Category Archives: Time Span

A Different Way to Think (About Projects)

“So, what’s your observation,” I asked. “Moving from a project manager in charge of three projects to a senior project manager in charge of 20 current projects, plus all the projects in the pipeline?”

Andrew looked down, studied the table. “Every single project has a beginning, middle and end. Each project has defined edges to it, resources are specific, and at the end, there is a finished project, very tangible.”

“And?”

“Twenty projects are all in different stages, it’s fluid, the boundaries move. Sure, we create artificial borders and artificial time frames to measure things, compare statistics. But, there is a difference in how you play one, two or three projects and how you play a portfolio of 20. In a portfolio, we may play for a high profile project with slim margins to raise the company’s visibility. We might attempt a new technology, in which we are currently clumsy, to practice, get better. A single project game might fail its gross margin, where a portfolio game might propel the company in a direction without competitors (at least for a while).”

“So, is this just about having more projects in a portfolio?”

“Not at all,” Andrew replied. “Having 20 projects pushed me to think differently, but, thinking differently is more about the timespan of decisions. And we have to do both. My project managers have to be focused on the individual project, and I have to be focused on the future.”

Just a Few More Simultaneous Projects

“Sounds like you are not so sure of yourself?” I asked.

“I know it’s just another project,” Andrew replied. “And, my experience is deep in project management. My company always gave me the tough projects, the ones with the longest critical path, where Murphy has plenty of time to play.”

“Then, why your doubt on this project?” I pressed.

“When I was successful at managing one project, my company gave me a second project. I did the second project the same way I did the first project and everything was fine.”

“And?”

“And, so my company gave me a third project,” Andrew said.

“How did you do the third project?”

“Same way I did project one and project two. Everything was fine, on-time, on-spec, on-budget.” Andrew paused. “So, they gave me 20 projects, all at the same time, and, six junior project managers to go along.”

“And now, what’s the problem?”

“Managing 20 projects is different than managing three projects. It’s a different level of work. It is a different level of problem solving and a different level of decision making.”

Permanent and Temporary

What changes have become permanent and what changes are only temporary? As we live in this science-fiction movie, we think, at some point, the movie will be over, we can walk into the sunshine and everything will be normal again.

It is too easy to think that things are temporary, when some things will never return to the way they were. So, some things require only a short-lived adjustment, an accommodation. AND, some things will require new habits.

If it is temporary, we can live with a small discomfort, an awkward way. If the change is permanent, we better figure out a better way and get really good at dealing with it.

Looking for Land

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I gotta tell you that these comments are tone deaf to the situation we are currently in. I am a CEO and focused on survival. I do not know if there will be demand for our services in 1 month or 6 months from now.

Now is the time to lead through the crisis not dream or imagine what life will be like 5 years from now.

If I were to think 5 years down the road it would be like the captain of the ship on the flag pole looking for land while the boat was on fire. It would be best for the captain to get down and lead the team in extinguishing the fire.

Response:
I talk to CEOs every day. I wonder if some will make it, some will not, some are already out of business.

Many states have opened up (with restrictions), but just because regulation has relaxed doesn’t mean the market has returned. I assume most who qualified, applied for PPP and already made work-force decisions. You are likely monitoring sales like a start-up.

If you stand back and look at your competitors, what are the characteristics of those that will be alive in 2021? What did they focus on in the past 60 days? What will they focus on in the next 90 days? What will they focus on, rounding out the year into next?

Overestimate and Underestimate

I don’t know for certain what will happen tomorrow, but I have a pretty good idea. I can even forecast the number of COVID-19 deaths that will occur tomorrow, within a reasonable margin of error. But, tomorrow is not where the game is played.

For the most part, we can anticipate what life will be like in three months time.

“People tend to overestimate what can be done in one year and to underestimate what can be done in five or ten years.” – J. C. R. Licklider, Libraries of the Future, 1965.

It is important to make sure your teams are assembled and safe to do the work tomorrow, but the real chore for the CEO is to imagine life (markets, regulations, labor, technology) in five years time.

In four years, your five year plan will be your one year plan.

Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Yesterday, someone asked me, as we move from shelter-in-place to a re-open of the economy, what should a CEO think about? Of course, there is work to be done, and we will bring people back to do that work, but what should the CEO think about?

  • What does my market environment look like in three months time, one year’s time, two years time? This includes market demand, regulations, capital requirements, availability of labor and technology.
  • What should my company look like in three months time, one year’s time, two years time?
  • What are the internal functions necessary to support my product or service in that market demand?
  • Inside each function, what is the level of decision making and problem solving?
  • What roles do I need to make those decisions and solve those problems?
  • Do I have people on my team who can effectively play those roles?

