Category Archives: Time Span

Difficult to Backtrack a Promotion

As a young project manager, Mario was successful at meeting deadlines and holding profit margins on each of the four projects he completed. Paul, his manager, wanted to give him a promotion, but was gun-shy.

“The last project manager I promoted did well on smaller projects,” Paul described. “But the accountabilities of longer timespan projects overwhelmed him. In the end, I had to let him go. It was almost as if the promotion ruined a good junior project manager.”

You don’t test a person by promoting them. Though not impossible, it is difficult to backtrack a promotion. Instead, test a person’s capability by giving them project work, longer timespan projects. Only if they are successful, do they get the corner office.

Don’t promote the person to test them. Test them with project work to earn the promotion.

Calibrating Time Span

“My team tells me that I don’t follow-up with them often enough, and that is why I am sometimes disappointed,” complained Sherry.

“How often is –not often enough-?” I asked.

“It seems to be different for different people.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know,” Sherry paused. “One person can just go longer than another person without me peeking over their shoulder.”

“Sherry, I want you to think in terms of Time Span. Time Span is the length of time that a person can work into the future without your direction, using their own discretionary judgment to achieve the goal. And each person on your team has a different time span.

“Here is your exercise. Make a list of your team and beside each name, I want you to guess the length of time that each one can work independently, based on the tasks you delegate. Your guess will be the first benchmark for how long you leave them to work without follow-up. Keep a log. Once each week, for a month, write down your observations of each team member’s time span.

“The data you get from this exercise will help you know better what you can delegate and the time interval for follow-up.”

See No Evil

“I don’t have time to think about KPIs,” Marcelo complained. “We have too much work to do around here. I have production quotas to get out the door.”

“How do you know when you have finished a production run?” I asked.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong, we have someone counting units before they go in the box. We build to order. We try to keep finished inventory down.”

“Do you have defects?”

“Yep. Or, so we hear. I always overrun by 10 percent to cover customer complaints. Seems to work out pretty well.” Marcelo gave me that confident look.

“If you were to have Key Performance Indicators, what would they be?” I pressed.

“I told you, we don’t have time for that. If there is a quality problem, that is for the QA/QC department to figure out. Believe me, they will tell us.”

“Sounds like the trilogy, hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil?”

“As long as I don’t look for trouble, I rarely find it.”

“So, if you know you are blind, you will figure out a way to see. But if you don’t know you are blind, you will continue to run into the same problems, over and over.”
___
-Adapted from Ray Dalio, Principles

Manage the Risk

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
We’ve had to hire a lot of people this year to keep up with production and increased demand in our product. We’ve had to promote people to new levels of responsibility. Often we pick wrong. How can we know someone will succeed when we promote them? How do we test a person for capability?

Response:
Testing a person to determine their capability is counter-intuitive. I do not judge people. I did not go to school for that, I don’t have a degree in that. I am not certified by any agency to practice psychotherapy. I think I would stink at it. So, I just don’t do it.

There is something that I AM expert in. And most seasoned managers are, too. We understand the work. Work is problem solving and decision making. Given a role (to recruit, or promote), most managers have a very clear understanding of the problem solving and decision making required.

How do you test a person for capability?

You test a person for capability with project work. Every manager should constantly test every team member for capability with project work. I may not be able to judge a person, but I can certainly judge the work. When I delegate a project, I pay specific attention to the problem solving and decision making in the project. Then, all I have to do is determine if, during the course the project, the team member is effective, or not. Pretty much thumbs up, thumbs down.

Managers who constantly test their team will have a running intuitive understanding of the capability of each team member.

Here is the insight. Every manager already maintains a running intuitive understanding of the capability in each team member. Project work allows us to consciously calibrate effectiveness in specific decisions to be made and problems to be solved.

Give a person a promotion, and they fail, you have a chocolate mess on your hands. Give a person a project and they fail, you have a failed project, and, as the manager, you can manage the risk in the project.

Have to Use a Different Tool

“My boss just told me, now I am the manager. She didn’t tell me I was supposed to do anything different than what I was doing as a supervisor,” explained Lawrence.

“That’s because most companies don’t truly understand the role of the manager,” I nodded, “nor the tools they use to get their work done.”

S-III Manager – creates the system in which work is done
—————-
S-II Supervisor – makes sure production gets done
—————-
S-I Technician – production work

“For the people who do production work, (S-I) the tools are real tools, machinery and equipment, that’s easy to see. But what are the tools of the supervisor?” Lawrence looked quickly to the left to see if the answer was written over my shoulder.

“The role of the supervisor (S-II) is to make sure production work gets done, so the tools of the supervisor are schedules and checklists. The supervisor uses those tools to make sure the right people are at the right place using the right materials on the right (well-maintained) equipment.”

