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Gil Zilberfeld has been in software since childhood, writing BASIC programs on his trusty Sinclair ZX81. With more than twenty years of developing commercial software, he has vast experience in software methodology and practices. Gil is an agile consultant, applying agile principles over the last decade. From automated testing to exploratory testing, design practices to team collaboration, scrum to kanban, and lean startup methods – he’s done it all. He is still learning from his successes and failures. Gil speaks frequently in international conferences about unit testing, TDD, agile practices and communication. He is the author of "Everyday Unit Testing", blogs at and in his spare time he shoots zombies, for fun. Gil is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 76 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Superman vs. Batman: The Agile Version

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I used to be Superman.

I could do anything I wanted, and no one would tell me I was wrong. For good reason: I usually wasn’t wrong.

I wasn’t born Superman. I worked hard at it. I learned a lot. I was leading by example. And when I was the smartest guy around, who actually accomplished things, I became Superman.

Let me tell you, it feels great.

But Is it good for business?

We all know about the bus factor, the number of people that if hit by a bus, halts the project. Super-people tend to hold knowledge, that other people don’t have. Maybe it’s ego or competition, or maybe it’s just because others don’t want that knowledge. They feel safe that if something happens, Superman will swoop in and save the day. Sometimes, Superman is not around. Then there’s trouble.

It gets worse, though.

Superman can be wrong. And when Superman makes a mistake, it can be a crucial mistake for the organization.

If our Superman is an architect, and he makes a bad architectural decision for the entire project, it can cost millions. Or, if she’s a team lead and decides on a new process for the team, a bad process can cause the team slow down, and sometimes break up.

Holy sidekick, Batman!

None of us are mistake-proof. Even if we, or others, tell ourselves that.

Agile talks about short feedback loops. Feedback is a good start, but it’s not enough.

People get to the Superman throne because of their expertise. We tend to appreciate expertise in a knowledge-based environment. In order to discuss something with Superman, we need to get high enough to his level, or at least that he notices us and takes our advice to heart.

In short, we don’t need Superman. We need Batman and Robin.

That’s not easy, from an organizational point of view. Imagine how long it took to get one superhero, and bring him to that level. Now we need two?

This is just like any other system with a single point of failure. It’s pure risk management. If you’re aware of the risk, you can take action. Organizations that manage their risks well, not only know who their supermen are. They also put strong, smart people next to them, to encourage discussion and to counter their superpowers.

Superman may not like it, and that’s ok.

After all, you need Batman.

Published at DZone with permission of Gil Zilberfeld, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Martin Vaněk replied on Tue, 2014/09/09 - 12:26pm

So instead of using potential of superman's powers as much as you can, you are going to ditch him, because you can't control him completely and replace him with bunch of mediocres without expertise who develop slowly and with higher failure ratio. Brilliant solution.

This might be ok only when superman is total jerk and cooperation with him is impossible.

David Garcia replied on Wed, 2014/09/10 - 1:46am in response to: Martin Vaněk

The text says nothing of replacing a super guy with a bunch of mediocre others, that's actually impossible. It says that is not good for a company to have a single guy holding too much knowledge and responsibility, so you'd better put as many other potential supermen next to him as possible, so that power and knowledge is distributed. 

No one wants to ditch a super guy, he is good and you want anything he can give. But you cannot rely only and exclusively on him.

Martin Vaněk replied on Wed, 2014/09/10 - 4:55am in response to: David Garcia

I agree, there must be balance without too many compromises on either side

Gil Zilberfeld replied on Wed, 2014/09/10 - 10:41am in response to: Martin Vaněk

Martin and David,

Great comment!

I can answer from the superman side, since, well I was one.

I delivered very good results, I was the go-to guy on the new technology. Such capabilities are good to have on a team. 

On the other hand, while I wasn't being a complete jerk, I was kind of annoying. Not so to my team mates, but I was hard to manage. I remember (apparently due to trauma), that for a few weeks, I was telling my boss "I'm bored' many times. In front of others. And other managers.

That wasn't very nice of me, but I was young and enjoyed the money. The feeling of being able to solve anything messes with your ego, and because you can't fail, and feel that they can't live without you, caused in my case to increase my jerkiness.

I'm better now. But I'm sure my behavior didn't add to my likability then. 

Keep the superman, and if you can, turn him or her to Batman. It's hard, but you win twice.


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