When somebody's time is completely taken up by dealing with "fires" (problems) with no time left for preventing future fires.
Once this mode is entered it is hard to get out of, as new, unprevented fires replace the current fires.
Just the opposite of real fire fighters (the folks on the big trucks with sirens) who are not busy all the time, under normal circumstances. They have time to TrainHardFightEasy
See Also: DeathMarch
In software, the process of applying manpower when the system is aflame.
The prototype of a FireFighting
situation is when a consultant is hired to fix a system that is clearly in a DeathSpiral
Ask your boss if you can A> put out the fire, or B> write an AcceptanceTest
that detects this fire, then store it with the project source code and order everyone to run it over and over again.
Go ahead. You ask her or him. I'll wait. -- PCP
Office Firefighters are often glorified in the work place, whereas the person who gets things done in advance, on schedule and seemingly without effort isn't working hard enough. What is an Office Firefighter? It's an office worker who is always working on urgent issues and rarely getting ahead of his work load. Often, you can get stuck in the firefighting routine. This can be glorifying in the short term, but is negative in the long term. For instance, you might look like a hero when you extinguish that urgent issue, but the behavior will likely lead to the demise of your organization. How to break the habit? SevenHabitsOfHighlyEffectivePeople. FirstThingsFirst.
Sometimes we have no choice but operate in FireFighting
mode, but I think we agree that doing it full-time is dangerous both for employer and employer (worse for the self-employed?). An ex-boss tells of a job he had where people would queue at his desk for jobs to be done. His solution was to reserve an hour a day - by staying late and ignoring the immediate problem during that time, IIRC - to work on long term solutions. After a while, he could safely reserve two hours a day without overtime, and still keep the fires under control.
Relevant stuff rescued from a deleted page,
In Quebec a few years ago, a volunteer fireman was lighting up fires in a small town and he'd come with the truck to put them out! Why? This gave him a chance to feel needed, to show his heroism, to be a respected member of the community and to do what he liked best: put out fires. TheFiremanBurnsTheHouse, what a metaphor! Creating a problem just to be able to have something to do; just to be able to show something to the world.
This is probably related to the condition Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy
, where a parent/caregiver will injure/harm a child in order to get attention for themselves. A similar problem can exist in software development shops that favor "heroic" programming efforts - the rush from being the hero makes it more likely that the better path of doing it right the first time will be ignored for the procrastination and heady last-minute overnighters that get recognition and rewards.
See also: ImTooBusyTodayIsaSmell CatJuggling