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Is Unwarranted Overtime Theft?

After reading Tim Ottinger's excellent article on the meaning of "sustainable pace", I couldn't help but pose a question on Twitter. 140 characters just isn't enough to clarify this question, and so we move to the blog to fill in the details.

Let's assume that we have a customer (likely a proxy) who wants a development team to work overtime to complete a task. Let's further assume that this is really a task, that is, a day or two of work, to be done on a weekend or during a couple of really late nights. He thinks that this task requires an additional level of effort, and that working late is worth the sacrifice (to both morale and the later productivity of the team). To clarify, the customer isn't providing the budget for this project and he isn't any more of a stakeholder than the developers.

Let's also assume that we have a development team that has a decent understanding of the business concerns of the project. Their opinion is that this task is no more urgent or particularly valuable than anything else they've been asked to do. To use the terms from Tim's article, they don't think it's necessary to come to the rescue in this case.

My question is this: If the customer proxy forces strongly suggests that the development team work overtime to complete the task, even though the developers think overtime is unwarranted for this task, is that unethical?

On the one hand, the customer is likely benefiting from the delivery of additional features, and the morale of the team may be damaged. If this is 'the last straw' for a key developer that can easily find work elsewhere, the customer may have cost the company dearly to benefit himself. Even if the customer truly believes that the sacrifice is worth the benefit, is he caught in a conflict of interest?

On the other hand, what if the customer is right? A good development team understand the needs of the business, but you would think that the customer would have a better understanding. Disagreements happen. Our goal is always better communication and understanding, but there's little point in having an 8 hour meeting to avoid 12 hours of overtime.

What say you, Internets?


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