Context Switching – Myth or Fact?

There is a huge debate if resources on your team are able to work on projects simultaneous or what many call context switching. Jim Benson’s blog “Context Switching: Why Limit Your WIP IV” discusses this topic and provides a simple but useful exercise. This is not a new exercise so you may have seen it before. If not, take a minute and try it. Trust me…try it…

[Exercise break…]

It is interesting to see how much more efficient you are when you do not have to switch columns. More than likely, ‘X times’ as fast. So this leads me to the real world…Here at eimagine we do have team members who work on multiple projects. And if you look at the chart below, one can understand that if you are working on two (2) projects simultaneously, your maximum productivity per project is 40% (Total productivity of 80%) with a loss of 20% due to context switching. Wow, talk about eye opening…

Context Switching Graph

This seems extreme but if you think about that simple exercise…you start to understand the truth behind it. The easy answer is do NOT let anyone context switch so that very little productivity is lost. Once again, back in the real world…some projects have lulls, priorities change, etc. so even if you wanted to…some context switching will take place.

I think the better question is: How do you handle context switching? Here at eimagine, we understand context switching will rear its ugly head. Our Project Management Office (PMO) tries its best to only context switch when a team member cannot move any further with his/her current project. In other words, we have exhausted all other avenues to remedy the issue(s) at hand, and we cannot remove the current roadblocks.

This sounds easy and quite simple, but it takes a dedicated resource (PM, ScrumMaster, Agile leader, manager, etc.) to accomplish this feat. He/She must be proactive and start by clearing all obstacles to prevent any unnecessary context switching. At eimagine, we utilize Scrum so our daily standup meetings help our team identify any new obstacles or provide updates on existing ones. Team members tend to like these short morning meetings where they can focus on tasks at hand. And if a roadblock is looming, we face it ‘head on’ and try to eliminate it or mitigate it immediately.

If you are part of team with multiple projects, initiatives, etc., please be aware of context switching and how it affects productivity. Limit it when possible. Otherwise, manage it so context switching is your last resort. 

If you need help with your projects, context switching, agile, or scrum, please contact us here at eimagine. We have a dedicated PMO to assist you in all of these areas.

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