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Contemporary organizations often utilize complex structures to manage resources and the processes they perform. We apply a coordination theory perspective to analyze the structure of project activities by utilizing a tandem queueing model to study the length of activity structures in relation to the time and the cost of task processing. We identify structures that balance the tradeoffs between productivity, handoffs, and waiting time. In particular, we seek to better understand the conditions where a task assigned to a single worker should be split into two or more serial activities. A heuristic is developed that considers the tradeoffs and determines the number of workers and subactivities into which an assigned task in a project should be subdivided. We suggest practical applications of the model and provide guidance as to the length of the activity structures within real world settings. Our findings suggest that in many cases tasks should be treated as a single activity node but that there are conditions under which it is beneficial to utilize a tandem structure of two or even more subactivity nodes.
Date of Publication: May 2006