There are two concepts embedded in these questions.
Necessity
Levels of work (levels of decision making, levels of problem solving)

Necessity
If your company considered the purchase of a $100,000 machine, and it was NOT necessary, would you buy it? That same decision has to be made about the roles inside the company. Now, is an opportunity to examine your organizational design and ask, is this necessary?

Levels of Work
Most CEOs do not think about the work necessary to make the product or provide the service. Understanding the level of decision making and the level of problem solving are specific clues to the talent you need. Now, is an opportunity to examine the levels of work and ask, do I have the people on my team who can effectively make those decisions and solve those problems.

Did COVID-19 Break Your Business (Model)

The most strategic decision you make is “What business are we in?”

Before you answer that question, there are two other questions –
Is there a market for that business?
Is the market big enough to sustain that business?

COVID-19 wants to break your business (model)
Is your business considered an essential business?

What else changed about your business model (forever)? Most of these issues are fixable, but you have to adapt.

  • Channels you use to market to customers. What are your customers currently paying attention to? What are your customers rejecting related to marketing messages?
  • Customer interface. Is the face-to-face interface currently not possible? If face-to-face is necessary, does that interrupt your business model? For you to succeed, what has to change?
  • Texture of the customer relationship. Is the relationship transactional? Are you a trusted advisor (thought leader)? Are you customer intimate? How does your business model create that relationship? Has COVID-19 interrupted that relationship? How will you adapt?
  • Value promise. What is your value promise? Has COVID-19 interrupted the way you deliver that promise? How will you adapt?
  • Price. As you adapt your ability to deliver that value promise, does it impact the price your customer is willing to pay for that value promise? Will you adapt your price? Will you find another way to maintain your price structure related to your value promise?
  • Resources. What resources do you need to fulfill your value promise? Are those resources still available in the volume you require? Has the price point changed for those resources? Do you have to bring some of those resources in-house? Are there internal capabilities that need to be out-sourced?

Has COVID-19 interrupted your business model? Is this only temporary or is this forever? Can you adapt in the short-term? Might you have to adapt in the long-term? How will you re-think your business model?

These permanent adaptations will seem clumsy at first, but permanent nonetheless. And the clumsiness will become practiced, and those among us who practice will become competent at a new way. And the new way will improve on par with the old way. And, we will wonder what took us so long to get over our resistance.

Assessing Capability

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
It was a pleasure working with you last summer. I’ve been introducing the concept of Time Span to my colleagues and its been helping us lead tough HR conversations. Some were wondering if you had an assessment to help determine someone’s time span capacity.

Response:
This is a very popular question.  The answer is completely counter-intuitive.  Elliott’s caution was clear. Don’t go around judging people.  Do NOT play amateur psychologist.  You didn’t go to school for it, you don’t have a degree in it, your chances of being wrong are about 50/50, same as flipping a coin.

HOWEVER, most hiring managers are expert at the work.  Most hiring managers understand effective behavior and ineffective behavior.  Stick where you are an expert.  It’s all about the work.  I do not judge people, but, boy, do I judge the work.  By careful examination of the problem-solving and decision-making in a role, most hiring managers can easily pinpoint the level of work in the role.  If we can understand the level of work in the role, then the selection decision is easy.  “Is this person effective in the task assignments at this level of work, or not?”

Don’t play amateur psychologist, stick where you are an expert.  It’s all about the work.

Because They Can

“But, isn’t it important, for a manager, to understand the reasons people do what they do?” Bailey was on a roll with her very best stiff-arm.

“For a manager, there is only one reason people do what they do. And, this is essential for every manager.” I waited to make sure Bailey was listening. “The only reason people do what they do is because they CAN. The only measure of performance is performance.”

“Sounds a little redundant to me. Are you sure this isn’t just hyperbole?” Bailey was insistent, unconvinced.

“Simple to understand. You will never find a person doing something they do not have the capability to do. You can line up all the rewards, intrinsic motivation cooked up by industrial psychologists, if a person does not possess the capability, they will underperform. Underperform or engage in diversionary behavior.”

Double Edge of Knowing

Habits are routine, grooved behaviors based on what-we-know. What-we-know is always based on the past.

Habits are a two-edged sword. Habits help us understand the world quickly. What-we-know creates patterns we can use to solve problems efficiently using a minimum of brain power.

Habits can prevent us from clearly seeing the present. What-we-know may not be accurate or lead us to mistake reality as a previous pattern (with a mistake).

Habits are part of who we are and resistant to change, because they are based on what-we-know. Habits are more powerful than reality, because reality is always new. Knowing prevents learning.