What’s the Work of a System Architect at S-III

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

So, yes, we have an individual technical contributor, a system architect role, at S-III, with no reports. Does this then mean the system architect fulfills “production” and that a Stratum IV role would be the supervisor and a Stratum V role would create the system? Or, would you say that the system architect fulfills all three roles? Or something different altogether?

Again, this question reveals a couple of important issues.

  • What is production work at S-III?
  • What is the role of the manager at S-IV and the manager-once-removed at S-V?

In some business models, especially B2B, the product or service delivered to the customer might easily be a system which requires S-III capability to create.

For example, a customer might require a software system to automate a large work process. This customer might contract with a company to accomplish the following work.

  • Needs analysis
  • Workflow documentation
  • Automation system design
  • Software selection and procurement
  • Software installation and configuration
  • Workflow integration with the software
  • Role re-design to include software operation around the work process
  • Training of personnel
  • Testing of workflow for throughput
  • Evaluation of automated workflow related to the initial needs analysis

This is all clearly S-III system work and might easily take 12-24 months to accomplish. Remember, the goal is NOT to install an automated system, but to install an automated system that exceeds throughput of the original work process. The goal is to get the automated system up to a full working capacity.

Indeed, the production work is S-III system work, for the role of a system architect, with no direct reports.

Assuming the system architect has the capability to be effective at this level of work, it is likely that she will create her own progress metrics (making sure production gets done). In addition, she may also document the system for creating the system. So, much of the supervisory and managerial work related to the project might be accomplished by this same system architect.

But, every person performs at a higher level with a manager, so what is the role of the system architect’s manager (at S-IV). The function of a manager is to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team member. The system architect can handle the routine decisions and problems, but might require help with the tough problems and decisions.

For example. The system architect might be able to automate this work process, but struggle with how this automated system might integrate with other systems in the customer’s company. It is one thing to automate manufacturing planning and procurement, stock and inventory of raw materials used in a manufacturing process, but how might that integrate with research and development? This is where the system architect’s manager might bring value.

Tomorrow, we will talk about the role of the system architect’s manager-once-removed.

What About in Individual Technical Contributor?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

In the levels of work definition, from Elliott Jaques, you have highlighted that

  • Strata III – creates the system for production (typically a managerial role).
  • Strata II – makes sure production gets done (typically a supervisor role).
  • Strata I – production (typically a technician role).

Assuming one is working in a highly technical field, one might have a Systems Architect role at Stratum III, with no reports. Does this then mean that they fulfill ‘
“production” and that a Strata IV role would be the supervisor and a Strata V role creates the system? Or, would you say that the Systems Architect fulfills all three roles? Or something different altogether?

Thanks for the question. You have tipped off a number issues. The example I use most often in my Time Span workshop is a manufacturing or direct service model. These models are easy to understand, both in level of work and managerial relationships.

But there are hundreds (thousands) of business models that are not so straightforward in level of work. The calibration to determine level of work hinges on the length of the longest time span task in the role. As you suggest, in a technical industry, you may have “production” work at S-III, meaning the longest time span task would take longer than 12 months and shorter than 24 months to accomplish. This is quite typical in professional service firms (accounting, legal, financial advisory, engineering, architecture).

Your illustration also reveals the role of an individual technical contributor. An individual technical contributor is not necessarily a managerial role, but likely requires level of work at S-II, S-III or S-IV. Again, this is typical in technical business models.

If you have interest, I describe more details related to level of work, in the book Hiring Talent, for the following business models.

  • Managerial roles
  • Accounting roles
  • Engineering roles
  • Computer programming roles
  • Sales roles
  • Restaurant roles
  • Fleet service roles
  • Creative agency roles
  • Financial planning roles
  • Insurance agency roles
  • Construction trades roles
  • Legal firm roles
  • Public accounting roles
  • Medical roles
  • Educational institution roles (K-12)

Your question also asks about the nature of the managerial relationship for an individual technical contributor where the level of work is S-II, S-III or S-IV. I will save that for tomorrow.

Biggest Excuses for Not Planning

On one hand, most managers would agree that planning is important, but on the other hand, most managers avoid the process. Here are the biggest excuses I hear.

  • I don’t have time to plan.
  • Things change too fast, so the plan is out of date before it’s even finished.
  • No one pays attention to the plan, once it’s written.
  • No one even looks at the plan, once it’s written.
  • No one cares about the plan, once it’s written.
  • No one can find a copy of the plan, once it’s written.

Have you ever written a grocery list, then left it at home when you made your trip to the store. Likely, your shopping was still 90 percent effective without the list. Why?

It’s not the plan, it’s the process.

If you intend to avoid the process, that’s fine. But, if you are looking for a short (3-page) process that includes a 2015 goal tracking sheet, just ask. It’s a Word doc, so you can modify it to meet your needs.

Year End Sign Off Message

I have to thank all my tenacious readers as we pass ten years and enter our eleventh year of publishing Management Skills Blog and Hiring Talent Blog.

Hiring Talent just passed 2,000 copies sold. It would be a dismal failure in traditional publishing, but a triumph for me, because I don’t have that many friends.

On tap for first quarter 2015, a new book, stay tuned for details.

So, I am signing off for this year. We will see you in the new year. -Tom Foster

I first published this holiday message in 2005, based on a short afternoon meeting on Christmas eve.

As Matthew looked across the manufacturing floor, the machines stood silent, the shipping dock was clear. Outside, the service vans were neatly parked in a row. Though he was the solitary figure, Matthew shouted across the empty space.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.”

He reached for the switch and the mercury vapors went dark. He slid out the door and locked it behind.

