Team Killer: Heroics

Heroic efforts sound like a good idea, but today’s teams more than ever are subject to self destruction due to the short life of the team hero.

Heros Defined

In a classic war movie, the hero is the determined guy that charges the hill, throws the grenade, saves his squad–as he is cut down by machine gun fire.  The heroic effort is best described as one member of the team performing supremely noble or self-sacrificing service. Great military leaders don’t go for blind heroics–they run out of guys to take the next hill!

On planet IT, that hero mentality is the guy that stays up all night parsing through data or code or generating product. The following day he limps along at ten percent–maybe pulls an all-nighter again for another problem. Staffing to vertical silos, as a result of fake-lean, water-scrum, or just poor staffing, the development culture leads to a whole team performing heroics regularly.

Heroics Unseen

Blinders go along with management positions (call it noise), did you ever notice that? The same guy who staffs down on those pesky, overpriced IT people is the one who sees a month of heroic activity, sacrifice of personal time, imbalance, you name it. Guess what the new average expectation is. Assuming you staffed up good people, they get burned out. Count on deteriorated quality in the following month. In the current state of affairs, another month down the road, a half-awake recruiter only has to log in to LinkedIn and answer Dice emails to steal your resource pillars away.

Heads up! Budget not the loss and gain of a salaried employee. Rather factor in down time, loss of tribal knowledge, loss of training time and dollars, loss of revenue, loss of reputation. Scheduled reserve evaporates fast and you manage a defensive battle for your projects.

Ways to Manage Boldly (To Reduce the Need for Heroics!)

Schedule realistically and monitor time.  If hours go high, step in.  Measure the need, divert the overage where possible to less utilized resources, or reprioritize work to better utilize the team. Ask questions and be creative. Get your people breathing space through comp time, jeans day, or something.

Harold Kernzer points out in his latest book, Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling, that it is key to provide team members with a sense of job satisfaction.  That sounds great until you try to push that button in MS Project. Bringing the team in during the WBS process is a way to build a rapport as well as a driving sense of ownership.

It stands to reason that if a team member has ownership they have an investment to see a project completed.


  • declining job satisfaction = accelerating turnover
  • say no to heroics
  • budget for enough people to staff at the real, right level
  • schedule time for all the real work to get done–not just the task you tracked but the distractions, meetings, questions, sick-time
  • monitor your individual contributors’ work-life balance, interfere

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