19

In my company, there are a few people that are assigned to a project when the project needs to be "saved". It can be miscommunication with a customer, which needs quick resolution. It can be that we were executing on the wrong path. It can be that we need to go "back to the basics", re-think the goal and re-prioritize action items.

What do you call such a person?

I thought about "firefighter", but it's not quite the nuance I am looking for. "Firefighter" kind of implies that some damage is already done (downtime, data loss, money loss). I'm thinking rather that the project is like "we have enough time to steer away from the iceberg, if we knew how to turn this ship".

The project is pan-pan, not mayday. Another analogy from the Ground Proximity Warning Systems, the project is "GLIDESLOPE" or "SINK RATE", but not "TERRAIN".

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  • 1
    I usually don’t see a single person being added usually it’s a tiger team.
    – Jim
    Jun 29 at 16:19
  • 19
    sometime they are known as a "scapegoat" Jun 29 at 21:12
  • "Lifeline" is the first word that comes to my mind, but I'm not sure it fits the description since I feel that it implies the situation is at least somewhat critical
    – gloo
    Jun 29 at 22:46
  • 2
    We used 'firefighter' for your 'needs to be "saved"' or any other 'fire'.
    – philipxy
    Jun 29 at 23:12
  • 2
    Mr.Wolf (at least according to Quentin Tarantino) ;-) Jun 29 at 23:39

15 Answers 15

6

"Smokejumper" is the usual term, though it's a bit jargon-ey, and will make the most sense in the software domain.

Wilderness firefighting includes teams of "smokejumpers" who parachute in with equipment to get a fire under control. They are usually self-sufficient for a short time. The analogy is obvious.

I originally heard the term "flamejumper" in the early '90s, referring to bringing in high-powered experts to fix any sort of project, but since then the software field seems to have stabilized on "smokejumper", and re-pollinated everywhere else.

Unfortunately, google is so saturated with results for actual smokejumpers that the more metaphorical results are crowded out. If you use the term, it should be readily understandable though.

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  • 1
    Here's an example you can use: "I manage the quality engineering (QE) team as well as a “smokejumper” team that provides rapid response and fixes for escalations from customer issues."
    – Laurel
    Jun 29 at 21:39
  • 36
    I like the term but am skeptical that it will be readily understood. I've been in software 20+ years, and been a smokejumper for a lot of those, and never heard it. Jun 30 at 1:15
  • 10
    I've not heard it either. I'd be interested to know if it's either specific to a geographical region or a specific industry - terminology in different parts of the software industry can be very different (e.g. between fintech, games, and embedded; as well as what platform it's based on).
    – Stuart F
    Jun 30 at 9:40
  • 6
    Never heard of this one, in Europe troubleshooter would be the correct term.
    – deep64blue
    Jun 30 at 21:37
  • 2
    I've never heard this term used in software/IT. I have heard of it as it relates to firefighting :)
    – Dave Costa
    Jun 30 at 23:46
66

Troubleshooter Someone who goes in to find the problems & fix them so the project can be saved.

Merriam-Webster

3: a person skilled at solving or anticipating problems or difficulties

10 Kinds of Employee

The troubleshooter.
These are individuals whose job it is to solve problems for an organisation. They are great at strategising, have great interpersonal skills and encourage behaviours that boost workplace expertise. A must have for any company.

21

I immediately thought of fixer - they come in to fix unusual problems, often with unconventional methods.

: one that fixes: such as

a: a person who intervenes to enable someone to circumvent the law or obtain a political favor

b: a person who adjusts matters or disputes by negotiation

(From Merriam Webster)

In popular usage, there is a bit of a connotation that a fixer is used for illicit problems or uses illicit methods. But the way I think of it, that's only a very minor point. The main thing is they are brought in to help strange/unusual problems that may require strange/unconventional solutions. And that does seem exactly like what this person is all about in your organization.

