In an ideal world, Teams get unlimited time to finish all of their tasks. Time is flexible, environments are always ups and requirements steadily stream in. However, we all know that in the everyday project life, there is always time pressure and the To-Do list just keeps on growing. It takes real craftsmanship to select which tasks must be done first and which ones can be put aside for a later time. Some don’t need doing at all! Additionally, it’s worth analyzing which activities can be done simultaneously and which ones have to be completed one after the other.

Putting this approach into practice requires understanding and focus from all the Team members. A quick review of the To-Do list, setting priorities and finally total focus on delivery. Sounds simple… it’s hardly ever easy.

There are a couple of things. Some need more information than others to make a decision, we also often have conflicting goals and defining priorities.

In a Scrum Team, it’s the Product Owner’s role to prioritize the Product Backlog. They are the ones to decide on priorities. Of course, the PO is not alone, there is an entire Team ready to advise, however, it’s the Product Owner who has the final say.

Who then decides on the order of tasks in the Sprint? The Sprint Backlog belongs to the Team Members and it’s their decision how they turn it into a Product Increment and in order to be successful, they have to focus on the Sprint Goal. Sprint Ceremonies, such as Planning and Daily Standups, where the Team summarizes their progress help to achieve this goal. It’s also the place to remove any impediments that may arise.

This is where the Scrum Master comes into play. It’s the SMs mission to keep the Team in focus. It’s their job to ensure that every Team Member understands what and when needs to be done and guard them from external “attractions”, but actually – distractions.

They watch not to have unproductive meetings, stops any activities that are out of the sprint’s scope, removes the impediments, so that they can be fully focused on their tasks. Explains, on all levels of the organization how important these things are, in order for the Team’s work to be most effective.

Recently I came upon an interesting phrase: „If you have to do 100 things, and very little time, best to concentrate on the top 10, do them well, instead of doing them all mediocre.

Why so?

First of all, it raises our chances on completing the critical tasks. Secondly, reduces the necessity – the cost of switching context. What is that?

The term originates from computer science and it’s the process of storing and restoring the state of the processor so that it can serve many processes.  

In people, it’s about the effort the human brain needs to switch from one activity to another. It may seem like a short break in writing code to write an email, or a quick chat while testing is not that big. Nothing could be further from the truth.  It’s estimated, that when working on 2 things 20% of the time is lost for switching context.

When writing this article, I decided to experiment on myself. Measure the time it takes me to write this article and compare with the time it took me to write the previous one. Every day, like many of you, I multitask. I talk, I attend meetings, read and write emails, fill in the backlog. You can also add “I code, complies and test”.

Write writing this text, I feel the painful cost of doing things “in the meantime”. And reading each paragraph over again just to add one more sentence before the next meeting I’m wondering where is it going to take me 😉

It is a valuable lesson and next when I see my friend, coding away in his earphones, cut off from the rest of the world, I will think twice if my question to him really cannot wait.

Let’s take a look around and notice the concentration of others, respect and value it. Let’s try to limit our multitasking. I’m not sure how I’m going to manage my work but I will definitely try. Let’s learn to do the important things before the ones that can wait. Prioritization should be natural for us and always happen before execution.

Michalina Smolarkiewicz