Focus On One Thing at a Time
How many projects are you trying to focus on? I once worked at an organization that had the slogan, “Focus on Five.” I came home to my husband, and said, “Is it just me, or is something fishy about this?”
Mark laughed, and said, “No, how can you focus on more than one thing at a time?”
I can't. Neither can you. Focus means just that: to narrow your vision to focus on one thing to the exclusion of other things–for now. The consequences of not focusing your mind on your work are creating defects if you are a developer, missing defects if you are a tester, and everything taking foreeeevvvveerrr no matter who you are.
Oh, we can switch quickly. Some of us are quite good at fast switches. Some of us, not so good. And, for many of us, it depends on what we are switching between. Give me something like dinner preparation, and I am a whiz at switching among the various pieces and getting everything on the table where the hot things are hot and the cold things are cold and everything is in the correct order. But give me two or more significant mental problems, like projects, and I can't switch easily. I have to choose an order in which to do them. I have to focus first on one and then the other.
If I don't make the right decisions about dinner, we can always have peanut butter and jelly. The consequences are not so bad.
And, if I'm a manager and I don't make project portfolio decisions, and allow rampant multitasking, then I've let any number of teams flounder, and that wastes money and their time. I have not helped the teams focus on the most strategic projects.
So, if you are a technical person trying to balance your work among 137 projects, stop. And, if you are a manager asking a technical person to do a little here and little there, stop. You are fooling no one, except, maybe yourself. Decide what work you are not going to do–for now. Each of you, discuss what is strategically important. Then decide what one project the technical person will do for the next week. Do it, along with all the other people on that one project.
And, if you are a manager, get together with the other managers, and start managing the project portfolio. Make those difficult decisions about what you are going to stop doing, for now. Make sure the project teams know who they are, and start flowing work through the teams.
This is tough work. And, it pays off fast, by allowing the teams to increase their throughput even faster than you can imagine. To learn more, see Manage Your Project Portfolio.