Category Archives: Time Span

Time Span of Express

Analogies can be useful teachers. Seth Godin published this about Express and Local trains, which creates a perfect analogy to understand time span.

Express trains run less often, make fewer stops, and if they’re going where you’re going, get you there faster.
The local train is, of course, the opposite.
Some people hop on the first train that comes. A local in the hand is worth the extra time, they say, because you’re never quite sure when the express is going to get there.
On the other hand, there’s a cost to investing in the thing that pays off in the long run.
Now that you see that, you’re probably going to notice it in 100 areas of your life.

One of those hundred areas is time span.

Local trains (short time span) require very little thought, not much of a plan. The train (bus) picks a route and stops every place (enough) people want to stop. It uses the same track day after day.

Express trains (longer time span) requires more thought and much more planning.

  • Which routes would benefit from express?
  • What is the threshold criteria for an express?
  • Which stops to skip? Which are served by a local?
  • Which tracks to use? Which tracks to skip?
  • How to evaluate the effectiveness of an express?
  • What if something changes and the express is no longer effective? How do we know?

Think about your projects, your customer service, your web portals, product delivery, warranty programs, quality programs, research and development. What is your express train? What is your local?

Anything That Can Go Wrong

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am still struggling with the concept of time span. You say that time span indicates complexity. How?

Response:
Don’t overthink this fundamental concept. Life is about uncertainty. It is like the weather and the stock market. There is always uncertainty.

Combine this level of uncertainty with our intentions (goal directed behavior) and you observe the consternation of the ages. This is not a matter of going with the flow, but trying to get something done, achieve a goal, create an accomplishment. Elliott describes this as the “time span of intention.”

In spite of our best intentions, the longer it takes to achieve the goal, the more time life has to be unpredictable. The shorter time it takes to achieve the goal, the less time life has to happen, the less opportunity for some circumstance to come in sideways and blow everything up.

Time span is about contingencies. Time span becomes a calibration tool that allows us to precisely measure the impact of uncertainty in our best laid plans.

Step back and remember Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. How long do we give Murphy to play?

Too Hot? Too Cold? Just Right?

“So, how do we measure Hector?” Eduardo asked. “I’m all ears. I understand how to measure the time span of the tasks that Hector is responsible for. And, the longest task is three months. But, how do we measure Hector?”

“It is really very simple. You now know the time span of the longest task in the role that Hector plays. Here is the question.

“Does Hector, in your judgment as his manager, have the capability to perform the tasks in his role as freight supervisor? Or does he fall short in his capability to perform those tasks? Or does he have the capability to perform tasks with a longer time span?

“It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Is the porridge too hot? Too cold? Or is it just right?”

Eduardo squinted, “That’s it? Too hot, too cold or just right?”

I nodded, “Which is it?”

“Well, Hector does most of the job okay, but when it comes to the more complicated stuff, he falls short.”

“So, to recap your judgment, as his manager, Hector falls short?” I repeated.

“But, I knew that already,” Eduardo complained.

“Yes, you did, but you did not have a way to measure what you already knew. Now, you know that Hector falls short in capability at three months. If you define the time span of the shorter tasks he completes, you will have a very precise measure of his capability.”

Eduardo was quiet, then spoke. “Hector handles the one month stuff well. But falls short on the three month stuff. Hector’s time span is on the up side of one month, but the short side of three months.”

“So, now, is the question. How is this helpful to you as his manager?”

What’s the Level of Work?

“Where do we start?” Eduardo asked.

“Where do you think we should start?” I replied.

“We are trying to measure Hector’s capability. Is he big enough for the role. That’s the goal of this session,” Eduardo established.

“So, what unit of measure have we talked about when it comes to defining the tasks involved in his job?”

“We talked about time span,” he said.

“And, what was the measure of the longest task in Hector’s job?”

“We said, one month. Hector is in charge of shipping, but it’s more than just getting freight out the door. He is responsible for proper crating, working with vendors to select the proper crating materials, collecting information about product damage in transit. It is really a big job. Some of the problems that have to be solved involve testing in-house, you know, crash testing and then field testing.

“So, I don’t think one month is accurate. I think, to be successful, the longest task is three months. It takes that long to solve some of the material damage issues in that department,” Eduardo concluded.

“Okay, three months is the longest task required. To be successful running the shipping area requires the ability to work three months into the future, without direction, using his own discretionary judgment?”

Eduardo nodded, “Yes, I need Hector to carry the ball the whole way. I may check up on him more frequently to see if he still has the ball, but I need him to supervise the resolution to some of these issues without me. If I really have to get involved, then Hector is not doing the necessary work.”

