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For about a year I had a team of three people (including myself) working on one project who is made essentially of two components, written in two different programming languages. Both of the software engineers were knowledgeable about both codebases, but each one of them was also slightly more focused on one component than another.

Now I have two new engineers joining the team, but also two additional (green-field) projects. All engineers have technical skills that make them able to contribute to all projects, albeit some a bit more than others. Having all engineers being able to switch from one project to another has certainly some benefits, but I’m also worried of the context-switching and that there won’t be any feeling of ownership, and without that, a vision on how to evolve the projects in the future.

I’d like some advice on whether it is feasible (and recommended) to have 4 engineers contributing on several different projects at the same time, or if it’s better to distribute resources so that they can only work on one, or at best two, projects.

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I’d like some advice on whether it is feasible (and recommended) to have 4 engineers contributing on several different projects at the same time

Whether it's feasible/recommended will depend highly on your own organization's situation. Consider the following questions:

Do these projects have to be worked on concurrently?

If 'No', then consider swarming them. Put the entire team focused on project 1 until it's done. Then put the entire team on project 2 until it's done. Etc. In most cases, I would say this is the best approach, but your mileage may vary.

If 'Yes': do the advantages of having a team work on a project (such as knowledge sharing, shared ownership, and improved efficiency of allowing workers to work on their specialties) outweigh the costs of workers working on multiple projects (primarily context switching, which is a large cost). In most cases, I would say 'No', but your mileage may vary.

I can tell you what I would do, in my situation. But in your situation, you need to find out what the best course of action is (and, ideally, also understand why).

  • to answer your question, yes, the projects will be worked on in parallel. I will edit my question to reflect this point, thanks. – Trasplazio Garzuglio Nov 20 '17 at 22:23

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