A couple of things happened recently that made me think of things I probably would not normally think of. 

I know a fellow who works for a company that has one or two (depending on needs) “major” releases each year.  They also generate and distribute monthly maintenance releases to address defects, bundle hot-fixes neatly into a package and all the other good things that come from such things. 

A recent release had some “issues.”  Lots of issues.  After working for 12 “work” days and a Saturday and Sunday thrown in as well, this fellow’s boss made a comment that he had “saved them again” and was a “hero.” 

When thinking about this, I got to thinking about Selena Delesie’s blog posts on “hero culture.”

When teams pull together and work to overcome obstacles, amazing things can be achieved.  Sometimes, the issues encountered require extra effort and creative thinking and good, if not great, communication between testers and developers to find solutions.  This is a fantastic thing and is, I believe, the point of being a “hero” in our profession. 

The part that makes me think, if not wonder, about this is when this becomes the rule, rather than the exception.  When the same team that pulled together and found solutions and worked toward delivering the best product that can be delivered is expected to work long hours regularly, to repeat the same “pull out all stops” effort for every project, big or small, there is a danger. 

That danger is that the edge, the creative thinking, the “Hey, what if…” factor gets worn down. 

Now, I know there are a lot of potential reasons for this to happen.  Some may be within the team itself.  There may be factors at work where individuals like the drama, the “rush” of the massive push at the end. 

There may also be issues around the development methodology or practices.  If the only testing done in unit testing is validating the “happy path” then likelihood that builds will come fast and furious, depending on how quickly the detected defects are addressed. 

Another possibility is that someone, possibly in the test group or outside the test group but involved in the projects, likes the chaos – the frantic push is something they thrive on. 

Whatever the cause, when every project turns into a heroic stand worthy of an action movie, something is seriously wrong.  When testers, or anyone else, are expected to perform super-human, or heroic, feats every project, the edge will be blunted.  The probability of significant defects being missed increases with each cycle.  Eventually, people will be working less effectively no matter how many hours, or how “hard” they are working. 

In some shops, the option to simply say “No, I won’t do this” may be a legitimate one.  In shops where contractual requirements don’t allow such a response, I don’t have a solution.  Now, I am aware of the need to keep regular releases going, I’m just not sure of a solution that works everywhere.

What I do know is that the bosses, the leaders at your shop need to make sure they don’t need their people to be heroes each and every release.  Horatius held the bridge, but he had help.  The lone cowboy was a myth, just like superman.