The Myth of Results

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I raised my hand in your workshop the other day when you asked if we believed in “results based performance.” You indicated that was misguided. And I stopped listening. Now that the workshop is over, I think you’re right, but now, I am not sure why?

Results based performance is a misguided management concept with two sources. Over the past three decades (I can’t remember further back), there has been a focus on results, management for results. Results are important, they are the endpoint of the goal, but if our focus is solely on the outcome, we might lose our way in getting there.

The first source of this focus is an abandonment of management related to the activities that lead to the goal. It is as if to say, “I don’t know how to manage the process and I don’t how to manage the people in the process, so I will simply use the result as my objective measure of effectiveness.”

The second source of this focus is a politically correct attitude that people should not judge other people. Many current management fads adopt the position that we should not judge people, only output. These fads have weaned us away from managerial judgment. As if to say, “Let the facts stand for themselves, if the sale was made, then the salesperson must have been doing a good job. If the sale was lost, then the salesperson must have been doing a poor job.”

Abdicating our managerial judgment to an “objective” measure of success is baloney. It also delays the time when the manager must step in and take corrective action when things go off course. If we are to evaluate effectiveness based only on the objective result, then we must wait until the result is known. The truth is, most managers know early on when a project is off course. They don’t have to wait for the result.

If a team member is working on a 12 month time span project, the manager can tell quickly if the team member is making the right moves in the first two weeks. But, if we say we have to wait for the outcome, the manager is hobbled, loathe to intervene. If there is anything that Elliott trusted, it was the judgment of a manager.

But that’s subjective, you say. Yes, it is subjective. And highly accurate.

Difference Between Non-Profit and Profit Organizations

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

We run a non-profit organization. Curious, related to Requisite Organization, what differences between not-for-profit and a profit organization.

Biggest differences between for-profit and not-for-profit –
1. Profit is called surplus.
2. The entity doesn’t pay taxes, or pass through taxes.
3. No person “owns” the entity.
4. Governance is achieved through a board of directors, which, in turn, hires the CEO.

While it is a fair question, the contrast in RO between for-profit and non-profit is minimal. The technical name for most of Elliott’s research is a Management Accountability Hierarchy (MAH). It’s purpose is to get work done.

There are larger contrasts between entities organized for purposes other than getting work done. There are differences between an MAH and a religious organization, a political organization, a family unit, a collegial organization, a fraternity, a sports team. Organizations are not necessarily designed for the purpose of completing work. And, there, is where you might see larger differences in accountability and authority related to problem solving and decision making.

How to Write a Personnel Plan

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

As our company looks to its annual planning meeting, I have been asked to prepare a personnel plan for my department. I have never thought about it before. When we get busy, I hire someone.

Many companies are faced with increasing volume, more revenue, more customers, more transactions, more inventory, in short, more work. And that’s the place to start. Define the work.

Start by defining the output, its quality standard, how much and where it ends up (the market).

  1. Steps required to create the output.
  2. Oversight required to implement the output, monitoring pace of output, quality of output, quantity of output related to target.
  3. Systems required to create consistency of output, predictability of output, to determine necessary resources. This would include not only the core systems (functions), but also the supporting systems (functions) necessary to create the output.
  4. Oversight required to implement all the systems together at the same time, optimized and integrated.

In the list above, I have described four different levels of work, each requiring a different level of problem solving and a different level of decision making.

Your department may only require three levels or two levels of work. It depends on your company business model, and whether your department is a core function in that business model, or a supporting function. Your personnel plan starts by defining the work.

Forbidden Relationship

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

You talk about the manager once removed, the manager’s manager. That’s me. You say that I should have a mentoring relationship with the team two levels below. Our company has a policy that if I need to communicate with that team, I am required to go through their manager. It’s almost a forbidden relationship.

It’s an unfortunate policy. As the manager once removed, there is a required relationship with the team two levels of work below. Now, it’s not an accountability relationship. It is a mentoring relationship.

Manager Once Removed

Manager Once Removed

The direct manager has an accountability relationship, and the conversation with the team member is all about production. The manager once removed has a mentoring relationship and the conversation is about longer time span issues like career advancement, training opportunities and work environment.

This is an absolute requirement. You see, at some point, the manager role will become vacant (all relationships, at some point, are terminal). The manager once removed will be faced with replacing the manager. The first place to source candidates will be internal. But, if the manager once removed does not have a coherent mentoring relationship, the MOR will have no clue as to who may be able to step up. In that case, the MOR will have to start at square one.

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.

Hidden Power of Delegation

“So, how much time do you want to save?” I asked again.

“It’s going to take me an hour to complete the task. If I can delegate it, it will save me one hour. That’s how much time I want to save,” Roger replied.

“Pittance,” I said.

“Pittance?” Roger didn’t understand.

“If all you are going to save is one hour, then you should complete the task yourself.”

Roger sat upright, a little surprised. “But, I am supposed to delegate more. My manager has been encouraging me for the past year to delegate more. Now, you are telling me I should do the work myself.”

“If you think, all you are saving is one hour, then, what’s the point of delegating. I am looking for leverage from your role. I want you to save one hour and get five hours of productivity. I want you to save one hour and get ten hours of productivity. Twenty hours, fifty hours. You will never get that kind of leverage if you think delegation is a time management tool.”

“But, you said that delegation was my most powerful time management tool?” Roger protested.

“It is,” I responded. “But, it is also your most powerful people development tool. If you think about delegation as time management, you will only gain one-to-one leverage. To get one-to-five, or one-to-twenty, you have to think about delegation as a people development tool. That’s the real power of delegation.”