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design:balance_project_work_dynamically

Balance Project Work Dynamically

Problem

You've noticed that some team members are working a lot more (or less) than others. While some variation is expected, you've noticed a systemic imbalance in your team's workload. Team members working more than others will get tired and make mistakes. Team members not working enough will feel left out and be resented by the rest of the team. Either way, the project as a whole will suffer, as will all the team members in the long run.

Your team is in the middle of some design task. At the outset, the team members had collaboratively distributed work for that task across all team members. However, now you find that some team members are working much more than others.

Context

For instance, your team has entered the ideation stage of a design project. Each person assumed responsibility for some of the several systems expected to appear in the product being designed. Team member X took two systems because everyone had agreed that those two systems would be quite easy to design. However, in the midst of the ideation task, during a team meeting, it became evident to everyone that one of the systems, for which X had assumed responsibility, was rather difficult to design. Combined with the other system, which is in fact rather simple to design, X's workload is too high compared to the workloads of the other team members.

The reason for this is that you had, at the outset of the task, just estimated the work load for the parts of the task. One must recognize that estimates may be wrong, and that being unwilling to adjust for errors in estimates is an easy way to develop a poor design.

Solution

Therefore, collaboratively assess the amount of work being done by team members on a regular basis, and move work elements between team members to keep the work evenly distributed among all team-members.

At each team meeting, spend a few minutes reviewing the relative amount of work that each team member is doing. This is both an objective and subjective assessment. Usually, a short explanation of the details of the work done so far makes the objective difficulty of a work element obvious to everyone. The design of a particular system, for example, the drivetrain of a vehicle, may be obviously far more complex than, say, that of the seating system in the passenger compartment.

Sometimes, however, a team member may be struggling with a work element simply because they “don't get it.” This isn't necessarily a bad thing; everyone is good at some things, and not so good at other things. These subjective factors are also important to consider, because they can lead to as many downstream design problems as can the objective problems.

When a workload imbalance is noticed, take some time to look for ways to re-assign work to balance the workload among the team members.

Say team member X is in charge of two systems, s1 and s2 during ideation, but that system s1 is discovered to be very complex. Together, the two systems are placing too heavy a work load on X. During a team meeting, discuss the difficulty of all systems as understood at the time and see if there is someone who is in charge of a system that is less complex than s1. That person should consider assuming responsibility of s2 (the simpler one) from X. This will cause the workload of the team overall to be more balanced, and will as a rule lead to better design results.

Counter-indications

But, there are a number of conditions that may undermine the success of such a balancing exercise.

Rebalancing workload may lead to a different imbalance among other members of the team. In this case, repeat the rebalancing activity. If it is done well, the team will quickly discover a near-optimal balance of work.

There is an assumption that everyone has the same amount of time available to devote to the project. This is not necessarily true. Some team members may be involved in other, a-typical activities that take up a great deal of their time. Some of these activities, say matters related to a team member's health, are perfectly legitimate and should be taken into account when dividing work loads.

Some team members may, for whatever reasons, simply be disinterested in doing any work. There may be other peculiar circumstances (e.g. harassment of one team member by another) that can prevent work from being well-distributed among team members. In these cases, or in any other circumstance in which the team cannot decide how to proceed, the team is expected to contact the instructor for assistance.

design/balance_project_work_dynamically.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)