How to Solve the Problem

If, as Yourdon proposes, death marches are inevitable, there will always exist the temptation to push projects into extended crunch mode. Alone, that would be tolerable but we have already seen how crunch mode affects personal health and relationships while decreasing productivity. There is no silver bullet to make crunch mode go away, but we do have some recommendations.

Government Intervention

The government is already responsible for protecting certain workers' rights, particularly prevent exploitation of workers at then hands of their employers. While the government is not likely to prohibit crunch time, it can ensure that employees are compensated fairly for their time.

Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that most employees be paid minimum wage for up to 40 hours in a week and overtime wages for hours beyond that. However, many exemptions exist which are being exploited for software developers. These loopholes were designed to enable employees in entrepreneurial endeavors to work extra hours as the workforce is usually limited in newly developed fields. However, as with Electronic Arts, these exceptions are being abused and employees are overworked without compensation. A first step is to clarify the exemptions in the FLSA so that companies can't get something for nothing.

Civil Action

To counter the exemptions in the FLSA, California and Maine have passed legislation re-establishing a worker's rights to overtime pay. Currently in litigation is a class action suit of graphics designers suing Electronic Arts to get overtime pay. The outcome of this case will clarify, at least for California, what exemptions in the FLSA are valid. If the case is decided for the workers, similar suits seeking damages are expected through the industry.

Manager Education

Managers shoulder most of the responsibility for time crunches. If they can be educated, the problem can be nipped in the bud.


Obviously, not every manager knows the economics of overworking employees. As ingrained the 40 hour work week is in American culture, its motivation and history are poorly understood. For something that takes less than an hour to explain, there is no excuse for that this is not part of the standard educational curriculum. This would not just benefit managers, but also every workaholic and recent college graduate that thinks human limits don't apply. Upper management also needs to recognize a waste of resources when they see employees being managed to work 80 hours a week.


If managers want to maximize productivity, they need to learn to become advocates for their employees. This is exemplified by sending an employee home to get rest if her or she is burnt out yet insists on staying. Managers also need to recognize when they have been assigned death march projects and stick up for their employees.

Employee Marketplace

Crunch mode takes place because employees tolerate it. Its never quite as simple as quitting and finding another job, but there are things employees can do to change the culture

Job Market

It may not fix a company, but if an employee leaves because he or she is being mistreated at least that person and their family are no longer suffering. If enough do it, that company might lose enough in rehiring and training to see benefit in changing their policies.

When approaching a new company, a potential employee should see what dirt is available. Currently, no watch dog website exists, but the industry is remarkably well connected. At least, know what you are getting into.

Know Your Role

First, everyone needs to learn the limits on their productivity. If an employee has a good manager, the two can work together to find out how to best maximize output. Flextime is becoming increasingly popular, as it lets employees work when they know they will be able to do the most.

Second, employees need to understand their interactions with the workplace. An employee who is putting in extra hours may be unfairly raising the expectation for others. Those that habitually leave early can plague a team work ethic and distract people from their daily tasks.