Category Archives: Time Span

Bottom Up or Top Down?

Yes.

There are a number of management moves (Agile being one) that demands bottom up orientation. I say yes. There are other management moves that that demand top down. Yes. How to reconcile the inevitable conflict?

The problem with those who would argue that top down is bad, they ignore the reason for higher levels of work and misconstrue the reason that management exists in the first place. Those who would argue against top down believe it is for control. It’s not.

The reason for top down, is context, not control.

It’s not about reporting. The fact is, we report to lots of people in the organization. I always ask, who has direct reports? All managers raise their hands. I have to deliver the bad news – you are not a manager so people can report to you.

It’s not about control, it’s about context.

Managerial roles exist to create context. That context is based on timespan. It is the role of the supervisor to think beyond what has to be done today, this week, this month. What is today’s work in the context of this week, this month?

It is the role of the manager to think beyond what has to be done this quarter, this year. What is today’s work in the context of this quarter, this year?

It’s not about control, it’s about context.

What is VUCA?

There is term used in the vernacular of Agile that describes the challenge of every organization.

VUCA

It’s an acronym for the world in which we live. Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. VUCA. Without any further definition, Agile offers many good ideas in dealing with that world.

Acknowledging that we live in this VUCA world, can we do more than spitball solutions?

And, that is where Timespan comes in. Most people clearly understand there are some problems more complex than others, some decisions more complex than others. There are different levels of VUCA. Timespan gives us insight into those levels.
S-I – (0-3 months) – trial and error problem solving
S-II – (3-12 months) – best practice and SOP problem solving
S-III – (12-24 months) – root cause analysis
S-IV – (24-60 months) – systems (multi-system) analysis

When the Deepwater Horizon blew up in 2010, the world looked, aghast, at a terrible environmental accident. I watched the coverage, the cameras on the ocean floor in real time and the engineers struggling with the problem. They tried this, they tried that. They tried the blowout preventer, that didn’t work. They tried the blind shear ram, that didn’t work. They were in a mode of trial and error problem solving. Why?

The engineers were not trying to solve a three year problem. No one said, “guys, let’s go back to the drawing board and over the next three years, let’s develop a better oil well so this never happens again.”

They said, “guys, we have to solve the problem today. We don’t have time to design the real solution. Figure out a way to cap it!”

Our understanding of timespan gives us insight in the levels of VUCA, and the level of problem solving required to make sure Deepwater Horizon doesn’t happen again.

Levels of Work and Morale

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Let’s say I buy this stuff about levels of work. What will it help me do as a manager? What results should I see?

Response:
Immediately, as a manager, understanding levels of work will assist you in figuring out what you can delegate and what you have to self perform. As you look at task assignments, understanding levels of work will help you understand who to delegate work to.

Here is the immediate impact, you can make sure there is enough challenge in the work for your team to feel engaged at the highest level, stretched to their maximum capability. When people find challenge in their work, using their full attention and competence, what happens to job satisfaction?

There is no managerial trick. As a manager, you do not have to become a motivational speaker. It’s all about the work. Match the level of work in the role with the capability of the person. Maybe it is a little like magic.

How Many Layers Do You Need?

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
In your review of the tenets of Agile, you missed a glaring one, a flat organizational structure.

Response:
How many layers do you need? As organizations grow and mature, increase in headcount, I see the construction of too many layers. In an effort to create a flat organizational structure, I see too few layers.

Most organizations follow a military protocol and misunderstand layers as reporting relationships. When I ask any group of managers if they have direct reports, they all raise their hand. I have to remind them they are not managers so people can report to them.

In the struggle to create “reporting,” too many layers emerge. The decision of who reports to whom gets made based on seniority, age, political pressure, personality. None of these are good reasons for “reporting” and eventually create organizational friction.

Every organization faces different problems to solve and has different decisions to make. Some problems and decisions are more complex than others. It is problem solving and decision making that demands layers (contexts). We can measure the complexity of the problem or decision by defining its context. That metric is timespan.

Looking at context, most problems and decisions for a small to medium enterprise (SME) fall into five levels. If we organize around the decisions and problems, we come up with a natural order of layers, not too many and not too few.

  • S-I – decisions and problems at hand, where variables are known, concrete, tangible.
  • S-II – decisions and problems of intention, related to quantity, quality and time. This is the land of supervision and coordination. These are short term variables (up to 12 months).
  • S-III – decisions and problems related to variables that fall along one specific critical path, or system. Intentions for system output are consistency and predictability. Goals and objectives up to 24 months.
  • S-IV – decisions and problems related to the existence of multiple systems (multiple critical paths) that must be integrated for total system throughput. Goals and objectives up to 60 months.
  • S-V – decisions and problems related to the enterprise in the context of its market (external system). Goals and objectives range from 5 years to 10 years.

It’s all about context related to decision making and problem solving. What is the level of decision making, what is the level of problem solving required? As the organization grows, it must meet those decisions and problems with the people who have the capability to make those decisions and solve those problems. The people in those positions must be able to bring value to the decision making and problem solving of the team one level of work below. And, that’s how many layers you need.

Next Gen Technology

Looking at Agile through the lens of Levels of Work. Today, we move down the list to next gen technology.

