Category Archives: Time Span

Missing Stratum III

“I am not sure what is happening,” Monika said. “We have three supervisors, all of them have been here for five to seven years. Up until about six months ago, they were all doing just fine. Now, they are struggling. Not just one supervisor, but all three of them.”

“How so?” I asked.

“We have a meeting to discuss a new problem area. Our work order volume through the shop has increased from twenty work orders a day to fifty work orders. We promise our customers a delivery time, then we find out there are problems with their order, delays in getting some of the special items. We put people on to fix those things, but then that delays other work orders. The white board we use for scheduling can’t handle all the things that change during the day. There is an industry scheduling software, within our budget. We decide on a course of action to find out more about the software, if it will work for us. Each supervisor has their assignment to examine the software. We break the huddle and nothing happens.”

“What do they say?” I pressed.

“We get together a week later. We still have the same problem. One supervisor says they talked to their team, but got push-back. Their team likes the white board. Then they got busy, and here we are, a week later. Another supervisor just stares and says there is too much work to get done, to spend time looking at the software. All three supervisors admit that it is very important to solve this problem. They suggest we hire some assistant supervisors.”

“What happens if you don’t solve this problem?”

“Nothing immediately, but we have some signature projects coming up and if those get delayed, we could lose the projects. And if those projects push other work orders, we could lose other customers.”

I let Monika slow down and stop.

“Have you ever considered that the level of work in your operations department has increased,” I asked. “The way you handle one project, or two projects or twenty projects is different than how you handle fifty projects or sixty projects. If I told your supervisors, tomorrow, would have to handle 100 simultaneous projects, how would they respond?”

“The whole department would implode,” Monika replied.

“But you have the floor space, you have capacity, it is just a matter of handling the complexity created by the additional volume. It’s a higher level of work. And, hiring assistants will not solve your problem. You have to change your system. Do you have the time to work on this?”

“Nope,” Monika was quick to respond. “I have seven departments to keep moving. I can’t get bogged down in this one. It’s almost like we are missing a manager to direct my three supervisors.”

S-IV level of work – Monika
S-III level of work – Missing level – system work
S-II level of work – three supervisors
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Clarification on levels of work in Australia, from Adam Thompson at the Working Journey
In Australia, Supervisor usually denotes the S-I role Assistant to Frontline Manager (FLMA, S-II) role, your Leading Hand.

Team Leader is the role that may denote either the FLMA role or the S-II Manager role.

Str-III sits uncomfortably between Manager / Senior Manager / General Manager and sometimes even Director.

Str-IV is reasonably consistent – General Manager. I think that’s a VP in your world. -Adam

Welcome to First Line Management at S-II

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was a technician in my company, they called me a lead technician, eight years on the job. Whenever there was a problem, most of the guys would come to me. If I couldn’t solve the problem, then we would go to our supervisor. Now, I am the supervisor.

No one really explained the difference between a lead tech and a supervisor. I always knew my supervisor did something different in his role than I did in my technician role, but now that it’s me, I’m not sure what the real difference is.

Response:
Good question. A supervisor is a first line manager, so welcome to the world of management. You are no longer directly doing the work, you are now accountable for the output of other people. It is your role to make sure the production (technician) work is getting done.

As a technician, you were always focused on two things, pace and quality. Were you working fast enough to produce the expected output? Did your output meet the quality standards set for the work? At times, if you worked too fast, a quality standard might be compromised. You might notice that in the reject rate, re-work, warranty complaints. To compensate, you might slow down, pay attention to each of the quality steps, so the output met the quality spec. But then, the pace might be too slow and you might not produce the expected output. It was a constant battle, pace and quality, pace and quality.

And, now, you are the supervisor. The issues are still about pace and quality, but the time frame is different. As a technician, your struggle with pace and quality was all about today, maybe this week, but not much more. Even as the lead technician, your struggles with pace and quality may have been about this week, maybe this month, but not much more.

As the supervisor, what are the elements that can impact both pace and quality?

  • Right technician assigned to the right project
  • Safe working environment, proper safety equipment
  • Right training for the right skill required by the project
  • Right tools used by the technicians required for the project
  • Right materials, in sufficient quantity, to be used for the project
  • Right equipment, in working order, properly maintained, to be used for the project
  • Conducive environment, proper lighting, working height
  • Corrective feedback for mistakes
  • Encouragement for performance

These are the levers that impact pace and quality. And, these are the levers for the supervisor. As you look at this list, to put all these in place requires a longer term outlook. Personnel has to be scheduled. Workload has to level amongst the team. Equipment has to be scheduled, maintained. The workplace has to be clean and maintained. Safety equipment in place, in perfect working order. Materials have to be ordered, accommodating lead times for certain materials. The time span outlook for this coordinating role requires thinking and working 3-12 months into the future.

