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Heroes are Expensive: Extinguishing the Firefighting Culture

Presentation on hero Syndrome for Scrum Gathering Canada March 26, 2018. How it starts, its impact, what we can do about it.

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HEROES ARE
EXPEN$IVE
Sue Johnston
It’s Understood Communication
March 26-27, 2018
Extinguishing the
Firefighting Culture
PLEASE NOTE
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
live session.
• 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
June 7-8
Ontario Science Centre
Who is Sue?
Yup, I was like Fulsom, in some of these workplaces.
We don’t
need
another
hero!
• Characteristics of hero
• Causes of heroics
• Impact of heroics
• What to do about it
What we’ll talk about
But
first
Firepoles and Ladders
GAME RULES
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
5 minutes

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Heroes are Expensive: Extinguishing the Firefighting Culture

  • 1. HEROES ARE EXPEN$IVE Sue Johnston It’s Understood Communication March 26-27, 2018 Extinguishing the Firefighting Culture
  • 2. PLEASE NOTE 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 live session. • But if you find them useful, I’m happy.
  • 3. • Coach Skills for the Agile Workplace • Facilitation Skills for the Agile Workplace • Agile Fundamentals • (Soon) Product Ownership Coach Author Trainer Host June 7-8 Ontario Science Centre Who is Sue? Yup, I was like Fulsom, in some of these workplaces.
  • 5. • Characteristics of hero • Causes of heroics • Impact of heroics • What to do about it What we’ll talk about But first
  • 6. Firepoles and Ladders GAME RULES 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 5 minutes
  • 7. 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 fix this.” Derives self-worth from fixing things.
  • 8. 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 around here.”
  • 9. Causes of heroics Situation requires it Systemic issues Skill mismatch on team Organizational culture
  • 10. More causes of heroics Individual personality - “Chaos monkeys” - “Rescuer” personality - Fear of losing status - Fear of losing job - Adrenaline “junkies”
  • 11. 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.
  • 12. 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.
  • 13. What can we do about it? Classify working extra hours as a “worst practice.” Reward teams for working standard hours. Stop rewarding heroics with attention, praise, money. Reward real success. Manage expectations – client, sponsor, user. Break the dependency chain. (Time off.)
  • 14. 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 actions. Keep an eye out for “information hoarders.” Monitor risk on an ongoing basis.
  • 15. 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.
  • 16. Create a different sort of heroism Make heroism a team sport. Stress teamwork over individual problem solving efforts. Promote the heroic effects of a dedicated team with the support they need. Develop “healthy heroics:” - explore - be curious - take initiative - understand risk Heroism is a counterbalance for error – eliminate errors.
  • 17. “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
  • 18. 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: - Courage - Focus - Commitment - Respect - Openness Pair. Mob. Promote and live the Agile values. Mentor.