The Curse of Allocation

Have you ever been assigned to multiple projects or teams at the same time? If so, I’m sure you have experienced the “curse of allocation.”

You know how it goes. You are assigned to be 25% on this project and 50% on another one. Let’s throw in 20% to support an existing product and another 5% to provide subject matter expertise to another project. In reality, none of the percentages end up being even close to accurate and you are left scrambling to make sense of it all.

We’ve heard time and time again how multitasking does not work and, in fact, it’s a myth. Our brains are not equipped to handle two things at one time. The brain has the ability to switch quickly between multiple tasks but it cannot do them simultaneously.

When we assign people to multiple projects or teams the impact can be damaging to the person, the teams they are working with, and their organization. Some of the effects of “the curse” are:

Wasted time. People who are assigned to multiple projects usually have their calendar filled with meetings from all the projects they are involved with. Not to mention juggling in-boxes with emails from projects with multiple context. Blocking periods of time to focus becomes near impossible.

Frustration. From my experience, it’s not very fulfilling. There is always this sense you are disappointing someone. You may be meeting the needs of one team but the other teams are not getting attention.

Lack of team bonding and connection. By dividing attention between multiple teams, bonding and collaboration becomes much more challenging. Decisions need to be made over which team is more important or which project has the biggest fire to put out instead of on building the relationships necessary for a workforce to be productive.

Lack of ownership and accountability. We put people in the position to create excuses for not getting something done. “Sorry, but I was working on something for someone else.”

Perceived progress. By having long project lists, organizations are lulled into a false sense of progress. Sadly, many of the projects end up being 95% complete for long periods of time, never finished at all, or never delivering expected results.

Why do we continue to subject our people to this “curse of allocation?” I believe the practice continues for two reasons: Someone (probably a leader) isn’t prioritizing and someone (probably a leader) isn’t saying no enough.

So, there are only two tips for allocating people across multiple projects or teams.

Prioritize. If necessary, do fewer things and make sure they are the most important and valuable things. This may require respectfully telling someone no (or we’ll do it later) from time to time.

Don’t do it. Instead, build dedicated, cross-functional, and focused teams aligned to your most important and valuable work.

Source of Inspiration:
Brain Rules by John Medina

 

Len Lagestee is an Agile coach and blogger at www.illustratedagile.com. As an Agile coach, Len is interacting with large organizations to connect people, revolutionize leadership, deliver results, and humanize the workforce.

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