Stressful Work. Why working in IT is so stressful when it doesn’t need to be

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Stressful Work in IT
Stressful Work in IT

Stressful Work With Constant Deadlines

IT can be stressful work.

I saw an article the other day that said how stressful it was to work in call centres. However, working in IT can be every bit as bad with its constant deadlines.

At the top level of a company everything is financial. All the pressures are financial. This translates, at project level, to time pressures.

That‘s why everything is broken up into time components. It’s why the project manager comes round every Monday morning to see what progress has been made. If you are behind schedule (which most people are), then you start to hide this fact by allocating time to tasks that you haven‘t started yet.

When it becomes obvious that you can‘t hide any more that you are behind schedule, you hand over your work before you are completely satisfied with it. As sure as night follows day, it starts to fall over in link testing, systems testing or User Acceptance Testing.

Deadlines Don‘t Work

One of the world‘s great experts on project productivity, Barry Boehm, of Cocomo fame, once calculated project productivity according to whoever estimated the tasks.

1. If a programmer’s supervisor estimated the task, productivity was 6.

2. If the programmer himself estimated the task, productivity was 7.

3. If the analyst who wrote the specification estimated the task the productivity was 8.

4. If there was no estimate at all the productivity was 11.

This is not surprising. Parkinson’s law and the fact that there is ‘nothing in it’ for developers to finish ahead of schedule mean that tasks are either finished on time or late.

Allocating time to tasks, therefore, does no one any good at all. As we can see above, the company would get better productivity if there was no estimate for the task at all.

Estimates Counter Productive

Of course, companies must have a schedule. However, it is counter-productive to let their developers actually know what it is.

There are many reasons for this, most of them psychological. Time pressure is oppressive. It causes stress for those working under it and so they don‘t perform as well. As a manager if you can make it so that your people look forward to coming to work every day, then that’s half your job.

As said before, the time pressure causes people to hand over their work before they are completely happy with it. Studies have shown that the earlier in a project that you spot errors, the cheaper it is to fix them. The differences in cost in time are huge between finding a problem in the analysis stage when you compare it to finding it in User Acceptance Testing or even Production.

The costs to fix a problem mount dramatically all the way down the line. Time pressure pushes the place where you identify problems further down the line. This puts extreme pressure on project deadlines, budgets and system quality.

Better Productivity

Studies have also shown that when you compare the extra productivity that you can get from better tools, better development methods, and better able people, then it is people that come out top. And that’s by a long way from better methods and then better tools.

Companies seem to spend most of their time implementing better tools and better development methodologies to improve productivity. They would gain a much greater dividend from looking for ways to increase the morale and the ability to deliver of their project workers.

Better training is one way to increase the productivity of your people. However, a less stressful work environment, taking away some of the time pressure would increase productivity too.

Happier Workers from Less Stressful Work

It would be a bonus for the employee to work in a less stressful environment. As our productivity figures show, it would also be a great bonus for the company too. That’s i they look for ways to make their workforce happier, and their regime less stressful.

Management will still be able to separate the wheat from the chaff as they‘ll know what the schedule is. They can see who is performing and who isn‘t.

The carrot has always been more powerful than the stick.

Can you see many companies operating this way, even if it has been shown that they will get better productivity?

Not likely!

They woud prefer heh current stressfulwork model.

People Our Greatest Asset

Despite all the talk about ‘our people being our greatest asset‘ most companies really take the attitude that ‘if you‘re not keeping your eye on the buggers, they‘re not working’. That’s despite the fact that it has been shown that when you give people responsibility they generally act responsibly.

So, despite Barry Boehm‘s studies which show that productivity increases without deadlines, I‘ve never been to a company that didn‘t have deadlines for each task in the project.

They prefer to continue with the stressful work deadlines.

Has anyone else seen this happening?

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