Of Hero Coders

As teams grow and become larger, it is common to see a few hero coders take position. They emerge from the darkness (usually, since most critical issues seem to happen after business hours), and sweep in with their magic to make everything go back to the way it was.

When you’re being bombarded by monitoring alerts and client tickets, these heroes might seem like a godsend. Otherwise your team might have spent hours trying to get to the root cause and fix it.

Yet, as you may have understood, this is an unhealthy relationship. While they may actually love the action, adrenaline hit and saving everyone, this will be hurting your team in the long term. They might be the heroes your team currently needs, but the team definitely deserves better.

Contingency vs. Prevention

My mentor, Alan Weiss, always urges the importance of judging problems and the possible solutions through a prism of options. In our case, this is a matter of having contingency plans as opposed to preventative solutions.

Yes, your heroes are nice for contingency. That is, coming in and saving the day once the issue is already taking place. But maybe (in the voice of the comedian-who-must-not-be-named), maybe we can try and not get into that jam in the first place?

Preventive measures can be better here, just as you’d rather the fire marshal inspecting your house to find a potential issue instead of counting on the fire fighters to come by once the actual fire has sparked. What’s causing the team to need to be rescued too often?

Working with clients, it’s common to see a team that is letting a quality issue slip because of their enabling heroes. Or it might be because of taxing deadlines that mean people are in a rush to claim tasks as done, even when they aren’t fully baked. Teams with frequent crises are usually unbalanced and lacking in one of the Expertise or Slack elements of my SEA metrics (Slack, Expertise, and Autonomy).

When coming across these issues, it’s important to make sure that your team isn’t working too hard for too long, as they end up simply working hard as opposed to working smart. And it’s also critical to leverage the hero’s capabilities to get everyone on the same level, instead of relying on said hero to always be there.