Death march (project management)

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A death march in project management is a project which is believed by participants to be destined for failure, or that requires a stretch of unsustainable overwork. The project marches to its death as its members are forced by their superiors to continue the project against their better judgment.

Software development and software engineering are the fields in which practitioners first applied the term to these project management practices, spreading to other fields.

Death marches that are destined for failure usually are a result of unrealistic or overly optimistic expectations in scheduling or feature scope, and often include lack of appropriate documentation or relevant training and outside expertise that would be needed to accomplish the task successfully. The knowledge of the doomed nature of the project weighs heavily on the psyche of its participants, as if they are helplessly watching themselves and their coworkers. There may be desperate attempts to right the course of the project by asking team members to work especially grueling hours (14-hour days or 7-day weeks) or by attempting to "throw (enough) bodies at the problem", often causing burnout.

The discomfort is heightened by project participants' knowledge that the failure is avoidable. It may have succeeded with competent management, such as by devoting the obviously required resources, including bringing all relevant expertise, technology, or applied science to the task rather than just whatever incomplete knowledge a few employees happened to possess. Business culture pressures may play a role in addition to mere incompetence.

The term "death march" in this context is discussed at length in Edward Yourdon's book Death March. Yourdon's definition: "Quite simply, a death march project is one whose 'project parameters' exceed the norm by at least 50 percent."[1][2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What is a Death March Project and Why Do They Happen?". InformIT.
  2. ^ Yourdon, Edward (2014) [1999]. Death March. Prentice Hall. ISBN 9780133767094. OCLC 922381541.