The tools you will be using are no longer real tools, but schedules and checklists. You will conduct short meetings, huddles to make sure your team is all on the same page.

As a lead technician, you were the go-to-guy. When one of your team mates got stuck, you would quickly try one solution or another, based on your experience, and typically solve the problem. Until, of course, you got stuck.

Then, you would go to your supervisor. Your supervisor may or may not have as much experience as you, but your supervisor was relying on another set of problem solving tools. While you were trying this or that, your supervisor checked to see if we had solved that problem before and documented its best-practice solution.

S-II – Supervisor – Documented experience, best practice solutions

S-I – Technician – Trial and error problem solving

In the past, you relied on your skill at trial and error problem solving. You used your intuitive judgement to quickly test alternatives to solve the problem. Someone noticed and gave you a promotion.

Now, your world has changed. You will still solve many problems through trial and error, but you will begin to see the patterns in problems and connect them with tried and true solutions, elements in your standard operating procedure or best-practice manual.

As a technician, your value-add was quality. As a supervisor, your value add is accuracy, completeness and timeliness of output. Welcome to the world of first line management. –Tom
____________________
As a side note, role designations may be different from one country to the next. The real calibration for the role is determined by the identified level of work in the role. In the United States, supervisory roles are typically S-II roles (3-12 months time span). In Australia, I am told supervisory roles may designate a high S-I role (3 months time span). Check your local listings. Film at eleven.
____________________
Management Myths and Time Span
The Research of Elliott Jaques
Public Presentation
October 6, 2016 – 8:00a – 12:00 noon
Holy Cross Hospital Auditorium
Fort Lauderdale Florida
More information and registration

How to Interview for Passion at S-IV Level of Work

Before we can interview for interest and passion, we have to define the work. It’s always about the work.

Most S-IV roles are integration roles, integrating systems and sub-systems for total organizational throughput. The tools at S-IV are system metrics. The role is typically an executive manager, VP or C-suite. Longest time span goals and objectives would be 2-3-4-5 years. Learning would be long-term (longitudinal) analytic. Highest level problem solving would include systems analysis (Senge-Fifth Discipline). Value-add to the organization is multi-system efficiency and total throughput. It is the role at S-IV to optimize multi-system output so that no one system overwhelms or drags on other systems, and to improve handoffs of work output from one system to the next system. One of the most important functions at S-IV is as the manager of S-III and the manager-once-removed (MOR) at S-II.

Managerial roles at S-IV are accountable for the output of the team at S-III.

Interview questions –

  • The purpose of these next questions is to look at some of the systems in your prior company and examine the way those systems worked together?
  • In your last role, list the functional systems that existed?
  • What was your role title?
  • Which single function were you most focused on?
  • Looking at that system, what impact did other systems have on its output?
  • Describe the balance or imbalance of your focus system and its surrounding system?
  • When one system in your organization was out of balance, in your role, how did you discover the imbalance?
  • When one system in your organization was out of balance, in your role, how did you influence or take direct action to correct the imbalance?
  • How did you communicate the corrective steps necessary to re-balance the systems?
  • How long did it take to re-balance the systems?
  • How did you know, what metrics indicated the systems were back in balance?
  • Step me through the work flow, start to finish as work moved from one function to another in your organization?
  • As work moved from one function to the next, how was that work transferred, communicated, handed-off?
  • Looking at the work transitions between functions, in your role, how did you detect problems?
  • Looking at the work transitions between functions, in your role, how did you influence or take direct action to improve the hand-off transitions?
  • How did you communicate the necessary steps to improve the hand-off transitions?
  • How did you document the hand-off transition steps?
  • How did you know when the hand-off transitions improved?
  • Tell me about another example?

Each of these questions asks for a specific piece of data about the candidate. And though we are trying to find out about an attitude or feeling, the questions are still laser focused on the work.

How to Interview for Passion at S-I Level of Work
How to Interview for Passion at S-II Level of Work
How to Interview for Passion at S-III Level of Work

How to Interview for Passion for Work at S-III

Before we can interview for interest and passion, we have to define the work. It’s always about the work.

