One of the benefits of agile way of working, and what makes it fundamentally so – well – agile, is eliminating task switching and multi-tasking.
You have probably noticed yourself that when you are working in a deeply focused mode, and get interrupted, it will take a while to return to that concentrated state. The quality and quantity of what can be achieved when in deep concentration is normally far superior to what can be achieved in short, interrupted bursts.
Yet how does our normal project working life actually look like? Most experts are involved in several projects at the same time, contribute to several teams, own a number of processes and solutions and have their line organization responsibilities to take care of in addition to projects. Multi-tasking and task-switching are the norm rather than the exception.
This is such a nuisance that I have actually developed a preference for complex and business critical projects, because then I can convincingly require that all minor projects are suspended to guarantee the safe delivery of the major project.
Limiting the amount of work in progress is one of the main ways agile methodologies avoid multi-tasking. There can only be a limited number of products in progress at any given time. This may not be immediately intuitive – would it not make sense to start as many products as possible and work on them a little at a time? Not quite. The value comes only from the finished products. It is more valuable to have a small number of finished products rather than a large number of unfinished ones. And if there is a large number of products in progress, value is lost in time it takes for people to focus on a new task.
In addition, agile way of working in itself assumes that you are physically present with your team, and focused on a specific project. Physical proximity and fast and clear communication makes it easy to complete even complex products in a relatively short time. This is not always the reality in practice, even in projects that are explicitly agile, but it is the target state.
There are many practical lessons that could be drawn from this, also in formally non-agile environments. Prioritization and focus can be applied in any environment.
What do you think? Are you able to control the amount of multi-tasking and task-switching in your work?