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June 15, 2022

How to avoid the death march in project management?

Gantt Project Management Risk Management Scheduling & Roadmapping WBS & Backlog Structuring
Jerzy Żurawiecki Content Specialist @BigPicture

In a perfect world, teams would complete all projects on time, within budget, and the final result would meet all expectations. However, the reality isn’t as perfect as we’d like it to be. According to TeamStage, a whopping 70% of all projects fail to deliver what was promised to customers”. The thing is, some projects are simply destined to fail, and there is very little that anyone can do about it. There is a name for such projects, a very apt one, too: the Death March.

What is it? What causes the Death March? How to avoid it? In this article, you will find all the answers.

The Death March definition

Edward Yourdon, the author of Death March: The Complete Software Developer’s Guide to Surviving “Mission Impossible” Projects defines this concept as follows: Quite simply, a death march project is one whose “project parameters” exceed the norm by at least 50 percent.”

In practical terms, Death March is a project that is highly likely to fail. The people involved in it are well aware of that, but they cannot fix the situation, so it slowly marches to its death. It’s quite the image, isn’t it?

Potential ramifications of the Death March

This occurrence can have dire consequences for the business and the employees involved in such projects. Companies waste time and resources, and the employees often have to work extra hours to save the project. In the world of IT, this phenomenon is called crunch.

Overworking can lead to exhaustion and burnout, among other health issues. Team members who feel that way are more likely to switch jobs, taking valuable skills and experience with them.

What causes the Death March and how to avoid it with BigPicture?

The most important line of defense against the Death March is knowing what can go wrong before it happens. No one can see the future, but with the right Project Portfolio Management tool, you get insights into how your plans stack up against reality. As a result, it is easier to predict certain issues and take appropriate action.

For instance, in BigPicture, Agile and Hybrid practitioners use the Board module to plan and structure the entire project from top to bottom. Whether it’s team allocation, division of the project into Program Increments, iterations, or user stories – you can do and see all of that in one place. On top of that, you can easily track dependencies to keep an eye on connected tasks and their progress.

Let’s take a look at some specific problems that cause the Death March and see how BigPicture can help mitigate them.

The scope is unclear.

This issue usually happens because the scope isn’t defined well enough or it’s too vague. For Classic and Hybrid projects, BigPicture lets you create a Work Breakdown Structure that contains a detailed list of tasks and a network of dependencies between them, assign roles, and develop a realistic schedule, among other things.


When the WBS is implemented correctly, the entire team has a clear understanding of the upcoming tasks. For managers, BigPicture’s Work Breakdown Structure has another benefit: the ability to monitor the status of each task and see real-time progress.

Gantt Chart is another visualization tool that helps your team members see the scope in its entirety. For managers, the Gantt chart is also helpful when tracking the progress of a project. Even though it’s a tool used most frequently in the Classic methodology, it can be applied in Agile, too.

In BigPicture, project managers get to use Gantt charts as a roadmap with a complete set of information: start and end dates, time estimates, tasks, Sprints, Program Increments, and dependencies between tasks. More information in a structured manner means better control.

All in all, using BigPicture to create the scope of a project makes it easier to provide the team with the full picture of what the project entails. Managing the scope is also more streamlined since you have access to tasks, teams, and resources in one place.

The project’s deadline is unrealistic.

When planning a project in BigPicture, the tool creates the Critical Path automatically. That way, you can see what set of tasks is needed to complete the project in a given timeframe. This solution makes it easier to estimate the workload and create dependencies and see if the project is doable with the current team, timeline, and resources.

That way, you have a set of information about the possibility of completing the project before it starts. Additionally, you are aware of the tasks that are critical to the success of the project and can manage the workload accordingly.

Furthermore, the software tracks the time of tasks, projects, epics, and entire portfolios and juxtaposes them with estimates. It means you get to see whether each part of your portfolio is on time or which ones are on the verge of delay. The complete outlook regarding the schedule helps you spot weak points and make the right decisions to improve problem areas. With the in-depth knowledge of the time progression of your project, you can act before it’s too late.

The budget is not enough to complete the project.

As the project progresses, you have more and more information about the remaining budget. In BigPicture, you can add estimates first, and update the actual costs as they appear. The comparison between the estimated and real costs will be a solid indicator of your spending, giving you actionable data about the financial aspect of the project. On top of that, it helps you make better decisions regarding budget allocation.

After all, when you see that the actual spending vastly outperforms your projections, it’s a clear signal that the budget for this project is insufficient or that it is being mismanaged. With our tool, you can stay on top of the issue and see which project generates the highest costs, and what are the differences between projections and reality in a project or even a single task.

The team doesn’t have enough people to complete the project.

No tool will add extra people for you, but good software will show you that a project is understaffed. How does BigPicture do it? By presenting the capacity of current members and comparing it with project estimates. The software will issue a warning when the estimate exceeds available resources. It means that you will know that the team needs more people right away.

Watch the video and learn more about capacity planning in BigPicture:

The software provides you with the full view of your teams: the list of members, their skills, workload, and availability. Based on that information, it’s easier to assign team members to projects where they get to use their skill set and make sure you’re not overloading them.

Whether you work in Classic, Hybrid, or Agile teams, the tool will be an invaluable asset in determining the right number of members for all of your projects.

As you can see, with BigPicture, you will be able to plan and manage projects much better by tracking the stages of each project as they occur, comprehensively breaking down the team’s work, estimating and verifying actual capacities, and keeping an eye on expenditure to ensure the project is within budget.

With proper preparation and a tool like this, you should have no problem avoiding the Death March. Try it out for 30 days for free and supercharge your project management experience.