Most S-III roles are system roles, building systems that don’t solve problems, but prevent them. The tools at S-III are work flow diagrams, time and motion studies, schematics, sequencing and planning. The role is typically the manager of a functional team (marketing, sales, business development, estimating, operations, QA/QC, warranty, research and development, HR, legal). Longest time span goals and objectives would be 12 months – 16 months – 20 months – 24 months. Learning would include analytic. Highest level problem solving would include root cause and comparative analysis. Value-add to the organization is consistency and predictability. It is the role at S-III to create the system, monitor the system, constantly improve the system. One of the most important systems at S-III is the people system inside the function.

Managerial roles at S-III are accountable for the output of the team at S-II.

Given a large customer problem, the central question for the S-III manager is, why didn’t our system prevent that problem, or at least, mitigate the damage from that problem.

Interview questions –

  • The purpose of these next questions is to look at some of the systems you built and how you built them. Tell me about a project you were accountable for, containing several steps, that was similar to other projects you completed in the past?
  • What was the project?
  • What was your role on the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • Using this project as an example, tell me about a system you created to solve its problems and make its decisions?
  • What were the circumstances in the project that lead you to create a system?
  • Step me through the system that you created?
  • How did you communicate the steps in the system to the team?
  • How did you test the steps in the system to make sure they were in the best sequence?
  • During the project, did any of the steps in the system change?
  • When steps in the system changed, how did you track the changes and modify the system?
  • When the project was totally complete, what parts of the system could be applied to other projects?
  • Think about the next project where that system was useful?
  • What was the project, why was that project a candidate to use the same system?
  • What modifications did you have to make to the system, so it had a positive impact of this next project?
  • How did you document the modification to the system?
  • How was this system important to the effectiveness of your functional team?
  • Tell me about another system you created related to a project in your company?

Each of these questions asks for a specific piece of data about the candidate. And though we are trying to find out about an attitude or feeling, the questions are still laser focused on the work.

How to Interview for Passion at S-I Level of Work
How to Interview for Passion at S-II Level of Work

Why Do Team Members Fail? A Managers Dilemma

  • I was careful in the interview, still picked the wrong person.
    I think I was careful in the interview process, selecting the right candidate. I was wrong. Wasted several weeks interviewing and several weeks finding out I hired the wrong person. Now, I have to start over at square one.
  • Promoted top performer to manager. Now failing.
    She was with the company for 12 years, top performer, everyone liked her. We promoted her to a game-breaker position and, now, she is failing, like a deer in the headlights. She is demoralized, embarrassed and wants to leave the company.
  • Senior Project Manager blows the deadline, again.
    He had a good plan in the meeting, schedule looked solid, but it’s Friday and I have to call the customer to explain that the project will be late. There is no reason for the delay, just an excuse.
  • At that pay level, shouldn’t have to hold their hand.
    I know the problem is tricky to solve, but if I have to answer one more question, I might as well do it myself.
  • If I told them once, told them a thousand times.
    The work instructions were clear. We reviewed them in the meeting. Everyone said they understood. There were no questions. We had more defects this week than last.
  • Sent him to manager training, same person came back.
    Our high hopes for this young manager are dashed. Showed such promise. Or did he?

Management Myths and Time Span
The Research of Elliott Jaques
presented by Tom Foster

October 6, 2016
Fort Lauderdale, FL

What this program covers – this is not re-packaged Leadership 101. Unless you have seen Tom, you have never seen this before.

  • Most who want to take their company to the next level don’t know what the next level is, nor the team required to get them there. Find out the difference between infancy, go-go, adolescence, prime and stable.
  • Unlock and understand the secret behind the Peter Principle, promoting someone to their level of incompetence, and how to test before the mistake is made.
  • Most companies underestimate what is really required for success in a role. Learn the Four Absolutes that must be in your hiring process.

Every CEO, executive and manager struggles with the hidden key to performance, revealed in this fascinating program.

