Portfolio Management Versus Multitasking

Clearly, the key to successful project execution in a complex organization is some kind of high level coordination. The difficulty is how to impose this kind of cooperation on functional units that have been doing things their own way for a long time.

The natural result of functional departments fighting over scarce resources is to reach a compromise. Compromise boils down to agreements over how scarce resources will be shared between departments and projects. Rather than agreeing to have one project being completed before another, the functional units agree to have a number of projects executed simultaneously. Compromise “feeds” everyone a little bit.

Resources (skilled staff) working on projects are therefore forced to divide their time up between many projects in order to please everyone. Unfortunately the typical result is that no one is satisfied because of the effects of multitasking.

Is Multitasking Bad?

Multitasking means jumping between tasks. It implies that a particular resource (person) will apply themselves to a number of different tasks (projects or assignments) over a given period of time (within a given hour, day or week).

In itself, multitasking is not necessarily bad. Managers love it because it keeps staff busy — there is always something for them to do. Through multitasking resource utilization can be kept very high (high efficiency levels). However, multitasking becomes bad when the time cost of switching between tasks adds to the overall completion time of every task. Bad multitasking occurs when the most important projects are delayed so as to ensure that there is some progress on every project.

Bad multitasking occurs when resources don’t know what’s the most important use of their time (generally because they were not told) and therefore split their efforts among a number of activities. This keeps them very busy but does not actually emphasize the completion of any one project as a priority.


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