Tag Archives: time span

The Look-Ahead

“Then, how are we going to measure the size of the role?” I repeated. Joyce and I were discussing Phillip. Though he had been made manager, he was having difficulty with some of his new responsibilities.

“So, you are suggesting that we look at all the tasks on Phillip’s plate and assign a Time Span to them?” Joyce asked.

I nodded.

She began to brainstorm out loud, “If I look at his Key Result Areas, as Warehouse Manager, Phillip is responsible for:

  • Personnel
  • Receiving
  • Picking
  • Shipping
  • Warehouse Layout and Work Flow
  • Security
  • Equipment
  • Safety

“And which of those KRAs has the longest Time Span tasks?” I asked.

Joyce pulled out a sheet of paper to make some notes. “Receiving, picking and shipping are fairly short term things. The look-ahead is probably no more than a couple of weeks.

“But, both Personnel and Warehouse Layout and Work Flow, contain much longer Time Span tasks. We have a lot of seasonality to our product lines and we have to make decisions about inventory bin placement four or five months in advance. We really depend on a twelve month bin cycle that rotates stock both forward and backward depending on seasonality. Some tasks create a feedback loop to sales and purchasing about inventory turns, raw materials in stock, finished goods in stock. There is a lot to control, but it’s easy if you think out far enough into the future and plan.

“And that’s where Phillip messes up,” Joyce concluded. “He just doesn’t plan out far enough, so it’s always chaos.”

“So, if we were to measure Phillip’s capability in Personnel and Layout and Work Flow, he underperforms?” I confirmed.

It was Joyce’s turn to nod.

“So, let’s look at his other tasks, determine the level of work and see if we come up with a pattern of his effectiveness.”
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Hiring Talent Summer Camp (online) starts June 20, 2016. Follow this link – Hiring Talent – for course description and logistics. Pre-register today. See you online. -Tom

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.

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?

Is It Beyond the Capability Required in the Role

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
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.

Response:
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.”

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?”

I Need Your Help

I have been asked to make a presentation at an international conference sponsored by the Global Organization Design Society at the IBM Palisades Center NY, July 31-Aug 5, 2014.

I need your help in my preparation for that presentation. My subject at the conference will be how companies have applied the Time Span principles contained in the research of Elliot Jaques. I am looking for both informal application in how a manager sees decision making and problem solving to formal application in hiring systems or organizational changes in structure.

If you have attended one of my Time Span workshops (I have delivered 400 workshops over the past ten years) and you have used some principle or understanding to help you in your managerial work, I would like to hear from you. Please use the form at Ask Tom to send me a short note.

Thank you for your interest in the Time Span research of Elliott Jaques.

Time Span – Where Do I Start, How to Implement?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question – 
I attended one of your workshops on Time Span.  Since that day, the subject is like a song that I just can’t get out of my head.  At the same time, where do I start?  You described Time Span, or Requisite Organization as a comprehensive management system, but where do I start?

Response – 
A first introduction to Requisite Organization and its central kernel, Time Span, can be overwhelming.  But the first steps are not that complicated.  Over the past ten years, I have shared this concept with more than 5,000 CEOs and managers, and this is always the first question – Where do I start?

It’s all about the work.

There are many kinds of organizations in the world, groups of people organized around a purpose.  There are religious organizations, community service organizations, political organizations, and organizations to get work done.  Work is my focus.  It’s all about the work.

So, what is the work that has to be done.  Where do I start?  It starts by understanding the answers to these questions.  These questions are helpful, to understand the different levels of work required in any complex endeavor.  Where you start, is by understanding the work.  The first step is understanding, the first step is a design step.

  • (S-V) What is the superior purpose for the work?  At the end of our foreseeable future, what do we want to accomplish?  This is often called vision, mission, purpose.  Without defining this purpose, the rest of the list doesn’t make sense.
  • (S-IV) To achieve the superior purpose (vision, mission), what are the big milestones that have to be achieved?  What are the big rocks that have to be moved?
  • (S-III) To move those big rocks, what are the consistent, repeatable behaviors (habits, systems) that have to be created?
  • (S-II) Inside each system, what are the deadlines and completed actions (projects) that have to be completed?  What are the materials, equipment and people required to complete those projects?
  • (S-I) What are the fundamental tasks that have to be organized?  What is the production work that has to be completed day in and day out?

The first step is to understand the work, to understand the different levels of work.

How to Detail a Task to Discover its Time Span

I could see that Joel was stressed. This was a big job. Joel had been a successful supervisor, but this assignment as a new manager was different for him.

“It was all about improvisation,” he proclaimed. “Life was exciting. Things were always moving.

“But you asked me to make a list of the most important tasks in my new role, as a manager. I started with my role description. The insight came when I tried to peg the time span associated with each task.

“Here is one,” he continued. “The role description says that I am responsible for making sure we have enough direct labor to meet the production needs for all the cycles during the year.

“At first, I thought it just meant that I should post job vacancies and do some interviews. But when you asked me to attach time span to the task, my head started to spin.

“It was only then, that I realized I needed to research our historical workloads during the three cycles of our year. I had to take a look at our maximum production capacity along with the marketing and sales forecast. I spent the time to lay out all this data for the whole year. I used a line graph to help me visualize it. Then I had to figure out what resources we needed to produce the numbers related to the forecast. The forecast is helpful, but it is often wrong by as much as ten percent.

“All in all, when I looked at my new job, I really have to be planning out 12 months or more, in advance. This is a lot bigger than I thought.”

I smiled at Joel. He was new to the job, but he was beginning to understand the time span related to this new level of work, the time span necessary to be successful as a manager.