Having just finished the second book I’ve recently read on agile project portfolio management (Managing your Project Portfolio by Johanna Rothman), the realization finally clicked that it is difficult (if not impossible) to avoid multitasking when an organization approaches their projects using a traditional waterfall project lifecycle.
In a typical waterfall project, a particular role or skillset is utilized in a dedicated fashion until a hand off occurs. Once this hand off work or review has been completed, the deliverable returns to the original creator. In most organizations, this lag time is filled with other projects. Of course, this hurts productivity due to context switching and can also impact timelines due to delays on one project propagating to other projects that were using the same resource. At the same time, to fully dedicate the resource to just one project over the entire duration of their involvement is not efficient.
On the other hand, in an organization following agile lifecycles, while resources are 100% dedicated over the course of an iteration or sprint, the end of an iteration or sprint provides the opportunity to reallocate resources. Of course, this is not without cost – velocity calculations and resulting predictions on how many iterations will be needed to complete the backlog will be affected, but at least this provides one way of addressing efficient use of resources without introducing multitasking. The close collaborative nature of agile work should also reduce the long lags that are experienced by key roles on waterfall lifecycle projects.