“So what are the tools of the manager?” asked Lawrence.

“The role of the manager (S-III) is to create the system, and make the system better. The tools of the manager are flowcharts, time and motion, cause and effect sequence, role definitions and analysis.

“The work of the manager is different than the work of the supervisor and requires different tools.”

Your Only Hope

“But how do you get out of the weeds?” Lawrence complained. “So much stuff hits my desk. I am constantly walking the floor. Everybody seems to have a problem for me to solve. All of a sudden, the day is over and I have done nothing. The next day, it starts all over.”

“Dig a little, beat back the alligators, dig a little more,” I said. “Understand that this is not a time-management problem. You cannot organize your way to greatness.

“This is the secret, the keys to the kingdom. Your only hope (in this case, hope is a strategy) is to improve your delegation skills. Delegation and training. The only thing that will keep a manager out of the weeds is to build a team to support the position. When a company gets big enough, it is called infrastructure. Without that support, there is no hope.

“Nothing great was ever created by individual achievement. You have to build a team to solve the problems you used to solve. You have to build a team to make the decisions you used to make.”

You Won’t See It Coming

His brow furrowed. Lawrence had to concentrate to understand. “But I thought a manager was supposed to manage. I thought I was supposed to manage everything on the floor.”

“You’re not a supervisor anymore,” I said. “Your new focus, as the manager, is on the system. Your role is to create the system and make the system better. When you became the manager, you promoted Nicole to be the supervisor. Whenever you do Nicole’s job, you are not paying attention to the system.”

“I thought I was just trying to help,” defended Lawrence.

“And if you continue to help by doing Nicole’s job, you will continue to ignore the system, and you will fail as a manager.”

“Not sure I know what you mean,” challenged Lawrence.

“Nicole is busy scheduling her team around vacations, people calling in sick, having doctor’s appointments and such. That’s her job.

“As the Manager, you just received a revised a production forecast from sales. Three weeks from now, you historically ramp up into your busy season. I looked at your headcount from last year. You are down three people and Charlie just gave notice, his last day is Friday. Everything looks fine, now, but four weeks from now, your production is going to get slammed and Nicole won’t have enough people to schedule from. As the Manager, you have to look ahead and build your labor pool. Now.

“If you are too busy scheduling this week’s production, you will be so far in the weeds, you won’t see what’s coming down the road in four weeks.”

Gap Analysis

A gap analysis is a fundamental model.

Where do we want to go? What is the goal? What does success look like?

Where are we now?

So goes the gap. Bordered by where we are now and where we want to be in the future is the gap. In that gap are all the problems that have to be solved and all the decisions that have to be made. All learning, from small lessons to large, is based on the gap.

Standing on the shore, looking over the ocean, far out, a shape leaps out of the water. On closer inspection, you discover, it is a porpoise.

You see, out of the gap, you may achieve your objective and find it empty. You may reach your goal and find it unworthy. Before you set your goal, you must look out to the ocean and find your porpoise.

Land of Tangible, Land of Conceptual

Time frame sets the context. Near term target completion time requires the elements of the project to be concrete, tangible and known. The project due tomorrow afternoon has a team and we can call each member by name. The materials are quantified, we know how much. We know the vendor, we know the price point. We know the delivery time, we know the schedule. Every element is concrete, tangible and known. Why?

Because the project is due tomorrow afternoon.

A long term target completion is more conceptual. If the project will not be complete for five years, we know we will have a project team, but over the term of the project, some may quit, retire, get picked off by a competitor. We have an idea about materials, but over the term of the project, a new material might become available (better, faster, stronger) and we might have to adapt. Our supplier may not be in business in five years’ time or may no longer be serving our needs. We might need an alternate vendor.

We need both tactical thinking and strategic thinking. Our five year conceptual plan, in four years, must transform into a one year tactical plan.

Some people think short term. Some think long term. Some think both.

Point A to Point B

An event is anything that gets our attention. An event, at work, is any decision or problem that gets our attention. Decisions and problems present themselves as isolated events, yet they exist inside a context. That context will have significant bearing on the outcome of the decision and the solution to the problem.

When we measure the context in terms of time, or timespan, we gain insight into the impact of the decision made or the problem solved.

We can certainly walk from point A to point B. And to carry a payload, we are limited to our backs. In the long term, if we are to carry many payloads, we may want to invest in a vehicle to carry each payload. The timespan of the decision indicates its impact.

If we are to carry many payloads in our vehicle faster over a longer period of time, we may want to invest in a road. If we want to go faster, we may top that road with smooth asphalt. If we want the smooth asphalt to remain smooth with minimum repair, over time, we may invest in a strong sub-structure for the road. The timespan of the decision indicates its impact.

Still, we can certainly walk from point A to point B.

It is the role of management to think about longer timespan impact at higher levels of work.