Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

Does multi-tasking enhance on-time delivery?

In every organisation I have worked on, there is a constant need to review priority of work at regular intervals. There is pressure to show progress. If one is required to deliver three different items, they are constantly under pressure to show progress on all three. Your stakeholders start getting nervous seeing no progress in some tasks. Other times as a Project Manager, we fall into the trap of starting many tasks thinking it will help us deliver quicker. Becasue of this pressure there is a huge temptation to make a start on all three before actually delivering on any of the. This is a recipe for delaying the delivery for all three.

Regardless of your deadlines, the work required to produce your items are no less, whichever order you do it. Let me illustrate this. Suppose someone has three tasks to deliver – that each take two days to deliver. If they are concentrating on one task at a time, this is the timeline that they will achieve completion of all three.

No multitasking

If you now try to show some progress on all three tasks, then the profile will be


Now compare at which point each of tasks A, B and C finish. By multi-tasking all you have achieve is to delay tasks A and B, while C finishes at the same time. In effect, that too is a folly. In reality, when someone is switching tasks in the middle of another, there is always time lost to recover from where they left off. In this case, a three day gap between leaving the task and picking it up again is likely to cause all three tasks finishing later.

So next time there is pressure on you to release one of your developers (or for that matter any project discipline, even non IT), for a short period of time, consider if that is really likely to achieve delivery any sooner; or are you simply falling into the same trap.

It pays to have your people focused on getting a single task finished and then starting another.

3 responses to “Does multi-tasking enhance on-time delivery?

  1. vvakar June 26, 2011 at 11:12 am

    There seems to be a surge of information on this topic lately and it all points in the same direction. I can’t say I’ve had any horror stories of the kind (yet), but it seems to be a prevalent problem. I’m convinced that my superiors do this with only the best of intentions, but it remains an ongoing problem.

  2. Shoaib Ahmed June 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    I don’t think you’ll ever get horror stories on this, more like a continuous bleed. Unless you step back and really look at the cause, in many cases, bad multi-tasking won’t be blamed for the lost time.

  3. Pingback: 2-20-2009 Dream Fragment Multi-Tasking « John Jr's WordPress Blog

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