The Silent Project Killer

Johanna Rothman works with companies to improve how they manage their product development--to maximize management and technical staff productivity and to improve product quality. She is the author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects and the Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It: Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management. She is the author of the forthcoming Agile and Lean Program Management: Collaborating Across the Organization. See her blogs and more of her writing at jrothman.com.

Agile projects, especially if you are starting your agile transition, can have plenty of problems. Some are technical debt problems, such as the build taking too long or having insufficient automated tests to know if your changes are helping or hurting the system. But there’s another insidious management problem when many teams transition to agile: when the project team is supposed to work on more than one project at a time.

Sometimes, the team perceives this problem and solves it during their retrospectives. But if the team members have been accustomed to multitasking for years, they may not even realize this is a problem. Or if the team realizes that they’re multitasking, they may not know how to solve the problem. That’s when a few observations or measurements may just be what your team needs.

The Silent Project Killer
If you have people multitasking in a non-agile project, you might not know until the end of the project (or until some interim milestone) that the team members have not spent enough time on your project for far too long. But on an agile project, you can tell inside of one iteration. Multitasking slows everything down and makes people forget where they were. When developers and testers multitask, they create problems or lose track of where to look for problems.

So why do managers insist on asking people to multitask? There are…

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