Sunday, February 23, 2014

Blocked by multitasking

Blocked by multitasking!

Teams who struggle with delivering software seem to share one common characteristic that has turned out to be a recurring theme in my consulting work - the tendency to multitask.

As I mentioned earlier it is very easy for a team to be busy all the time – even so much that they might be on the verge of a breakdown – while a lot of the work products go stale because they sit around idling for extended periods of time.

Chris Matts and Olav Maassen do a wonderful job of debunking the myth of «effective multitasking» in their graphic Novel Commitment. When they talk about hidden queues they explicitly mention that multitasking is just that - a queue of things unfinished. In fact, at least from my experience, the queues created by multitasking with the best of intentions (I can't finish task A so I'll just start on task B until I can work on task A again so that I don't have to idle an burn precious development time) are much worse than defined queues in the process because they tend to be barely visible. On one hand these concealed queues hide the fact that Task A is blocked. On the other hand the have to be managed in the back of the head which adds to the cognitive burden of the person working on the task(s). This more often than not this leads to “I can't finish task L so I'll just start to work on task M... oh, wait task D seems to be workable ... hmm but so is task H ... ”.

So, if you want to do yourself and you colleagues a favor, please apply the hackneyed but true optimization rule to multitasking: "Don't do it" ... or switch to the advanced Version of that rule "Don't do it – yet".

Make blockers – which would drive you to multitask – explicit and squelch them as soon as possible. And visualize any kind of queue you start to create, so that you and others can manage it.

'til the next time

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