October 6, 2016
8:00a – 12:00 noon

Program starts at 8:30a sharp
Holy Cross Hospital Auditorium
4725 North Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale FL 33308

Reserve Now $200
Vistage/TEC Members and their Guests, ONLY $99

Seating is limited
PLUS – each participant receives a complimentary copy of Tom’s latest book –
Outbound Air
Levels of Work in Organizational Structure

Register by credit card or PayPal –
Reserve my seat – Registration link – $200 per person
I am a Vistage/TEC member or Guest- Only $99 per person

About Tom
Tom Foster is the author of two books on this subject –

  • Outbound Air – Levels of Work in Organizational Structure
  • Hiring Talent – Levels of Work in the Behavioral Interview

Tom travels North America working with CEOs on what happens when companies get bigger, from a dozen employees to a hundred, five hundred, to a thousand plus. Since 2004, he has delivered this workshop to more than 450 groups, more than 6,000 executives.

In Broward County, Florida, Tom runs multiple executive peer groups, where, since 1995, he has delivered more than 14,000 hours as an executive coach to CEOs. His client base is diverse, from retail to distribution, manufacturing, construction, education, software, professional and industrial services. Tom is an expert on business models, organizational structure and hiring.

Procrastination and Time Span

Joyce had her thinking cap on. Her dissatisfaction with Phillip was elusive. Not just a lack of performance, but from a lack of capability.

“I want you to begin to think about capability in terms of Time Span,” I prompted.

“You’re right,” she replied. “Phillip seems to stay away from, or procrastinate on all the projects that take time to plan out and work on. And then, it’s like he jams on the accelerator. He even told me that he works better under pressure, that last minute deadlines focus him better. I am beginning to think that he waits until the last minute because that is the only time frame he thinks about.”

“Give me an example,” I asked.

“Remember, I found him hidden away in the warehouse, rearranging all the shelves himself. It’s really a bigger project than that. We are trying to move the high turning items to bins up front and slower moving items to bins in the back. But it’s going to take some time to review, which items need to be moved, how to re-tag them, how to planagram the whole thing. We started talking about this three months ago with a deadline coming due next week. So, only now, Phillip focuses in the warehouse doing things himself. And the result is likely to be more of a mess than a help.”

“Is it a matter of skill, planning skills?” I ventured.

“No, I don’t think so. The whole project is just beyond him,” Joyce said with some certainty.

“Then how are we going to measure the size of the project, the size of the role? And how will we state Phillip’s effectiveness in that role?”
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Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. You can pre-register starting today. See you online. -Tom

Why Time Span is Important

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Why is Time Span important? I don’t see how the length of time it takes, to complete a task makes a difference in writing the role description.

Response:
Calibrating the level of work in the role description is absolutely critical for the manager to gain insight into the decision making and problem solving required for success in the role. If the hiring manager cannot determine the level of decision making and problem solving, the successful search for a candidate will mostly be based on luck.

Intuitively, we can agree that some problems are more complex than other problems. Intuitively, we can agree that some decisions are more complex than other decisions. But, intuitive understanding does not help us measure that complexity.

And I am not talking about detailed complexity. Engineers love detailed complexity. They write computer software to handle all the detail in scalable databases. That is not the complexity I am talking about.

The complexity I am talking about, is the complexity created by the uncertainty of the future, the complexity created by the ambiguity of the future. That complexity can be measured by identifying the target completion time (Time Span).

Do you remember Murphy? Murphy has a law. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. How long do we give Murphy to play? That is Time Span.

The Time Span of a problem or the Time Span of a decision will give the hiring manager insight into the talent (capability of the candidate) required to be effective in the role.

  • Short term problems can be solved through trial and error.
  • Medium term problems may require experience (documented experience).
  • Long term problems (problems we have never solved before) may require root-cause or comparative analysis.

The Time Span of the problem will indicate the method (and capability) required to solve it.

Remember the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? The Time Span of the problem at hand was short. The problem required an emergency solution. We watched on television, in real time, as engineers cobbled together trial and error solutions. We did not need a sophisticated well thought out solution. There was no time for longitudinal studies of hydraulic pressures in geological fissures. We just needed a mechanical wrench to choke off a hole in an underwater pipe.

But longer term, when drilling rigs are designed, to simultaneously get to the oil AND safely protect the operating crew AND protect the long term environmental impact, well, that solution will require a bit more than choking off a hole in a pipe.

The Time Span of a problem or the Time Span of a decision gives us insight into the talent required to be effective in the solution. And the person selected out of the candidate pool makes all the difference.

The solution is seldom a matter of WHAT, more often a matter of WHO.

Not Enough Time

“I gotta get something off my plate,” Adrian shook his head. “I am so busy, I just don’t have time to get everything done.”