“So, success in the job requires a time span of three months?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“That is step one. Firmly establishing the time span of the longest task, establishing the required time span for the role.

“Are you ready for step two? The next part is to measure Hector.”

The Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was in your workshop last week and suddenly realized why I feel frustrated in my position. In the course of a project, I solve problems and make decisions, submit them to my manager for review, and then, he sits on them. People who depend on those decisions, one way or the other, ask me, “what gives?” The decision sits on my manager’s desk in a black hole while the project gets delayed. In the end, my decision survives, but the project is late, time and again.

Is it possible my manager is in over his head? He gets credit for my decisions, even though the project is late. I am worried that I will be stuck here under my manager for the rest of my career.

Response:
There is always more to the story and I cannot speculate on the capability of your manager. I do know that your manager’s goals and objectives set the context for your work. Keep your head down. Keep making decisions and solving problems on your assigned projects. Continue to give your manager “best advice.” That’s your role.

Your biggest fear is that your career may be in a dead-end under your current manager. It likely appears that your manager is, indeed, not focused on your professional development. Not his job.

Look to your manager’s manager, your manager-once-removed. Your manager is specifically focused on a shorter term set of goals and objectives. Your manager-once-removed is focused on a longer term set of goals and objectives. Some of that longer term focus is the professional development of team members two levels of work below.

Manager-once-removed
———————————-
Manager
———————————-
Team member

The working relationship with your manager is different than the working relationship with your manager-once-removed. The relationship with your manager is an accountability relationship filled with task assignments, checkpoints and coaching. The relationship with your manager-once-removed is a mentoring relationship filled with discussions about professional development, career path, working environment, challenge in your role.

It is likely that your company does not recognize the importance of the manager-once-removed relationship. It is possible your manager-once-removed has no awareness of this necessary managerial relationship. You do. You are now aware.

What to do
Pick two or three professional development programs that you find interesting and that could help you bring more value to the company in your role. Don’t pick something that pulls you away from your current role or something with an unreasonable budget. It could be something as simple as three different books you would like to read that will bump up your skill level.

Ask your manager-once-removed to schedule a short fifteen minute conference to ask advice. Don’t ask for advice, ask for a short fifteen minute conference. This is not a casual conversation in the hallway. You want undivided attention across a desk or a table.

This fifteen minute conversation is your first of several meetings with your manager-once-removed to talk about longer time span issues related to your professional development. This is not a time to talk about the accountabilities in your current role, those discussions should be with your manager. This is the time to talk about your long term development and contribution to the company over time.

Take baby steps and build from there. A reasonable routine to meet with your manager-once-removed would be for 30-45-60 minutes every three months. Keep in touch. -Tom

Survival Behavior

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

What happens when you realize you were given a promotion and not able to live up to the capabilities? Do you admit it to your superiors? Do you keep it to yourself and risk failure?

Response:

There are many ways to survive in a position that’s over your head, but in the end, it’s only survival. Not a way to live.

I often ask managers, “How do you know, what behavior do you observe when a person is in over their head? Where the Time Span required for the role is longer than the Time Span capability of the person?”

The descriptions come back.

  • They feel overwhelmed.
  • They cover things up.
  • They cut off communication.
  • Their projects are always late.
  • I can’t ever find them.
  • They always blame someone else.
  • They have all the excuses.
  • They never accept responsibility.

So, the short answer is yes. When you realize you are in over your head, go back to your boss. Explain the difficulties you are having. Ask for help. If it is a matter of capability (Time Span), no amount of training, no amount of hand holding will help. It is possible that you may grow into the position, but it’s more likely a matter of years, not weeks that allows for the required maturity (increase in Time Span).

This doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means you were placed in a position where you cannot be effective. Yet!

Level of Work of a Team Lead?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I run a private industrial disaster recovery business. We respond to natural disasters and clean up the mess. We are very hierarchical, but I am having difficulty understanding the level of work in the teams that we dispatch.

Is it possible to have a supervisor in stratum level one? For example, we deploy teams of three people consisting of two technicians and a team captain. The two technicians are obviously working at S-I, one or two day time span, while the team captain works on a day to week at the most. The team captain directs the activities of the two technicians, but is he their manager?

We have several three person teams supervised by a single Project Manager. The Project Manager role, for us, includes team member selection, coordination of support resources, equipment, machinery, consumables as well as training for technicians and team captains. Our Project Manager clearly works at S-II, 3-12 month time span.

My question is, what is the level of work for the Team Leader?

