Heroes are Expensive: Extinguishing the Firefighting Culture
It’s Understood Communication
March 26-27, 2018
SLIDES ≠ PRESENTATION
• These slides are designed to be viewed in conjunction
with a human being talking and interacting with you.
• They will make little sense to you if you were not at the
• But if you find them useful, I’m happy.
• Coach Skills for the Agile Workplace
• Facilitation Skills for the Agile Workplace
• Agile Fundamentals
• (Soon) Product Ownership
Coach Author Trainer Host
Ontario Science Centre
Who is Sue?
Yup, I was like Fulsom, in some of these workplaces.
• Characteristics of hero
• Causes of heroics
• Impact of heroics
• What to do about it
What we’ll talk about
Firepoles and Ladders
Teams of four
One die each
Move what you roll
Land on a firepole - Slide down
Land on a ladder - Climb up
Goal – Deliver water to douse flames
Characteristics of the hero
Often create a desperate situation
so they can resolve it.
May intervene without getting
the whole story.
Creates impression “I alone can
Derives self-worth from fixing things.
More characteristics of the hero
May start interpersonal conflicts
to be seen as peacemaker.
Becomes “the expert” on a topic but
doesn’t share information.
May feel like a martyr. “I do all the work
Causes of heroics
Situation requires it
Skill mismatch on team
More causes of heroics
- “Chaos monkeys”
- “Rescuer” personality
- Fear of losing status
- Fear of losing job
- Adrenaline “junkies”
Impact of heroics
If “hero” is the leader, they create a state of dependency.
Rushing to solution, hero may solve the wrong problem.
Code becomes “write only.” Harm to product – and to customers
Unscheduled work hours become normalized.
Proactive effort is seen as a liability – not fighting today’s fire.
More impact of heroics
People copy heroes; it becomes entrenched in the culture.
Teams become demotivated. They’re not learning.
People leave – even the heroes.
We lose visibility into problems.
Too busy mopping up to fix the leak.
What can we do about it?
Classify working extra hours as a “worst
Reward teams for working standard
Stop rewarding heroics with attention,
Reward real success.
Manage expectations – client, sponsor, user.
Break the dependency chain. (Time off.)
More what can we do about it?
Continuously clarify roles.
Talk about the impact of firefighting
behaviour on the team.
Build relationships to get needs
met in healthy ways.
Be consistent between words and
Keep an eye out for “information
Monitor risk on an ongoing basis.
Even more what can we do about it?
Focus on design, architecture, planning,
testing – disciplined practices.
Use meaningful metrics –
reliability, quality, capacity, flow.
Find out what is broken in the system
that inspires the heroics.
Realistic estimation – don’t plan
backwards from a deadline.
Build slack into the schedule – or you can’t work.
Create a different sort of heroism
Make heroism a team sport. Stress teamwork over individual problem
Promote the heroic effects of a dedicated team with the support they need.
Develop “healthy heroics:”
- be curious
- take initiative
- understand risk
Heroism is a counterbalance for error –
“Six months in anticipation seems much
longer than it does in retrospective.”
- Robin Korthals, former TD Bank President
“One of the most important
responsibilities of an executive
champion is to receive bad news well.”
- Robert Reid, ED, All Humanity Holdings
More ways to create a different sort of heroism
“Mutual learning over unilateral control.”
- Roget Schwarz, Author, Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams
What will YOU do about it?
It’s not helpful to say, “The hole’s not in my end of the canoe!”
Courage is a Scrum value. Speak up!
Promote ALL the Scrum Values:
Promote and live the Agile values.