning out the ones they had. The last team meeting I went to, the status reports were extremely cursory, with some saying with no hint of irony, “If I’m still here next Wednesday, we’ll see about getting together on that.”

This was not a failure of the workers in question, because they couldn’t be expected to do the work of their missing colleagues and themselves besides, and still operate at peak efficiency. This was a failure of management. Management had, by that point, completely failed at doing its job – managing.

So when I read about the management practices in the links above, I think that someone else isn’t doing their job. It’s impossible to do good work under the conditions described. Either they are exaggerating (and I’ve heard personal testimony to the contrary) or the project managers would rather have people working 80 hours badly than 45 hours well.

If your people are BUDGETED with 80 hour work weeks, you have failed as a manager. You will lose your best people, either to more enlightened companies or to their own burnout. And that means you aren’t doing your job.

Another old veteran of the office wars has a similar take.

On a personal level, I’ve put in long hours in my current job. However, I’ve rarely been asked to do so (mainly only when concrete deadlines such as product launches loom large). I simply do. It’s how I work. I dislike leaving my desk when a discrete task hasn’t been completed. So I plow at it until I’m done. It’s how I work. I like to think it’s pretty effective, and I still have time left over to blow up the occasional tie fighter at home.

Workers like me are fairly common. We like having jobs. We take pride in what we do. We especially take pride in working in a job we believe in, alongside people we consider our friends, for people who respect what we produce and see us as more than “resources”.

However, as described, I’ve been on the other side as well. And really, there’s not much you can do at that point. You can say “Well, leave” but jobs aren’t that easy to come by these days. Sometimes you have to make do with what you have. Life is full of unpleasant choices, and other trite altruisms.