The Terrible Cost of Multi-tasking

Very simply I want to illustrate the impact of multi-tasking.  It has an impact on value delivered as well as satisfaction from stakeholders and customers.  My very simple model consists of three features that each require three tasks that take one day per task to complete.  Once a feature is complete it will deliver $100 dollars per day in value (revenue or cost savings) and 1 unit of satisfaction from stakeholders/customers.

The first illustration shows what the completion time frame for all three features would be if multi-tasking occurs.  One day would be spent on the first feature, then one day on the second feature and then one day on the third feature repeating this pattern until all features were complete.

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Total Value Total Satisfaction
Feature One Task 1 Task 2 Task 3 $100, 1 $200, 2 $200 2
Feature Two Task 1 Task 2 Task 3 $100, 1 $100 1
Feature Three Task 1 Task 2 Task 3
Totals:                   $300 3

All features will be complete by day nine but Feature One will come online on day 8 and produce a total of $200 and 2 satisfaction units before the project ends.  Feature Two will come online on day 9 and produce a total of $100 and 1 satisfaction unit.  The total production will be worth $300 and 3 satisfaction units.

Now consider the alternative below.

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Total Value Total Satisfaction
Feature One Task 1 Task 2 Task 3 $100, 1 $200, 2 $300, 3 $400, 4 $500, 5 $600, 6 $600 6
Feature Two Task 1 Task 2 Task 3 $100, 1 $200, 2 $300, 3 $300 3
Feature Three Task 1 Task 2 Task 3
Totals: $900 9

The entire project will still take nine days but this time Feature One will come online on day four and produce $600 and 6 satisfaction units.  Feature Two will come online on day seven and produce $300 and 3 satisfaction units.  The total production will be $900 and 9 satisfaction units, three times more value than produced in the task switching model with the same duration for the entire project.

Multi-tasking amplifies opportunity cost.  Driving it out of the organization will produce immediate positive returns.

When organizations are pushed to “make some progress on everything” the overall return to the organization is diminished.  More value is delivered and can be put to work for the organization when focus is given to completing highest value features first before moving on to the next feature.

Focus your energy on completing features and you will be rewarded.

Question: What is your approach to multi-tasking?

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