Context switching is costly

Posted: July 20, 2016 in Business, Product Development, Psychology, Web Design
Tags: , , ,

Context switching

There’s never just one thing you could do, not just a few things, but there could be hundreds of things you could possibly do to deliver value, so by being reactional with a ‘just get it done’ attitude could result in little progress towards delivering overall business goals and lead to a few frustrated developers.

Product development isn’t as quick as setting up a new programmatic ad campaign for example and instead can take weeks to carefully craft a solution collaborating with colleagues along the way. Also with development costs not being cheap means that not making a sensible decision up front could be costly.

Context switching can impact a variety of key elements:

  • Waste – it can take hours / days for a developer to jump from one project to the next especially if they’re unrelated and the code is complex. There’s also risk that some of the learnings from the original task would be lost even if documented.
  • Morale – one of the most frustrating things for a developer is context switching either by switching in progress work or frequent disruptions. Developers take pride in doing a high quality job and to do that takes detailed technical planning to ensure they do the job well, so pulling the rug beneath them often ends in frustration. Typically they just want to get a job they’ve started on done and see the fruits of it.
  • Delivering value frequently – adapting to change quickly is important, but you may find changing a strategy often results in delivering very little.
  • Prioritisation – expecting a product owner or someone in a strategic position to juggle a significant amount of projects at once will end in the highest priority work not necessarily getting done, because it takes time to groom and value projects / requests, so if there’s less time to do this, work could be prioritised based on who shouts the loudest.

Context switching can negatively impact anyone across the majority of an organisation and is often caused by unnecessary flapping / panicking, but with a robust and strict new request process and well oiled live bug process can not only keep context switching to a minimum, but also ensure that teams are working on the highest priority item delivering value frequently to customers.

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