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  • 3
    Fixer is what I would call it too. It has a broader meaning than “project rescuer in a business context”, which is fine. Not too jargon-y, not too pretentious, widely understood.
    – alexis
    Jul 1 at 7:51
  • 3
    I wonder whether the term "wolf" might also be introduced, although that preassumes familiarity with the movie Pulp Fiction, of course. Jul 1 at 8:28
16

In the west we often use the term "pinch hitter";

pinch hitter noun

1: a baseball player who is sent in to bat for another

2: a person who does another's work in an emergency

(From Merriam Webster)

The first definition alludes to the historical origin of the term, it's a person who is substituted into the batting order in a pinch (in this context a "pinch" means a critical point).

The term since spread outside of baseball, and is now commonly used for someone who is called upon to do emergency work when something is not going well.

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    I would say "in the US" instead of "in the west" since baseball-based idioms are (to my knowledge) North American idiosyncrasies and there are many English speaking countries for which baseball is not a common sport. (I up voted you anyways though 🇺🇲⚾️😂!) Jun 30 at 7:57
  • 2
    @PedroJuanSoto I'm Australian working for a British company and we say it ;)
    – user411433
    Jun 30 at 8:26
  • 1
    How are you going to mention baseball without closer. "a reliable relief pitcher who enters a game in the final innings, typically to preserve a slim lead." (a slim lead : on time and under budget) "Closer : A person who is skilled at bringing a business transaction to a satisfactory conclusion."
    – Mazura
    Jun 30 at 9:41
  • 4
    I am in Western Europe and have never hear this American phrase before. It’s meaning was not obvious to me!
    – k1eran
    Jun 30 at 15:37
  • @Mazura "Closer" implies the project is going well (i.e. the baseball team is winning). If the baseball team is losing (project not going well), they're not going to bring in their closer. Also, I think "closer" is more for closing a contract negotiation, not for the actual implementation of work. Jul 1 at 17:47
15

A go-to guy is a trusted individual who can be relied upon to complete a particular task. It connotes competence and reliability, but doesn't necessarily capture the aspect of saving what would otherwise become a failure. A go-to guy is someone who will get the job done. Although it isn't required that someone else is already failing at the job, the go-to guy will perform better than others who might attempt it. Depending on the context, it could fit for your intended usage.

10

What's wrong with "Firefighter"?

The project is a burning dumpster in a river of excrement and the milestone is in 2 weeks. You need a firefighter, probably an integrated team of them.

I know this terminology; after all, it is sometimes me...

For all the people who objected to my answer, my brother-in-law is a pro firefighter (I mean he drives round in a big red vehicle with a helmet on) and they do a great deal of preventive work, visiting places like airports and making a fuss about hazards and risks.

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    The OP mentions not liking firefighter. I think they're trying to differentiate between a firefighter who arrives when something is on fire, and a ??? who arrives when you see a big pile of flammable material but want to take action to prevent the shit hitting the fan. Whether there is a separate term, I'm unsure.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 30 at 9:43
3

A few additional options:

secret weapon

something or someone that no one knows about and that will give you an advantage over your competitors or enemies:

Johann was the bank robbers' secret weapon - he knew how the security system worked.

ace - miky mentioned "ace in the hole", but just "ace" alone should be sufficient and well understood

a person who is very skilled at something:

clutch

2 : successful in a crucial situation

2

They could be a reinforcement:

an addition of troops, supplies, etc., that augments the strength of an army or other military force

2

ace in the hole

A major advantage that one keeps hidden until an ideal time. The phrase originated in poker, in which an ace is the most valuable card.

(From the Free Dictionary)

0
1

Mister Fixit

Should be obvious, but, if necessary see: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/mr--fixit

1

point person

The person in the most prominent position on something, such as a spokesperson or manager .

One who goes ahead of a group in order to indicate the direction in which it should move. Hyponyms: point man, point woman.

(From Wiktionary)

0
0

The term 'silver bullet' could also be applicable. Perhaps not as commonly used to refer to a person but certainly fits the theme.

