Human Task Switches Considered Harmful

Human Task Switches Considered Harmful

“…you should never let people work on more than one thing at once. Make sure they know what it is. Good managers see their responsibility as removing obstacles so that people can focus on one thing and really get it done.” – Joel Spolsky

I keep learning this lesson the hard way. I have yet to be able to sufficiently shield development teams from external source factors. Internally ones I can wrangle. It’s when that scary place outside the window goes nuts that I run into trouble.

One thing that has helped, though, is to at least once a week write down what worse case scenarios come to mind. Note – NOT IN PRIORITY ORDER or filtered in anyway. It’s basically a free-form thought exercise. I then group these into a couple of categories:

1) Things that I can do something about: These I put mitigation strategies for into the schedule. More than once this has helped me ship on time, against all odds.

2) Things I can’t do something about: Key thought – right now. As in with the resources I have available.

And that last part is the trick. Just because you can’t do something about it, doesn’t mean you can’t enlist other’s help in dealing with it. Case in point: back in 2008, I wrote “banks have gone insane” on this list. My strategy for mitigation: getting a bigger boat. The specific tactic used: compelled the business owner to merge with a larger company with more resources – aka a bigger boat.

Everything is always on the table. Might as well take some time to consider it.

To ponder it.

To feel it.

You never know when it’s going to save everyone’s bacon.