Context Switching: Interactive Game

Tried this yesterday at a workshop with business folk, to indicate the pain and confusion developers experience—knowingly or unknowingly—when they are asked to work on many things at once, and how it slows down the delivery of all requests.

  • Stand in a circle. 
Round One.
  • Say the 3x table up to 12x3, one person starts with “3” and each subsequent person in the circle says the next number in the sequence, until the request is completed.
  • Then say 5x table up to 12x5, same rules.
  • Then recite the Alphabet A-Z, same rules.
  • Facilitator times each one, and writes a total time.

Round Two

  • Start saying the 3x table, Facilitator stops at any point and requests 5x or Alphabet. Does this every 5-15 seconds, switching between the sequences. The group has to pick up each sequence where they last left off.
  • Facilitator writes down the total time for delivering all requests.

You can imagine the chaos. On a second try of round two, they asked me to keep track, in the form of a document, where each sequence ended last time. This reduced confusion, but slowed things down more as the document had to be frequently revised, and I had to assign starting points. With this method, the group members essentially surrendered responsibility for understanding the the big picture, giving it over to a project-manager-type person.

Anyway, the outcome was that round one took about 40 seconds, with no errors, and round two about 3, and then 4 minutes, with many errors, and even omissions. In round one, three requests were met in the first minute, with time to rest. In round two, zero requests were met in the first minute, with much stress experienced.