The Problems with Overachievers on Agile Teams

Using an amusing medieval tale with a modern twist, Andrew Fuqua and Charles Suscheck tackle the dilemma of dealing with problematic overachievers in your agile team.

One upon a time, in a corporate castle far, far away, a young serf named Tommy inherited the responsibility of working on the ancient microcode. As fate would have it, Tommy also inherited the related production problems, in particular a nasty memory corruption issue. Poor Tommy didn’t know how to use the remote command-line debugger and, being the new owner of the code, he didn’t know how to approach the troubleshooting. Tommy besought the senior developer, Sir Harry, for help. Sir Harry was known for his ability to slay the biggest bugs in the kingdom.

However, Sir Harry secretly felt insecure about his own ability and uncomfortable with Tommy’s looking over his shoulder, so he was not patient with his new apprentice. To protect his reputation as hero of the kingdom, Harry banished Tommy to a cube-shaped hut as he toiled into the night. Harry had taken over.

By daybreak, Harry had triumphed over the evil bug. He bragged about his heroic effort throughout the kingdom. The manager minstrels emailed him songs of heartfelt thanks, and sent copies to everyone including the King and his court. Harry was given a medal, which he proudly displayed next to his others.

Do you know anybody like Sir Harry, the knight who single-handedly solves problems, pushing serfs aside, bragging about the number of hours he spends at the office, and garnering much cheering from management? He is the classic overachiever—a hero who exemplifies the highest levels of productivity while teammates fall by the wayside. His commitment may seem admirable, but numerous studies [1, 2] point to a negative correlation between this type of behavior and whole-team effectiveness. As a leader, if you don’t change an overachiever’s behavior, you run a high risk of being held hostage by his abilities and paying a cost in team productivity.

What Is an Overachiever?
An achiever is an eager, involved team member who buys into the project and is willing to go the extra mile by lending a hand or working extra hours. The agile achiever focuses on teamwork and collaboration.


User Comments

1 comment
Dave Maschek's picture

The key to this article was that the overachiever "secretly felt insecure". The authors make a good case how overachievers can subvert an Agile team by trying to do everything and thus not allowing others to function as full team members. However, I have seen insecure underachievers cause trouble on a team also. The corporate world has insecure people who can subvert a team by not sharing information, playing safe by always painting a rosy picture, putting up unnecessary roadblocks, giving outdated advice, stubbornly acting against Agile principles, insisting they are always right and so on.  

August 14, 2014 - 12:25pm

About the author

Charles Suscheck's picture Charles Suscheck

Dr. Charles Suscheck is a nationally recognized agile leader who specializes in agile software development adoption at the enterprise level. He is one of only 11 trainers worldwide and 3 in the US certified to teach the entire cirriculum.  With over 25 years of professional experience, Dr. Suscheck has held positions of Process Architect, Director of Research, Principle Consultant, Professor, and Professional Trainer at some of the most recognized companies in America. He has spoken at national and international conferences such as Agile 200X, OOPSLA, and ECOOP on topics related to agile project management and is a frequent author in industry and academia. Dr. Suscheck has over 30 publications to his credit.

About the author

Andrew Fuqua's picture Andrew Fuqua

Andrew Fuqua is an agile coach with more than twenty-five years of experience programming, managing, and coaching. Much of his experience is with commercial software development at various independent software vendors, though he's had increasing experience with IT organizations for the the last seven years. Andrew has been using agile methods since 1999, including five years pair-programming in a test-driven environment.

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