Firefighting Addiction

For those who firefight recurring performance problems, there is tremendous satisfaction in their heroic efforts. There is an adrenalin rush and a freedom of action that stands in stark contrast to the boring calm of an ordinary day. They have to act quickly and decisively without the usual 500 meetings it takes to decide anything. It’s fun, addictive and sadly I have seen many examples of key staff members who have become so addicted to the rush that they do this all the time. It seems like hardly a day, or a peak, can go by without their personal intervention.

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However, I’ve noticed something about this firefighting; when I examine their efforts, in most cases, they are really not having that much of an impact on measures like throughput or response time. One person I worked with sat at his desk for the first half hour of market open and, with the dexterity of a master organist, adjusted the priorities of processes. He thought it made a big difference; so did everyone else. He was a big wheel at that company, but in this case, he was completely wasting his time.

If someone at your shop has a bad case of firefighting addiction, it is tough to wean them away from it because you (with proper performance analysis and capacity planning) are taking away one of their most “valuable” contributions to the organization. Expect resistance.

Please do not get me wrong, I love those people who have what it takes to come up with just the right fix at a critical moment and have the courage to save the day. Those moments should be rare. If those moments happen daily, then what is really needed is some serious performance work to get at the root of the problem.

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