Firefighting no more

There comes a point in a software project where the developers swap their keyboards for hoses, their chairs for fire engines, and their scruffy shirts for full-on protective gear and a nice shiny yellow helmet. Yes, it’s time to go firefighting.


It doesn’t always happen, but I bet pretty much every programmer has experienced it. Usually, it’s just before the first big release of something. Your product’s been specced out and dev tested, incrementally developed, and the product owner is delighted. Then, a week before it goes live, someone notices something nasty. They look in more detail – it doesn’t meet the requirements. They notice some bugs, and a security flaw nobody’d thought of.

Back to the team, interrupt the current sprint. Each bug is urgent, some are really complicated. People start talking in low, urgent voices. The fix to the first problem has raised some others – functionality needs altering. The team probably switches to Kanban for a few days, or a few weeks, or a month. Each one coming in is triaged, assessed, and
jumped upon.

This is firefighting – not developing, just stopping it all falling apart. Any fix will do if it works (the smarter teams will at least log Technical Debt tasks, I hope) but we have to get this out the door, so man the hoses and get firefighting.

Not cool

Sexy firefighters

So, what’s the problem? It’s that this type of work is not good. We joke that for every fire we put out, we make two more – dark humour, because it’s actually true. We’re making technical debt. We know very well that this situation was avoidable (exercise for the reader: ten ways to avoid firefighting).

Real life firefighting, however, is brilliant. It’s done by brave women and men who put their lives on the line, usually because of someone else’s problem. Firefighters are cool. They’re fit, and sexy. We all want to be firefighters.

But we’re not firefighters. What we’re doing isn’t saving kittens from car wrecks or toddlers from house fires. We’re doing something monotonous, pointless, wasteful, avoidable, and ultimately, if we don’t get out of it soon, futile.


From now on, the term “firefighting” is banned. What we are doing is *mole-whacking*.


Whack those moles all you like, there will be more. And nobody will be impressed.

Yeah! This is fun!


About north5

Software developer, larper, father.
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One Response to Firefighting no more

  1. After the past few weeks, this feels particularly relevant.

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