Kevin Fox identifies multitasking as one of the main reasons why projects take so long and are still completed late . He says there are three central reasons organizations find themselves in the trap of multitasking :
- Most people simply don’t understand the impact of multitasking:
They don’t recognise the inherent interruption (and disruption) in task-switching and the delays it creates. The drivers for multitasking are built into the processes, measurements, and systems most companies use to manage their projects. We strive hard to keep people busy all of the time, to maximize the output and be efficient. This coupled with conventional scheduling techniques routinely leads to overloading people, making multitasking nearly inevitable. Switching tasks before they’re complete is waste .
- Erroneous assumptions are built into the processes, measures, and systems used to manage projects:
Chief among these is the belief that the earlier you start a project, the earlier it will finish. This is probably valid when people don’t need to work on multiple projects. But in a multi-project environment, starting new projects earlier only increases the work in process and with it the likelihood of multitasking. Though it seems counter-intuitive, projects will finish earlier and more of them will get done if they’re started later. The pressure from upper management and sales to add more projects or start them earlier, in parallel with projects that haven’t yet completed, can make it virtually impossible for project managers to cope with the pressure to multitask. How many times is someone redirected to work on an urgent task, only for it to end up sitting at a step downstream waiting on something else, or because the priorities shifted again? Multitasking is a way to avoid prioritisation .
- Most people genuinely want to do a good job, they just don’t know how:
People multitask in response to perceived needs in the organization - an urgent job, a critical task, a customer complaint. If you have multitasking in your organization, it’s almost a sure sign that you have people who care about doing a good job and are working hard for the organization (excluding those who want to be seen as heroes). But remember the first reason - most people don’t understand the impact of multitasking. It’s an accepted mode of working. People must realize the impact of multitasking and shift their belief of what it means ‘to do a good job’. And this must be supported by changes to the process, measurement, and system .