Tag Archives: project work

How to Test Capability at S-IV

From the Ask Tom mailbag –


Your post last week helped to explain our dilemma in transitioning an (S-III) Inventory Manager to an (S-IV) VP-Inventory Control role. You said we should have tested him with a project prior to promoting him. Maybe it’s not too late. I know we already promoted him, but could we give him a project as a training tool to introduce him to this new level of work.


Yes, not a bad idea. This project will give his manager an indicator of how your Inventory Manager is making this transition. The biggest difference in this transition is a subtle shift from a single system internal focus to a multi-system external focus.

  • S-III – System (creates the system, monitors the system and improves the system)
  • S-IV – Integration of multiple systems and sub-systems (attention to dependent systems, interdependent systems, contingent systems and bottlenecks)

So, here are the elements to embed in the project.

  • The project has to be real. No contrived projects as a test. If you want to build a leader, it has to be a real project.
  • Your new VP-Inventory Control needs to be the project leader, under the coaching of his manager. The VP-Inventory Control’s manager is likely to be the CEO (S-V).
  • The members of the project team need to be interdisciplinary, from functions outside of the authority of Inventory Management. As the project leader, your VP-Inventory Control will have to gain willing cooperation from the team, not as a manager, but in a cross-functional role as project leader (prescriber authority). He will have to negotiate with each project team member’s manager for their participation.
  • To be effective, the VP-Inventory Control will have to understand how separate systems impact each other.

Here are the learning objectives of the project (how to evaluate).

  • How well does the VP-Inventory Control understand the systems outside of inventory control? How does he seek to understand those systems? How does he speak with others and ask questions outside of inventory control?
  • How well does the VP-Inventory Control select people to be on the project team? How does he staff the project team? How does he anticipate the input he will need from others outside his own area of expertise?
  • How well does the VP-Inventory Control state the mission of the project, gain willing cooperation from others where he is NOT their manager?
  • How well does the VP-Inventory Control negotiate with peers in the organization to use their resources to accomplish project goals?

It might have been helpful to engage in this type of project prior to the promotion. But, this project can still be helpful to the new VP’s manager (likely, the CEO).

Testing a Person Prior to a Promotion

“You told me, before I promote someone to a new role, that I should test them, with project work,” Maryanne surmised.

“So, how will you test this person?” I prodded.

“Her assembly work is good, but to keep everyone on the line productive, we need an ample supply of raw materials. There is a lead time of three weeks from ordering and we can only keep so much in stock. I could ask her to put together the next order from our supplier.”

“And, you will check her order before she places it?”

“Of course. But after she does it couple of times, I can likely trust her. Then I will give her another project to do related to the preventive maintenance schedules on some of our machines.”

“And, what will be the trigger point for the promotion?” I asked.

“Good question. I think I should sketch out an overall plan for this promotion to include a sample project from each skill required in the new position.”

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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.”

A Decision Based on Hope?

Sylvia was perplexed. Difficulty trusting her judgment. “I have this gut feeling that Porter would make a good supervisor. But, he is our best technician. If I promote him and it doesn’t work out, I might lose my best technician.”

“Why do you feel Porter has the potential to be supervisor?” I asked.

“Intuition,” Sylvia replied. “The only thing I am concerned about is his people skills. As a technician, he is a good producer, and whenever anyone has a question, he is the lead guy. Whenever anyone has a problem, they talk to Porter. When anyone has a decision to make, Porter gets consulted. He has a knack for knowing what needs to get done next. I can see his planning skills, always looking ahead. He knows when materials are supposed to arrive, when we need to order, even for the longer lead time stuff.”

“Then what is your hesitation?”

“Sometimes, his people skills are a little rough,” she explained. “I don’t want to promote him and then find out he is a dictator.”

“Rather than assume, or guess, or hope that Porter has the potential to be a supervisor, how could you find out? How could you find out before you promote him? How could you confirm that he is not a dictator?”

“I guess I could talk to him,” Sylvia searched.

“And, so, he tells you he is not a dictator. Is that enough? Is that enough evidence to make a firm decision to promote him?” I pressed.

“Well, no.”

“Then how? How can we create tangible evidence that he has the potential to work effectively with other people?”

“I guess I could give him something to do where he has to work with other people in the capacity of a leader?” Sylvia tested.

“Not a permanent role assignment, but project work. Give Porter a project where he is the project leader for a specific task that requires him to use the resources of other people on a project team. If he fails, you have a broken project, big deal, you can manage that risk. If he is successful, you will have tangible evidence on which to base your decision. Not a hope, a wing and a prayer, but tangible evidence.”