Category Archives: Time Span

Why Time Span is Important

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

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.

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 –

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.

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.

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Does Increasing the Number of Projects Impact Level of Work?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

You seem to base level of work on time span. But can’t the level of work also be defined by the number of simultaneous projects? It seems odd that doing (1) six month project is the same level of work as doing (3) six-month projects, at the same time. The time span is still six months, but juggling three projects seems more complex than executing one project?

Yes, the number of simultaneous projects does impact the level of work, but not in the way you might think. In your example of the project manager, who effectively executes (1) six month project, what is the level of work? The time span of the project would indicate that this would be S-II level of work.

And so, her manager assigns (2) simultaneous six-month projects. What is the level of work? Though the project manager may spend more hours during those six months, the level of work is still S-II.

And so, her manager assigns (3) simultaneous six-month projects. What is the level of work? Though the project manager may spend even more hours during those six months, the level of work is still S-II.

At some point, however, the project manager simply runs out of hours. The level of work doesn’t change, but the project manager passes out from exhaustion.

And so, her manager assigns (4) simultaneous six-month projects. In fact, to make the point clearer, her manager assigns (50) simultaneous six-month projects.

If the project manager is out of hours, (50) simultaneous projects cannot be done at the same level of work. To effectively execute (50) simultaneous projects, the project manager will have to delegate the direct work and create specific systems for monitoring progress and gauging quality control. The work creating the systems to monitor progress and check for quality is solid S-III.

And while the projects themselves may be completed in six months, the planning, recruiting, system design, and system testing will easily add months prior to project mobilization. Add the audit work to ensure project accuracy, phase completion and quality standards at the end of the project, and you are well over twelve months time span for these (50) projects.

So, you are correct that increasing the number of simultaneous projects impacts the level of work, but only when you run out of hours.

Is It Beyond the Capability Required in the Role

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

In our company, we have a Stratum II (S-II) sales role, 3-12 months time span. In that role, we have a person who has demonstrated solid S-II effectiveness at around 9 months in the role. Our lead time on proposals along with the length of the sales cycle feels about right.

In the past year, I have been trying to get our salesperson to think out a bit further. Sometimes, we find that we are not on the short list for some RFPs because our competitors have already established a better relationship. In some cases, our competitors have been courting the prospective client for three to four years, way before a project was even on the horizon. I am thinking about adding a Key Result Area (KRA) to our sales role called Client Development and calibrating it at a three year objective. To create client relationships up to three years in advance of a prospective project. It’s a really small industry, so we know who the real players are across the country. We just need to get to know them sooner.

When I proposed this to our salesperson, I didn’t get outright rejection, but she said she would be more effective focusing on projects that were real instead of wasting her time on something that might never happen. Problem is, when they do happen, it’s too late to establish the relationship. We are already off the short list.

I can see Client Development as a valuable KRA for this role. And I can see the time span of the objective as appropriate to accomplish what you want, to create the kind of long-term relationship to ensure you make the short list. If you examine your competitors, that is exactly how they are defining the relationship work and they are beating you to the short list as a result.

Understand, however, when you define the level of work at 3 years, you have moved the level of work from S-II to S-IV. That is a totally different level and may be beyond the capability of your solid S-II salesperson. Your observation of push-back would make me suspicious that simply changing the role description is going to elevate the behavior.

Moreover, if establishing the prospective client relationship is a 3 year time span task at S-IV, you also must consider that the person you are establishing this relationship with, is also thinking 3 years out. It might be a more appropriate time span task, a more appropriate client relationship for you.

The Curse of a Manager

“You look off-balance,” I said.

Renee shook her head. “Ever since I was promoted to sales manager, things are different. When I was on the sales team, things were exciting, always a new customer, a deal in limbo, a sale that closes, a sale that gets stalled. But there was always action. As sales manager, I only get to hear about that stuff from other people. I get to coach, but I never get to play.”

“What else is different?” I asked.

