1 + 1 + 1 = 2
Project members lose productivity when working across multiple projects.
BY NEAL WHITTEN, PMP, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Anna, Brian and Carlos report to David, their resource manager. Anna has been working full time on project A, Brian on project B, and Carlos on project C. David decides to reassign them so that each works a third of the time on each of the projects: A, B and C.
The result? David no longer has enough people to work on the three projects. How can that be? Because, in this case, 1+1+1 does not equal 3, it adds up to a smaller number in terms of overall effectiveness. There is a price that a person pays when working on multiple projects. It is a price that is easily and often overlooked.
Typically, a person's productivity is at its highest when focused on a single task, such as writing a chapter of a book. Once one chapter is written, the next chapter is started. But what happens if the author writes three chapters simultaneously? She begins the morning working on Chapter One. There are start-up delays as her creative juices begin to flow. But now it's time to put Chapter One aside and focus on Chapter Two. There is real and measurable time required to temporarily shut down the work on Chapter One and set it aside so that it can be resumed the next day.
To focus on Chapter Two, there is start-up time required to effectively readjust her thinking and get up to speed on the new chapter. Again she finally reaches a productive point in writing, but soon it's time to pack it away and begin on Chapter Three. And so on.
Each day a heavy price is paid for this start-up and shut-down sequence that must be followed for each chapter. A person working across multiple projects goes through a similar but even more time-consuming process because projects typically require far more at a time. This not only aids their productivity, it can reduce the commitment-related risk that a person brings to a project assignment. Project members are responsible for managing their commitments effectively. But it is the project manager's duty to routinely review the plans of project members to ensure that commitments are being worked effectively.
It typically is the resource manager's duty to ensure that employees are not spread perilously thin across projects and are making reasonable commitments. This is an example of how a resource manager works on the sidelines to support the success of a project manager and his or her project.
Even though it is not always possible to assign people to single projects, it is important to understand that people working across multiple projects interaction and communications with others than writing a book. For example, on project A, Anna attends two routinely scheduled meetings each week. Now that she works on three projects simultaneously, she must attend two weekly scheduled meetings for each project. She spends a larger portion of her day being less productive as she attends a greater number of meetings, reviews a greater number of documents, interfaces with a greater number of people, and performs more start-up and close-down activities.
Even though it is not always possible to assign people to single projects, it is important to understand that people working across multiple projects (and tasks) are typically less productive than they would be if they could be singularly focused.
The goal should be to assign people full time to single projects and to have them predominantly focus on one task (and tasks) are typically less productive than they would be if they could be singularly focused. Understanding this can help ensure that people are not spread too thinly, potentially harming project outcomes.
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PM NETWORK | APRIL 2002 | www.pmi.org