Response:

You describe a classic case of a First Line Manager Assistant (FLMA). Elliott was very specific about this role. You are correct that the role is an S-I role and illustrates that within a single stratum level of work, we have different levels of work, illustrated below –

S-II – Project Manager, supervision and coordination, manager of the entire S-I team.
————————————————
S-I-Hi – Team Captain, directs on-site, assigns tasks, but is not the manager of the team.
S-I-Med – Technician, works under the on-site direction of the Team Leader
S-I-Lo – Technician trainee
————————————————

This works for project teams, deployed field units, multi-shift operations where the S-II Project Manager or Supervisor is not physically present at all times. The First Line Manager Assistant (FLMA) has limited authority to direct activity and assign tasks within the larger authority of the S-II Supervisor. The FLMA has recommending authority for advancement and compensation, but those decisions remain with the S-II Supervisor.

States of Thinking – Parallel

From the Ask Tom mailbag – Part 4 of 4

Parallel State

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)

And then the serial thinker wakes up one morning to discover the predictable output of their genius system is impacted by the output of another system. To understand what is happening requires a parallel state of thinking.

Peter Senge, Fifth Discipline, explains how one reinforcing system can be impacted by a distinctly separate balancing system. The output of your sales system will eventually be impacted by the capacity of your fulfillment system.

Parallel thinking must consider the dependency, inter-dependency, contingency and bottle-necks that occur as multiple systems sit side by side. The goal at this parallel level of work is to integrate our multiple systems and sub-systems into a whole system. This requires optimizing the output of one system relative to the capacity of another system, and shaping the hand-off of work product from one system to the next system as work travels horizontally across the organization. To be effective at this level of work requires systems analysis, a parallel state of thinking. -Tom

States of Thinking – Serial

From the Ask Tom mailbag – Part 3 of 4

Serial State

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)

The cumulative thinker wakes up one morning and sees the world in a whole new way. Not only are things in the world connected, but there are cause-and-effect relationships between them.

If this is the case, then this must be the result.

One thing causes another thing to occur. This is the state of thinking required to be effective at creating single serial systems. There is end to end accountability for the effectiveness of the system at this level of work.

Decision making and problem solving not only requires an understanding of steps to be included, but the duration of each step, sequence of steps, which steps depend on other steps to be completed (dependent steps), which steps may be worked on simultaneously (concurrent steps), lead times for steps and critical path. Trouble-shooting (problem solving) is an analytic process (root cause or comparative analysis).

Serial thinking creates consistency and predictability in each system. And then the serial thinker wakes up one morning to discover the predictable output of their genius system is impacted by the output of another system. To understand what is happening requires a parallel state of thinking. -Tom

States of Thinking – Declarative

From the Ask Tom mailbag – Part 1 of 4.
Question:
Last week, you created a chart that appeared to break down various states of thinking related to levels of work. Your biggest distinction seemed to be from concrete (short time span) to conceptual (longer time span) levels of work. But you used specific labels to describe states of thinking at Strata Levels I-II-III-IV. Could you be more descriptive in these states.

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)

Response:
When I look at work, I look at two things, the way people make decisions and the way people solve problems. That’s work.

Declarative State (I do declare!) describes the state of problem solving engaged in short time span problems. Something exists because it is declared to exist. In his most recent book, the Undoing Project, Michael Lewis describes the fallibility of such thinking, based on recency bias or vividness bias. Things get connected “just because.” There is an old wives tale that arthritis pain is connected to weather events. A study conducted by Amos Tversky, one of the subjects of Lewis’ book, demonstrates there is no statistical link between arthritis and the weather yet, “a single day of severe pain and extreme weather might sustain a lifetime of belief in a relation between them.”

Declarative State is a very disjunctive way of seeing the world. Connectivity is imagined, declared, without the requirement of supporting evidence. Given a problem to solve, a person engaged in a declarative state can see the problem, and can consider a small number of presented solutions. A declarative process would start with the most obvious, most convenient, most vivid, most imagined solution, without evidence of its probable effectiveness. Yet, if that solution does not immediately work, the declarative process simply moves to the next most obvious, most convenient, most vivid, most imagined solution. There is the old joke about looking for a set of dropped car keys, in the dark, down the street from the parked car. The person searches down the street, under the streetlight, because searching in the dark, next to the car is too difficult. This scientific process is known as trial and error.

And there are many problems that can be effectively and quickly solved through trial and error problem solving. And there are many people in S-I roles who can play through trial and error so quickly, their solutions appear astounding.

Until they wake up one morning and see the world in a whole new way, things are actually connected. They go from not being able to connect the dots to the next level state of thinking, cumulative. -Tom