I hate part time assignments to projects; they challenge WIP limits

I hate part time assignments – when I see people being asked to split their time across projects. Where ever possible I try to get people full time on one thing at a time.

I arrived at a new job and discovered that most of my staff were split across multiple projects. Assignments were commonly 1 or 2 days per week, or even worse 25%, 50% or 75% of their time – proportions that don’t even align to a certain number of days per week. There are all sorts of reasons why this situation may have come about. For example “project X needs skill Y”. If this were the reason I would have grudgingly accepted that specialists have to be part time. But that wasn’t the reason and anyway, a whole department can’t be specialists.

The reason for all these part time assignments was “it is good for the team members to spread their wings and work on projects requiring a range of skills”. From what I could see this attitude meant there were 40 people doing bits n bobs.

I stopped all of that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for staff development. I was the line manager for those people and I was determined to build a great team. But I thought they weren’t developing their skills. They were wasting their time. And the companies money.

This was before I bumped into the Lean concept of limiting work in progress. None-the-less I was convinced that these people would be more productive, and hence the whole department would be more productive, if they did one thing at a time. Or at least worked on one project at a time.

So I did exactly that. Got each person assigned to one project. The developers had less context shifting to deal with and gained a more in-depth understanding of one domain and the set of technical skills needed by their project. Sure enough productivity increased.

I addressed the staff development issue by rotating people, slowly, between the teams. Slowly enough that productivity wasn’t unduly affected. Often I could do this when projects came to a natural conclusion so there was no hit on productivity at all.