Why is it so destructive to split developers between projects?

March 1999 Quick Tip

Under pressure to be competitive, management often assigns its best product developers to multiple projects. This destroys time to market in several ways.

First, it causes direct dilution of project effort. If a developer is given two projects and could be working full time effectively on either of them, then each will take twice as long to complete — an immediate doubling of cycle time.

Then there is a loss of efficiency in shuffling multiple projects. This is illustrated in two charts on our Web site, which show that if time to market is important, even two projects per engineer is counterproductive.

Beyond these quantifiable effects, several others can be just as important. One is a loss of accountability. When individuals are assigned to multiple projects, control over which project they are working on at the moment essentially shifts from management to the individual, based on any pressures the individual happens to feel. When people are working on too many projects, it becomes unrealistic to hold them accountable for due dates on any of them.

Multiple projects also contribute to lack of focus and commitment on specific projects, and they undermine project communication. Beyond this, fragmented effort on multiple projects makes it virtually impossible to apply two of the most powerful tools of rapid product development: co-location and proactive behavior, which keeps tasks from appearing on the critical path later.

In the next Quick Tip we will explore some solutions.

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.