Busy?” I asked. For me, busy is a code word, a clue, that there is a mis-match in level of work.

“Yes. Busy. I get here early to catch things up from yesterday, make some headway on one of my projects, but about 7:30, the chaos begins.”

Chaos?” I asked. For me, chaos is a code word, a clue, that there is a mis-match in level of work.

“Yes. Chaos,” Adrian replied. “Unsolved problems from yesterday. Yesterday’s decisions delayed until today. It hits my email, it hits my text messages, it hits my phone, it walks through my office door.”

“So, you think you have a problem?” I clarified. “And, if you could get something off your plate, you would have more time? And if you had more time, you wouldn’t be so busy? And if you weren’t so busy, there would be less chaos?”

“That’s it,” Adrian agreed.

“Then, why did you start coming to work so early?” I probed.

“Because I was too busy during the day. There was too much chaos during the day. I couldn’t get anything done,” Adrian was frustrated with his circular problem.

“So, you came to work early to get more time, but you are still too busy and there is still too much chaos? Do you think not-enough-time is really the problem.”

The Connection Between Time Span and Outcomes

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Thank you for your presentation to our group. I enjoyed it very much. It strikes me that while I like the concept of time span, generally, the concept of time is relative and it’s really about being able to see down the road of potential outcomes regardless of the time-frame.

Response:
Your thinking is on the right track and you have made the connection between time span (time-frame) and potential outcomes. Let’s take it a bit further.

In a short time span project, there may be several outcomes, but the characteristics of those outcomes are concrete and tangible. In a longer time span project, the possible outcomes multiply in number with less defined characteristics.

If an audio-visual contractor bids on a contract for a audio-visual setup, 65 inch hole in the wall, with a project deadline in three months time, what goes in the hole?

  • The technology is certain – plasma, LCD, LED-LCD, OLED, QDLED
  • The display is certain – CRT, flat screen, front projection, rear projection
  • The display surface is certain – reflective surface, flat surface, curved surface
  • The manufacturer is certain – Sony, Mitsubishi, JVC, Samsung, LG, Panasonic

There are a number of possible outcomes.

If an audio-visual contractor bids on a contract for an audio-visual setup, 65 inch hole in the wall, with a project deadline in five years time (a commercial project still in the design phase, hasn’t broken ground), what goes in the hole?

  • What will be the display technology in five years time?
  • What will be the surface technology in five years time, will there even be a surface, holographic?
  • Who will be the manufacturers in five years time?

There are a number of possible outcomes, but the characteristics are more uncertain. There is ambiguity and uncertainty. So, here is the question –

Given the ambiguity and uncertainty in this project, should the audio-visual contractor accept the contract with a deadline in five years time?

Some contractors would pass, saying there is too much uncertainty, no way to say what the project will look like. Some contractors, comfortable with ambiguity and with the internal capability to adapt to emerging technologies would gladly accept the project. What is the difference in the thinking? What is the difference in the organizations?

How to Measure the Complexity in a Role

“And how big is Ron’s job right now?” I asked.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” Eduardo protested. “I am just trying to get my arms around measuring the size of the job by using Time Span.”

“I understand,” I replied. “So, think about it now. Measuring the size of the job using Time Span will become clear.”

“Okay,” Eduardo started. “Ron’s role now is to manage two supervisors with a total staff of twelve people. That’s two supervisors and ten workers.”

“So, what are the tasks and what is the Time Span of the longest task?” I prodded.

“Well, Ron has to teach his supervisors to use the same process he used when he was a supervisor. But he had all that in his head, so now he has to either write it down, or draw a picture, flow chart it out, or something. He has to create the system for his team.” Eduardo stopped. “This is really a different job. I think one of his supervisors isn’t doing that great and needs to be replaced. Ron is going to have to figure out what skills would be valuable to interview for and then he has to go out and recruit.

“He also has some equipment that needs to be replaced with more sophisticated machines, get a bit more automated, but he is going to have to make his case. And he has to budget for it. And he has to get that budget approved. Our budget process alone is done on an annual basis.

“Without thinking much more about it, I think the Time Span required for Ron’s job, now, is about twelve months.”

“So, based on Time Span,” I said, “the size of Ron’s current job is twelve months?” Eduardo was nodding. Time Span as a unit of measure was beginning to sink in.

Outbound Air – Levels of Work in Organizational Structure now available on Amazon.

Outbound Air