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Ideally SCRUM calls for dedicated team members but that’s undoubtedly impossible in reality. With so many uncertainties and unpredictable issues, team members often have to multitask and context switching is not so uncommon too. Some people are just too good at multitasking and it doesn’t impact their efficiency and productivity very much while others find it a bit challenging to cope up with it. Nonetheless, the affects are “measurable”. I can say this after I did this simple exercise in the SCRUM Master training I did recently.

Participants were given a sheet with three columns: first one had to be filled with squares of numbers from 1 to 10, second had to be filled with the alphabet for corresponding number  ( A for 1, B for 2 and so on) and third had multiples of 3. Sounds easy, isn’t it?

Sqaures Alphabets Multiples of 3
1 A 3
4 B 6


The first half of the  exercise was to complete the sheet Row-wise which means square of number 3, then the alphabet and then the multiple of 3. And, the time had to be recorded. It wasn’t every difficult to do and I took 35 seconds to do so. Now, for the second part, it was exactly the same thing but one column at a time! And record the time. Well, I took about 19 seconds to fill the sheet this time. Almost everyone took about half the time to do the second one!

It might seem that second attempt takes lesser time because one already knows the figures to be put in. But, actually there’s more to it than meets the eye! The first exercise was actually multitasking and context switching! Participants worked on different thing simultaneously and had to switch from working on numbers to alphabets to numbers. While on second column of alphabets, its common for people to think about what they filled in the first column or what they would write in the third column. This greatly impacts the speed and may impact the final result if the same thing is done for much more complex tasks in real work environment. And imagine the frustration it might cause to the team members.

Whereas, for the second task, its one task that need to be completed before taking up the next one. This approach expedites the task and made it look much simpler. It’s evident that multitasking or context switching should be avoided as much as possible. But unfortunately, we live and work in an imperfect world and cannot avoid these situations. Anyways, its good to understand how it might impact the team’s performance!