Never mind how many people you can get to work on your enterprise software project team. The critical factor today is how much of their focused attention you can get when you need it.

Quoting columnist and Guinness record holder for Highest IQ Marilyn vos Savant, “Working in an office with an array of electronic devices is like trying to get something done at home with half a dozen small children around. The calls for attention are constant.”

It is not easy to get people to pay attention. Your project is competing for share of mind with texts, email and the internet emanating non-stop from your team’s cell phones.

Thomas Davenport and John Beck, in their book The Attention Economy, state: “The ability to prioritize information, to focus and reflect on it, and to exclude extraneous data will be at least as important as acquiring it.”

In 2005, I was on a team whose mission it was to modify parts of SAP to enable the sale and invoicing of what are called “kits.” A kit in software parlance is a product whose components include other products. The final product is what is recorded as the sale and what appears on the customer invoice. Sounds simple, right?

We worked in a global company. The team participants were in Ohio, New York, Western Europe, The Philippines, India, and Texas. After 14 months the team had finally gotten to the point at which it could test the solution. There had been more than 25 full-team conference calls, but no face-to-face meetings in which everyone – business people, developers, and technical experts – was present.

Why did it take so long? Attention deficit: People in remote locations for whom this project was one of many, and whose interaction with the substance of it was via impersonal conference calls during which multi-tasking naturally diverted one’s attention.

Do you know anyone who does not multi-task during a conference call? The attention deficit is automatic. People are caught not listening. Participants tend to speak a lot less than if the meeting is held face to face. It’s easy to hide and withdraw on a conference call.

We pride ourselves for the ability to work virtually across continents, have meetings anytime anywhere, and send work around the globe as if we were passing it across the table. But I think we’ve diluted our effectiveness and the quality of our output. We split our minds into more and more slices, marveling at our ability to manage so many things at once, but all we are doing is giving cursory attention to a lot of things instead of focused energy on a few.