Serialize Your Projects

by Krishna on September 13, 2009

Stephan Schmidt explains how doing several projects in parallel is counter-productive because of the high overhead costs involved.

Projects must be tracked much longer, more documents are produced and must be tracked. All those status messages aggregate, flow upwards toward upper management, clog thinking and time. All those status messages flow to all stakeholders. Each increment per status update is small, much smaller than when working in serial mode.

Doing many projects in parallel creates a management problem, which is perhaps the most difficult one to solve. Every organization, in one form or other, has a pyramid structure with fewer managers compared to developers. When you have more projects going on, you are putting greater pressure on the managers who then become huge bottlenecks.

And that is the good news. Where things go completely off the rails is when the managers start making hasty decisions to ease the situation without putting enough effort. Most of those decisions come back to bite them in the most nasty way possible.

Practically, it may be difficult for a company to shun such parallel execution of projects. Opportunities have a habit of raining down on you instead of conveniently coming one after the other. And even if you are ready to reject and postpone some, there will be circumstances when you just have to take on work you hadn’t planned.

But there are ways to be prepared. One is to ensure that projects that are getting completed stay completed without your team being interrupted by customer service issues. This requires a greater focus on testing, user documentation and project hand-off to customers. Doing this for every project ensures that you will not have another parallel activity on your list.

Another step (as Schmidt showed) is to parallelize the tasks in your existing projects. Have milestones which are reasonably separated from each other and then ensure that you work hard to meet those milestones with proper quality. Also budget time for customers to do acceptance testing and provide feedback, which will introduce additional tasks in your projects.

A temptation with so many scheduled tasks is to get them finished sooner and get them off the list. But this can backfire if quality is compromised. Therefore, you must re-emphasize to the project teams that quality must be prioritized over deadlines at every step, because reduced quality will mean additional work.

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