Task Switching Costs

by | February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day 2012!  Scott Ambler (@scottwambler) tweeted about task switching costs and resource management.  Here are Scott’s tweets:

Many “resource managers” will assign someone to several teams to ensure they are fully utilitized. 1/2

When people are assigned to multiple teams it’s difficult to determine if they’re actually putting their time in. 2/2

When people are assigned to multiple teams they lose cycles to task switching. More teams leads to more overhead.

I replied to Scott with the following tweets:

@scottwambler: When people are assigned to multiple teams they lose cycles to task switching. More teams leads to more overhead.”  True

@scottwambler switching costs were so high when I took over my team btwn ops and projects. We created an ops role to separate the work +1

The concept of switching costs has come up many times over the years and Scott’s tweets prompted me to post about our Duty Analyst role.   I took an approach with my development team to separate operational duties from project work.  The role we created is called the Duty Analyst.  The approach is to stop mixing operational work with project work to avoid the switching costs that cause many of our projects to be delayed.    I wrote about the Duty Analyst role here.

It has been four years since we implemented the Duty Analyst role (Jan 2008) and we continue to benefit from the elimination of switching costs between operational and project work.  The benefits of this approach which I described in Sept 2009 continue to serve us well today.

  • a clear focus on ensuring that dedicated resources focus on operational work to meet our core service commitments
  • more resources to be put on project work without interruptions caused by the phone ringing or emails with operational issues – projects get done!
  • development of group estimation skills and clear understanding of who is working on what (gets away from the “I am working hard but they aren’t”)
  • creates crosstraining opportunities resulting in  multi-skilled support team

Thanks for reminding me about this Scott.

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