First things first: when referring to people in the abstract, I prefer words like "someone," "person," or "people." I dislike the word "resources," which, to me, evokes things like equipment, timber, and coalmines. OK. That's out of the way.
When team members have responsibilities to multiple teams, those teams all face risks. The unexpected happens. Priorities change. Schedules change. Time commitments cannot always be honored. We might try to schedule our efforts, but when team members belong to multiple teams, the plan and the reality are sometimes wildly different, even if the root cause of the trouble is elsewhere.
Here are four guidelines for sharing people more effectively than we often do.
- Front-load the activities of shared people
- Trouble sometimes arises in partner efforts. If resolving that trouble requires additional time from someone you share, you could lose access to that person. Moreover, even if the partner project goes smoothly, difficulties in other projects could result in schedule changes for the partner project, and the shared person might not be available at the time you scheduled.
- If possible, schedule your own efforts so that the work that shared people do happens early.
- Adjust effort estimates for interruption of flow
- During planning, when we estimate effort, we often assume that the person doing the work is doing nothing else. Since that assumption is invalid for people with divided responsibilities, and since juggling multiple assignments does have associated costs, our estimates tend to be lower than the actual time required.
- Make estimates that realistically account for the loss of time due to multiple assignments. When tracking actual effort data, track assignment multiplicity, too.
- Combine hours into the longest possible contiguous bursts
- To minimize Combine hours into the longest
possible contiguous burstslosses due to interruption of flow in the context of split assignments, combine hours of effort for each person into the largest possible contiguous chunks. Instead of one day per week for six weeks, schedule two days per week for three weeks, or four days in one week, and two days three weeks later.
- You might have to negotiate with partner team leads, but when they understand the advantages of contiguous bursts, the negotiations are likely to be smooth.
- Avoid the "MS Project flat rate syndrome"
- Planners tend to use as weekly effort estimates for each person, the total estimated effort for each person divided by the task duration in weeks. Rarely does work actually proceed in this way. Even if it did, such a pattern maximizes the losses due to multiple assignments, because it maximally interrupts flow.
- Actual work is usually performed in bursts. Use your project planning software to schedule those bursts.
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In this first part of our survey of teamwork myths, we examine two myths about forming teams.
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- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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