Monday, June 2, 2008

Tasks aren't underwear, they shouldn't be changed daily

I was talking to one of my leads (I shall call him Percy) the other day and he mentioned he was having some troubles with his lead at the customer's site.

One of the challenges Percy is facing are constantly changing tasks. It seemed like everyday Percy and his team’s tasks were getting switched out from under them. This was done with the best of intentions; however we all know what the road to hell is paved with.

The environment that Percy and the team work in is very fast paced, and quite ad-hoc. Everyone is working really hard, and very often I will see emails from them at all hours of the night. Many of these emails directed at the global team. The tasks are switched in the name of efficiency; however it has quite the opposite effect.

There are quite a few hidden costs to this, such as:

- reduced individual morale;
- reduced espirit-de-corps
- wasted effort as team members context switch;
- confusion between who is supposed to work on what;
- wasted effort as multiple people do the same ramp up on the same task
- no sense of accomplishment
- etc

This is especially true in the context of a global team. The biggest drawback to this approach is that the team will begin to doubt the leader; they will lose faith in their leader’s ability to lead. The leader begins to look indecisive, unsure and hesitant.

Constantly changing tasks is never a good idea for the reasons mentioned above, but at least when it happens with local team members, it is easier to explain the rational and do the hand off. With global teams this is harder as the lines of communication are much longer.

In this case, the key to success is to set your objectives at the start of the week or milestone. Have the team take their assigned tasks and get started. If you keep your milestones short then at worst you may lose only a few days of development, but the team will still have their confidence. Weekly objectives are just that, weekly.

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