Reduce work in progress by using an avatar

If you ask your colleagues about multitasking you may often hear that they will work on several tasks in parallel. They will also say that’s no problem because they are good in multitasking. But in fact people are not made to do things in parallel. They only split up the parallel tasks into smaller parts and do them sequentially. This will lead to an overhead because many switches between the different tasks are needed. It is more efficient and also more relaxed to do the tasks one after another. You may test these allegations by doing an easy test.

 
Test you multitasking skill

First test round:

Use a stop watch to measure the time you need for this little test. Take a piece of paper and a pencil. Now start the stop watch and write down the numbers from 1 to 26. If you have finished, write down the letters from a to z. Now stop the time measurement. How do you feel after this test? Was it an easy task or a difficult one?

 
Second test round:

Also prepare a piece of paper a pencil and a stop watch. Start the time measurement. Now write down the number and letters in combination: “1a”, “2b”, “3c” and so on. But don’t cheat and really write a number and letters alternating. If you have finished stop the needed time and compare it to the first one. Now also think whether it was an easy or difficult test.

 
As I have done this test the first round was very easy and I have done it in 30 seconds. The second round was more difficult. I really had to concentrate and also the needed time increased to 40 seconds.

 
Meaning for the daily project business

So what does this mean for your project? If you want to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your project team, you must reduce parallel work. And as a nice side effect you will become a happy team because the work will be much easier.

The first step to reduce parallel tasks is to know this parallel tasks. So you have to visualize the work of your project team. I like to use a Kanbak board in such a case. The easiest board will have three columns: To do, WIP and Done. (WIP = work in progress)

In modern software development teams you will often find such Kanban boards or Scrum boards which have one or more WIP columns. Several WIP columns should be used if your task will be float through different teams, e.g. an implementation and a test team. So each team has a WIP column on the Kanban board.

If you use such Kanban or Scrum boards in your company, I recommend you to do the following very interesting test. Go to different project teams and have a look at the Kanban board. Count the tasks you see within the WIP column. Then ask the according project leader about the team size. If you compare these numbers you will very often see that there are (much) more tasks in the WIP column than people in the project.

Or you can do another test: think about you own working tasks. How many tasks have you actually started and not finished yet. I’m sure there is more than one task.

 
One person per person

If you have created your Kanban board you may see that the WIP column contains more tasks than project members. But there is always only one person per person. So you have team members which work on different tasks in parallel. As you know this is very inefficient.

In such a case I like to do the following thing: Tell your project members they should bring their own avatar to the next project meeting. This avatar will then be used on the Kanban board and each team member attaches his avatar on the task he is currently working on. This will visualize the real actual work. So it will help you do reduce the tasks within the WIP column to the number of team members. Furthermore it is a funny thing if everyone can bring an own avatar. So it should not be a picture of each person but a small picture, logo or something else selected by each team member.

 
Summary

Even if most people don’t want to accept it, we are not mode to execute things in parallel. As soon as you start multitasking you will become inefficient. If you are aware of this fact, you will get an easy to use and very powerful possibility to increase your project output: You just have to reduce the work in progress to one task per person.

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