“When I was a salesperson, I was always focused on the day, or the week, at most a month or a quarter. Sure, I had my annual sales goals, but mostly, I only looked at what was right in front of me.” Renee took a breath. “Now, I live in the world of annual sales goals. My decisions are centered around how many salespeople on the team, which one is going off the rails, gauging whether our sales backlog is within the capacity of operations. Not very exciting stuff. And budgets. I am not just thinking about this year, I have to think about next year. The ops manager wants to invest in some automation and wants to know if I can generate enough sales to pay for it over the next three years.”

“So, the biggest difference is time span. You use to measure your success, or failure by the day or the week. You got constant juice from your deal flow,” I replied. “Now, there is no juice. You are working on goals that won’t be completed for one to two years. Oh, sure, you will soon know whether you are making progress, soon enough, but you won’t hold the result in your hands for quite some time. It’s the curse of a manager.

“But, here’s the thing,” I continued. “If all you ever think about is the next deal, the next customer, if everything you think about is short-term, then thinking about what needs thinking about, never becomes a priority. Planning never happens. Your ability to plan, your ability to think long-term atrophies. Making short moves in the needle is easy. Making large moves in the needle takes time. Most managers are too impatient to do that kind of thinking. They would rather get the juice.”

Test With Project Work

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“What could I have done differently?” Joyce asked. “I thought Phillip was the right choice. I know now, that I was wrong, but how do you make the decision on whether or not to promote someone?”

“Why did you think he was a candidate for promotion?” I asked.

“Well, he has been with us for a little over a year. He knows the ropes. He was a team leader, had the respect of his team,” Joyce replied.

“And what level of work do you think he is capable at?”

“Well, based on what we have been talking about, his current capability seems to be about four weeks or a little more, but not a lot more.”

“So, how could you find out how much more?”

“Well, he was successful at four weeks. I could have given him a task that took six weeks to complete, or eight weeks.”

“Exactly,” I pointed out. “The best way to determine performance is with project work. The problem with project work, is that, until we talked about Time Span, you had no way to determine the level of work. With Time Span, you can measure with more precision. Your job, as his Manager, becomes more precise.”

How to Measure the Level of Work

“I hope he snaps out of it, soon,” Warren shook his head. “Tyler was one of our best supervisors before he got promoted to manager?”

“How big is this new job, as a manager?” I asked.

“I didn’t really think it was that much different,” Warren lamented. “I mean he went from six people to eighteen people, but he has two supervisors under him now, each handling a team of eight people. So, he really only has the two supervisors that he has to directly work with.”

“How big is this new job?” I repeated. “How do you measure the level of work in this new role?”

Warren thought. “It does seem more complicated. He has more resources to work with, but I don’t know that I can actually measure the level of work.”

“What was the longest time span task that Tyler had, as a supervisor?”

“Well, as a supervisor, he was accountable for making sure all the production got done. He had to make sure he had enough people on the line, that we had enough raw material to work with, make sure all the machinery was available and in working order. It was a pretty big job.”

“And what was the longest lead time item on his plate?”

Warren smiled. “Oh, yes. There is this one material that we order from Indonesia. When it arrives, we outsource a special coating. The whole process takes about six months before we even bring it in-house. And we can’t run out or all of our production shuts down. Tyler had to pay specific attention to that.”

“So, we can measure the longest time span task in his old role at about six months?” I confirmed. “So, what is the longest time span task in his new role as a manager?”

How to Measure the Size of the Role?

Warren was puzzled. “I talked to Tyler three times today. He has been having difficulty ever since I promoted him to manager.”

“So, at one point, he was effective?” I asked.

“Yes, he has been with the company for several years. He was a supervisor with six people on his team. Now, he is a manager of two supervisors with a total of eighteen people on his team.”

“What do you notice about him?” I pressed.

“It seems like he is too removed from the work. I ask him what is going on and he doesn’t have an answer. Says he has to go check. I mean, he gets the daily output reports, so he should know precisely what it happening, but it’s like he is disconnected.”

“Drugs? Alcohol?” I wanted to know.

“Don’t think so, Tyler is too conscientious for that,” Warren replied.

“What do you think the problem is?”

“It’s like the job is just too big for him.”

“So, how do you measure how big the job is?”