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Under the Hood: Cutting Back on Context Switching

This is the second post of Traction’s Under the Hood blog series, where we open up about our own business; challenges faced, solutions developed and learnings usually meant to be kept internal. We’re always looking to enable individuals and organizations and sometimes the best way to do that is by telling our story.

What is Context Switching?

Context switching can cost up to 40% of productivity – but what is it? For service companies, context switching is what occurs when someone from the delivery team shifts their focus from one project to another. It accounts for the administrative overhead required to disengage with one project and re-engage with another. When we jump between projects, constantly shifting gears, we often work harder to produce a lesser quality of work. Even worse, too much context switching has a detrimental effect on our mental reserves and can reduce employee engagement.

The Initiative

At Traction, our Delivery Operations team has been working with our delivery squads to reduce context switching and drive higher productivity and engagement. The best way to minimize the impact of context switching is to reduce the number of projects assigned to each individual. With fewer projects, Tractionites can devote larger blocks of focused allocation to each project. That means better, faster and happier projects for employees and clients.

To track the success of this initiative, we pull data from our PSA (Professional Services Automation software) around the “number of assignments” each Tractionite has at a given time. As this number speaks to the amount of gear-shifting required by each individual, this is our key metric in determining how successfully we’re reducing context switching.

As we drive this number closer to “2”, we drive greater focus in our team, allowing them to deliver work that they’re happy with and proud of. Since we began tracking this metric in February, we’ve reduced the average number of assignments per Tractionite down to an all-time low of 2.96. That number is trending even lower, with our largest reductions in that metric coming over the last two weeks!


How did we get here?

Our General Managers recognize the importance of reducing context switching and have worked with Operations Coordinators to ensure new projects are resourced with larger blocks of focused time. The work produced in these projects is high quality and timelines also tend to be faster. We’re also seeing greater engagement from project teams and that means happier employees.

The key success factor in reducing the number of assignments per person has been the focus brought by Operations Coordinators to their day-to-day. By placing heavy emphasis on lowering their squads’ metrics, they’ve revamped the way they solve resourcing gaps. Gone are the days when the default response to a red account is to simply add another resource. Instead, they look for solutions that free up Tractionites to focus more of their time on that particular project. They have also begun a weekly routine of reviewing existing projects, looking for opportunities to drive even greater focus in each project.

Room for Improvement

With all the success we’ve had so far, it would be easy to move on, but we still believe we can do more to reduce context switching. We’re striving to reduce assignments per head down to 2.0, and to do that we’ll need to be even more intentional and precise in how we resource projects. By moving our resourcing process earlier in our sales cycle and reinforcing this concept throughout our squads, we expect these positive trends to continue.

Did you miss our first Under the Hood article? Take a look at how Traction’s sales team leverages analytics to inform their decision-making.

Written by Vince Liu, VP of Delivery OperationsWritten by Vince Liu, VP of Delivery Operations

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