Fighting fires doesn’t prevent the fire
I’ve written about this before in some form or another, I’m sure. But why is it that fire fighting is so attractive in relation to our work lives? Oh yeah, it’s that hero mentality…
Everyone likes to feel like they’re important and when we can fix a big problem that victorious feeling almost certainly releases some drug-like chemical in our brains that makes us feel good. Sure, we should feel good when we fix a problem, but should we feel special?
What I often see around these types of situations are teams that are put in place only to fix problems, but where’s the accountability in that? I’m talking about the production support teams who fix the defects so the other team can continue building new code and making them. Sure, it sounds harsh but it’s not a new thing that if you don’t have to support the code you wrote there will likely be more defects. I’ve seen it; hell I’ve done it.
So what about that prod support team or even the team who does support its own code? That rush of feeling important is a powerful thing. Why don’t some of us turn off our email when we’re on vacation? In a classroom? In the bathroom? Because we have FOMO (fear of missing out). And if we really go deep into psychology, there’s more.
We need the validation that we’re needed at work (it’s where we spend most of our lives). And if teams are not seen as working frantically (on a problem) then we perceive them as not being as valuable or hard-working. I’m not saying that we’re doing this to sabotage — at least I hope not. But when the fire fighting work gets in the way of us doing anything else than being tied to our work phones as a sense of validation, importance, and escape from other things then it’s a big problem. Because guess what? There will always be another fire; likely the smoldering remains from the last one — until there’s not. Why don’t we stop focusing on fighting them and instead work on fire prevention
Will the world or the application stop if you don’t fix it? Likely not. And if yes, well that application has more problems than you can fix in the time you take to put the band-aid on. But it’s for a VP you say…well I hope that VP is looking at the long-term vision and consequences of the way the application is performing and is trying to figure out WHY. Not to point a finger of blame at anyone in particular — really what we need to be looking at here is the cultural values. Does that VP work as hard on these things as you do — likely and that’s who you’re trying to emulate.
“I worked <way over 40> hours last week.” like it’s a badge of honor. Reminds me of college when we bragged how much we drank the night before in our hungover morning after states. Neither is something to brag about, in fact we should probably be ashamed about both (especially the latter).
It’s a sad HBR article here that someone sent me and it discusses the above in some similarity and psychology. But we have a duty of care to ourselves and our organizations to work smarter, shorter, and more confidently – at a sustainable pace. Let’s do it, together.
agile corporate defect failure fire prevention fire-fighting leadership productivity sustainability teamwork
This same mentality is for those that push themselves to come to work with the flu or a cold. Despite every effort an individual makes to “keep their germs to themselves”, and to not spread them with handwashing and other practices, studies show that just breathing the same air in the vicinity is harmful to others. Not performing at your best, delaying recovery by not getting enough rest, infecting others . . . are all reasons for one to stay home when sick. Our HR department gives us sick days . . . USE THEM.
Couldn’t agree more, John! Thanks for the comment!
Love it! It brings to mind the quote “organizations that reward fire-fighters, breed arsonists.”
I love that quote!