It’ll Only Take a Couple of Minutes, I swear”

or, Why Context Switching Needs To Be Taken More Seriously

Any time I sense that someone is interrupting one of my team members to ask them something unrelated to their current sprint work, I feel the hair on my neck bristle.  I’m their scrummaster, and my job is to protect them.  Beyond that fact that the offending party is most likely trying to bypass the product owner and the prioritization process, I also feel that the perp is also disrespecting the team and by extension disrespecting me.  I usually reign my initial  pit-bull response to grab them by the scruff of the neck and drag them to the elevator area to
“coach” them on the errors of their ways, (‘Turns out, that is not socially acceptable behavior.  Who knew?), and instead I’ll walk over to them and try to determine just how bad their disruption is and whether the team member seems to have the disruption under control.

There have been times that, after the offending person has finished with interrupting a member of my team, I have followed them back out of the area to talk with them about what they were just trying to accomplish.  In every case, the response has been along the lines of an innocent plea.  “Oh, No.  Sorry.  You’re misunderstanding. . . I really only needed to talk with them only for a couple of minutes.  It was just something I was working on, and I know they have experience with . . . blah blah blah.”

It’s awkward and even a little weird feeling, and worst of all, only about half the time does the person get the message.

So, instead of me and every other scrum master chasing people out of our teams’ areas, we should preemptively educate everyone on the true impact of context switching.  Even better, we can explain to them that it is not just disruptive, but context switching actually impacts delivery of the things they themselves are often looking for.

Fortunately, Steve Fenton has written a great article on the subject.  Please read this.  It will do your heart good.  And the next time someone stops by and says, “Hey, I need you for a few minutes” when you are right in the middle of coding or testing or writing. . . just tell them you can help when you’re finished with your current task, and
send them this link:
Context Switching Comes At The Price Of Delivery – Steve Fenton

A special thanks to Kelly Crum for passing this article along to me.

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