  1. North star embodied across the organization.
  2. Network of empowered teams.
  3. Rapid decision making and learning cycles.
  4. Dynamic people model that ignites passion.
  5. Next generation enabling technology.

Next generation enabling technology
Technology will replace many roles, AND it will drive the necessity for higher levels of work to design, configure and implement technology. When is the current technology obsolete? When is next gen mature enough to rely on? We always overestimate what we can do this year, and underestimate what we can do in ten years.

This technology transformation allows for more transparency in core operational and support functions, more rapid project deployment requiring the use of cross functional teams. The easy problems will be solved by technology and will create the necessity for more functional integration. Core functions and support functions will still exist, but the organization can now focus in functional integration (don’t get rid of your silos, integrate them). This integration will focus on functional capacity and the balance of those capacities between functions. It will also require the inspection of each function’s output used by related functions. Some of that output will be accelerated through the use of technology. Data will be collected in real time and routed democratically through the organization.

This is not subtle stuff and the organization will look different.

People Model

We continue to step our way through a short list of identified hallmarks of Agile through the lens of Levels of Work. Today, we move down the list to the people model.

  1. North star embodied across the organization.
  2. Network of empowered teams.
  3. Rapid decision making and learning cycles.
  4. Dynamic people model that ignites passion.
  5. Next generation enabling technology.

Dynamic people model
Levels of work identifies a robust framework where each role is defined by its level of decision making and problem solving. Effective decision making and problem solving at each level of work requires a concomitant level of cognitive capability.

In the transformation from analog to digital, there will be obsolete roles no longer needed and new roles created. As new roles are created, the organization has to identify the level of work in the new role and the corresponding cognitive capacity of the candidates for those roles. When people are challenged to work at or near their highest level of capability, in work they value, there is no need for motivational speakers to raise morale.

Most analog organizations define managerial roles as reporting relationships. In a digital organization, managerial roles shift from reporting relationships to a value stream, where managers are required to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team. This process brings alive the concept of “servant leadership.”

Bringing Value as a Manager

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You described one role of a manager is to bring value to the decision making and problem solving of the team, collectively and individually. Let’s say I buy that. How does a manager do that? How does a manager bring that value?

Response:
The role of the manager is to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team. Easy to say, more difficult to do.

How does a manager bring that value?

I spend hundreds of hours each year coaching CEOs. You are not privileged to those 1-1 conversations, but can you imagine that I tell each of my clients how to run their business?

The answer is no, they wouldn’t listen to me anyway. So, how do I, or how does any manager bring value to that 1-1 conversation? When the level of work creeps up and there is uncertainty in decision making and problem solving, how does the manager bring value?

The most effective managers are not those who tell people what to do, but those who ask the most effective questions.

If There Were No Managers?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talked about the Peter Principle, how at some point everyone in a hierarchy gets promoted to their level of incompetence. I see this as a problem with hierarchy. Get rid of the hierarchy and let people settle in roles where they feel comfortable.

Response:
One reason you think the problem is hierarchy, you think it exists to create a reporting protocol. Here’s the bad news. You think you are a manager so people can report to you. Not true.

You are a manager to bring value to the decision making and problem solving of your team, collectively and individually. If there were no managers, there would be no one with the accountability to bring that value.

I hear people rail against hierarchy with tomes about self directed work groups and holocracy. Hierarchy exists for a very specific reason. When the level of work creeps up, hierarchy provides the structure to create that value stream, where managers bring value to the decision making and problem solving of the team.

Incompetence

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
When I read this article, I think about Timespan and you. I hope this quote is not accurate.

“In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence. Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence. In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.”

Response:
Sadly, this is true. We tend to promote people to a level of incompetence, and then hope and pray. This understanding was popularized in a book by Lawrence J. Peter published in 1969, called the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle is alive and well.

The solution to this dilemma is easy. From now on, no one in your organization gets a promotion. They earn promotions (or even lateral moves) by demonstrating competence in the task assignments contained in the new role. You test people with project work. And, in that project, you must embed decision making and problem at that next higher level. The same goes for a lateral move where there is a new skill set.

The Land of Dangerfield

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question
I don’t know how to gain their respect. Sometime in the meeting, it’s as if they are not even listening to me. They nod and agree, promise to follow through. The next day, they are back to the same non-productive behavior. They don’t even respect the meeting. They show up late, sometimes not at all. Where are their priorities?

Response
Rodney lives on in the lives of many managers. Expecting respect, demanding respect didn’t work for Mr. Dangerfield and doesn’t work for most managers.

You will never gain respect until you, as their manager, bring value to their problem solving and decision making.

Stop thinking about yourself, start thinking about your team. If you, as a manager, want to bring value to the thinking and work of your team members, start by asking questions. Through questions, you can help them clarify, explore, challenge, plan and follow-up.

In my years in the classroom, I found that no one really listens to me, anyway. So, I stopped lecturing and started asking questions. Something happened. My students started to learn from themselves.

Start. Start asking questions that bring value to the problem solving and decision making of your team. Rodney will rest in peace.

Oh, if you are not getting the response you want, you are asking the wrong question. Happy New Year!
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