3
  • "Silver bullet" has the connotation of an easy fix: "Just do this one simple thing, and your problems will be gone." It's often used in a derogatory sense in software development projects; see Fred Brook's famous paper "No Silver Bullet".
    – cjs
    Jul 2 at 5:49
  • Well without wanting to sound mean to OP, it's pretty much what they're looking to do. Avoid doing the work by bringing in someone who'll do it for them.
    – Bytes
    Jul 3 at 10:48
  • If you didn't want to be mean to the OP you would not have made such a mean comment, especially given that it has no factual basis. The OP made no indication that this is something that he wants to do, and anyway his question was about English, not an invitation to you to judge him from apparent ignorance of both his opinions and project management in general.
    – cjs
    Jul 3 at 12:51
0

"Backup"

additional personnel who provide assistance

Merriam Webster

0

If you prefer a general figurative/idiomatic phrase that can be used for someone who rescues/saves a project and in other situations also; I suggest knight in shining armour (armor in AmE):

If you refer to someone as a knight in shining armour, you mean that they are kind and brave, and likely to rescue you from a difficult situation. Collins

Today, the phrase can be used as gender-neutral in figurative usage. I've also found written evidence in a project management book within project rescue context. In the history, women could become a "dame" which was the female equivalent of knighthood. I've also come across the phrase "dame in shining armour" but it is not and shouldn't be needed in figurative usage. Chivalry today is having the knightly virtues and can be applied to anyone.

Cambridge definition and an example provided with a "she":

someone who saves you from a difficult or dangerous situation
She has arrived like a knight in shining armour at the eleventh hour, and she should be congratulated for that.

If you want a phrase specifically used in project management, project rescuer is used.

3
  • Many answers related to generic problem solving or emergency backup were upvoted. This question is much more specific and related to "rescuing" a troubled project.
    – ermanen
    Jun 30 at 19:03
  • 3
    There's a significant connotation of gender to "knight in shining armor": it's used when it's a man rescuing a "helpless" woman (as explained in most other dictionaries). At least to me, this makes the expression problematic, especially in professional contexts.
    – Laurel
    Jun 30 at 19:59
  • @Laurel Thank you for the feedback. I've updated my answer to address it in more detail. The question came up as a phrase request and the OP was more interested in figurative usages. In my opinion, "smokejumper" is the only other answer that came close to what he is looking for the nuance (which still connotes emergency); however my answer has the strongest sense of rescuing/saving in a difficult situation (which is also closer to "firefighter" but without emergency connotation). I'm aware that bandwagon effect usually overshadows nuance interpretations.
    – ermanen
    Jul 1 at 12:11
-10

white knight:

1. a. A person (usually a man) who comes to the assistance or defence of another person, esp. one who appears unexpectedly; a defender or champion. Also in extended use.

1628 M. Mainwaring Vienna 24 He..seemed to threaten the world in her behalfe, which added this Article to Vienna's beleife, that he undoubtedly was her white Knight.

2012 Times (Nexis) 22 Feb. 29 Republicans are flirting with an equally unthinkable prospect: fielding a white knight to save them from electoral oblivion.

The phrase probably originates from folk tales in which the hero is invariably tall, handsome, and dressed in white (the colour of purity and goodness) and always wins/slays the dragon, etc.

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    Depending on the context, using this particular term might not be advisable. Among certain, younger audiences, this term has developed a negative connotation. "In internet slang, a white knight is a man who comes to the unsolicited defense of a woman online, in the hopes of romantic or sexual favor." (Dictionary.com).
    – Juhasz
    Jun 29 at 17:39
  • 18
    Very much not the correct word here. Even ignoring its extreme negative connotations in modern speech, “white knight” would never have been used with respect to a project—it’s right there in the definition, this is a defender of another person or people. Using it about a project is confusing and would require explanation, making it useless as an idiom or metaphor.
    – KRyan
    Jun 29 at 19:22
  • 9
    I don't think it fits. It's much more a defender than a cleanup artist. In finance, a White Knight is someone (or an entity) that jumps into a deal to prevent a hostile takeover. If company A wants to take over company B in a hostile takeover, a white knight, friendly to company A might step in and try to buy A instead. Again, a defender
    – Flydog57
    Jun 29 at 20:59
  • 8
    This is a terrible term. It would never be used in this context. More common terms are troubleshooter or (to be more euphemistic) a specialist. Most projects go awry for “human reasons”, and addressing these requires tact. Jun 30 at 1:45
  • Hans Gruber didn't get it either. Then he shot that guy in the head. +1
    – Mazura
    Jun 30 at 4:50

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