Death March

Death March
Intent
: Continue with a failing project so as to defer its outcome

Proverbs: Kick the can further down the road; hold tight and pretend it’s a plan; the Emperor has no clothes

Also Known As: Escalation of Commitment

Motivation: It can be politically difficult to cancel a struggling initiative if it has already absorbed significant resource. To do so may imply that the project has been a poor investment and that the time and money committed has been lost. Stakeholders would prefer to continue with a failing project and hope for sudden and improbable change.

Structure: A development team notionally delivers increments of value  to a Product Owner on an iterative basis. The development process and project are transparent  and are theoretically subject to inspection and adaptation. However, for political reasons the Product Owner cannot terminate the project even though satisfactory value is not being delivered. Instead, the project continues until either the expected delivery date or resources run out.

Applicability: Death march projects tend to be high profile and high risk, and are associated with weak product ownership. The risks will not be managed by the iterative and incremental delivery of value. Instead, any increments produced will accumulate. The associated risk will also accumulate until it is too late for mitigation.

Consequences: A death march project will severely impact team morale and staff turnover is likely to be high. Resources will be wasted on a failed project, when it would have been better to cut losses earlier and fund alternative investments.

Implementation
: Death marches are very common in the public sector due to a weak understanding of agile practice, cultural barriers against iterative and incremental release,  and the fear of losing face as a result of early project termination.  They may also occur in the private sector if project  investments are similarly politicized, or if ongoing delivery and the de-risking of scope is similarly undervalued.