"Multitasking is Evil" & Other Games to Convince You (or Your Manager!) to Limit WIP

Multitasking can often be considered a must-have skill when, in fact, it can actually make us less productive and more prone to error. But even with plenty of research supporting the perils of multitasking, it can be hard to convince managers and stakeholders. After all, being 100% utilized is the way to go, right? Maybe it’s time to re-think what really matters. A focus on the flow of work and value delivery should take precedence over ensuring everyone is simply busy.

In this highly interactive session, we'll run through three simulations (Multitasking is Evil, Name Game, & Featureban) to make the case that reducing our work in progress so that we can focus on the flow of work is the way to go! Each interactive session is a fun and easy way to learn and think about what it means to begin and finish work. Each activity becomes a little more complex, allowing us to consider additional details and interactions that simulate our day-to-day decision making at work. After running through each activity, we will debrief and discuss what we learned so you can take these ideas back with you to work!


Outline/Structure of the Workshop

We'll run through three simulations (Multitasking is Evil, Name Game, & Featureban) to experience the benefits of reducing multitasking, lowering work in progress, and emphasizing stronger team collaboration.

1. Introduction [5 min]
  • Facilitator introductions
  • Review workshop agenda
2. Multitasking is Evil [15 min]
  • Slightly modified version of the game described here: https://www.agileconnection.com/article/multitasking-evil (modified to increase the difficulty of the task when switching between projects)
  • Warm up / Introductory simulation, completed individually
  • 2 rounds:
    • Participants complete three “mini-projects” in each round
    • In Round 1, participants are required to work on all three projects simultaneously
    • In Round 2, participants work one project at a time to completion, before moving on to the next project
    • For each round, participants will time the how long it takes them to complete all three projects and the number of errors
  • Debrief as a whole group
3. Name Game [20 min]
  • Slightly modified version of the game described here: https://lithespeed.com/the-name-game-a-multitasking-game-for-agile-teams/
  • We will need five volunteers to participate in this activity, the rest of the group will be observers and active participants in the debrief
  • 3 rounds:
    • One volunteer serves as the “developer” and four volunteers serve as different project managers each only caring about getting their project done
    • Round 1: Chaos – All project managers try to get the developer to work on their item first, resulting in a lot of switching back and forth, additional time, and likely many errors
    • Round 2: Ordered – The developer still works on all the project managers’ projects at once, but follows an ordered approach to switching between them
    • Round 3: Prioritized – The developer completes one project managers project entirely, before moving on to pick up the next project, and so on
    • For each round, we will time how long it takes for the first project to be completed and how long it takes for the fourth (last) project to be completed
  • Debrief as a whole group, incorporating feedback from those who served as observers during the exercise
4. Featureban [60 min]
  • Primary simulation, done in small groups
  • We’ll present a modified version of the simulation Mike Burrows invented that highlights team collaboration (https://www.agendashift.com/featureban)
  • Simulation will allow attendees to experience a system clogged with high amounts of work in progress and see how limiting WIP helps produce flow
  • 2 rounds:
    • We’ll start with a quick introduction, followed by two rounds of the simulation, each with a group debrief.
    • Round 1: Teams are encouraged to continue starting new work (no WIP limits in place) and likely complete very little work
    • Round 2: Teams establish their own WIP limits and observe the impact on the Kanban system. We’ve introduced a variation to place emphasis on how team collaboration can increase as WIP decreases. Participants will work with their small teams to capture metrics (lead time, throughput, CFD), so they can compare the two rounds.
  • Debrief as a whole group, reviewing the impact of establishing WIP limits and increasing collaboration on the metrics collected (lead time, throughput, CFD) for the two rounds
5. Debrief [20 min]
  • Review the themes and takeaways across all three simulations:
    • What stands out the most?
    • What is most applicable to your day-to-day work life?
    • Did these simulations change your perspective on multitasking or limiting work in progress in any ways?
  • Discuss how short, interactive games can be an effective way to communicate these takeaways

This workshop was delivered in its entirety at the Games for Agility, Learning, and Engagement Meetup in 2017 and components of it (individual games) have been delivered as parts of other conference workshops and in brown bag settings internally and with clients. These experiences have allowed us to validate the timings and incorporate participant feedback to ensure smooth transitions between the exercises.

Learning Outcome

You will walk away from this presentation having learned…

  • How multitasking and too much work in progress (WIP) slows us down, and, thus, delays the delivery of value
  • Limiting WIP can improve quality and increase collaboration with those you’re working with
  • It’s often better to finish something already in progress than to start something new
  • Three new simulations/games you can easily repeat at work as an effective way to communicate these learnings

Target Audience

Team members in any role, Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, Project Managers, Managers, and Stakeholders.

Prerequisites for Attendees



schedule Submitted 2 years ago