Context Switching

My team is currently working on two very different programs by pulling work off both backlogs into a single sprint. We did this for pragmatic reasons having to do with our size and the wishes of both the product owners and the team. This was working well when the two programs were clearly defined projects. However, we’re going through a rough patch with one program driving maintenance work and the other rallying towards release. We’re paying a price for context switching with lower point commitments overall per sprint.

Inspect and adapt.

The Washington Post published an article by Lori Aratani, Teens Can Multitask, But What Are Costs?

When subjects were focused on sorting, the hippocampus — the part of the brain responsible for storing and recalling information — was engaged. But when they were multitasking, that part of the brain was quiet and the part of the brain used to master repetitive skills — the striatum — was active.

The Journal of Experimental Psychology published a paper by Joshua S. Rubinstein, David E. Meyer, and Jeffrey E. Evans on Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching. As an APA release summarizes:

…subjects lost time when they had to switch from one task to another, and time costs increased with the complexity of the tasks, so it took significantly longer to switch between more complex tasks. Time costs also were greater when subjects switched to tasks that were relatively unfamiliar.

Neither the article or paper distinguish results by gender. The First Sex says that according to gender specific studies women are better multi-taskers than men.

I bring up the gender differences because I work at a women-owned company. One of the benefits is seeing the world from my CEO’s point of view. Sometimes not identifying differences between men and women denies women opportunities, or worse, perpetuates harmful stereotypes. As a society, we are late to acknowledge that women present with heart disease differently than men. This has perpetuated a myth that heart disease is a male illness.

“(A)ccording to the American Heart Association (AHA), more women than men die from heart disease in the U.S., and 1 in 3 women is living with it today” – TIME Magazine

If women are truly better multitaskers, maybe they have some inherent advantages in certain kinds of jobs (like mine 🙂 ).

Both the men and women developers in my team have acknowledged that the context switching penalty has gotten worse recently. So whatever the difference in this case, some kind of scrum master response is required.