Category Archives: Timespan

Overwhelmed Behaviors

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

What happens when you realize you were given a promotion and not able to live up to the capabilities? Do you admit it to your superiors? Do you keep it to yourself and risk failure?

Response:

There are many ways to survive in a position that’s over your head, but in the end, it’s only survival. Not a way to live.

I often ask managers, “How do you know, what behavior do you observe when a person is in over their head? Where the Time Span for the position is longer than the Time Span of the person?”

The descriptions come back.

  • They feel overwhelmed.
  • They cover things up.
  • They cut off communication.
  • Their projects are always late.
  • I can’t ever find them.
  • They always blame someone else.
  • They have all the excuses.
  • They never accept responsibility.

So, the short answer is yes. When you realize you are in over your head, go back to your boss. Explain the difficulties you are having. Ask for help. If it is a matter of capability (Time Span), no amount of training, no amount of hand holding will help. It is possible that you may grow into the position, but it’s more likely a matter of years, not weeks that allows for the required maturity (increase in Time Span).

This doesn’t make you a bad person, it just means you were placed in a position where you cannot be effective. Yet!

The Bigger Context

“But, what if my team has some bone-headed ideas?” Francis pushed back. “There are a couple of people on my team that think I’m an idiot, that they have a better way to do something.”

“Occasionally, we are all idiots,” I replied. “Perhaps, on occasion your team is accurate.”

“But they don’t see the big picture,” Francis described. “They think I delay part of a project because I don’t know what I am doing, when the fact is, we are waiting on parts with a six week lead time.”

“So, it’s context?” I asked. “And, you don’t think they will understand a six week delay in parts?”

“They have trouble just figuring out what materials we need for today’s production, much less a part that won’t be here for six weeks.”

“Francis, this is a struggle for all managers. Your team is working day-to-day or at best, week-to-week, but they are impacted by events that happen month-to-month, or quarter-to-quarter. Don’t sell your team short. They may not be able to manage long lead time issues, but they can certainly understand those issues, particularly if you make them visible. In what way could you communicate project scheduling to your team in a way they would understand?”

Who Controls the Variables?

“What is structure?” Melanie asked. “I draw boxes and circles, with lines and arrows. The question that guides me is – who reports to whom?”

“And, that would be accurate,” I replied, “if you worked in a command-and-control, reporting environment. This misconception about most organized companies leads us astray.”

“But, that’s my central question, my guiding principle when I put the org chart together. Who reports to whom?”

“Indeed, as managers, we sit around the table discussing a new recruit coming into the company tomorrow. And, the question is, who should this person report to? Quite seriously, it’s the wrong question.”

“I’m listening,” Melanie replied.

“It’s not a matter of who this young recruit will report to, but which manager, around the table, will be accountable for the output of this new hire? It’s not a matter of reporting, it’s a matter of accountability, and it’s the manager who is accountable.”

“Seems upside-down,” Melanie observed.

“Does it?” I responded. “Think about it. This new person comes into the organization. Who designed the role for this person to play? Who determined what this person should do? Who determined the quality spec of the output? Who selected this person to play this role? Who trained the person? Who provided the necessary tools, created the work environment? Who controls all the variables around this person?”

Melanie paused, the answer so obvious. “The manager, of course.”

“Then, why should the manager not be held accountable for the output of this new hire?”

To the Next Level

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
As I talk with other CEO friends, they keep talking about taking their company to the next level or that they want to scale their companies larger. It sounds like they know what they are talking about. But do they? They are my friends, and I don’t want to disparage, but in many cases, I have my doubts.

Response:
No organization can ever grow larger than the CEO. If it does, the wheels will get wobbly and the organization will falter. The same is true as levels of work are built inside the organization. No level of work can exceed the capability of the manager. If it does, the wheels will get wobbly and the organization will falter. It doesn’t matter if the company is S-I, S-II, S-III, S-IV or S-V. Faltering can happen at any level.

Most who say they want to take their company, or department, or team to the next level has no clue what that means. Timespan and levels of work create the only framework that clearly identifies what that means.

Scalability doesn’t happen until S-IV, where multiple system integration occurs. Listen carefully to your friends, but judge not what they say, only judge what they do (or are capable of doing).

How Many Levels?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You recently described an organization as having five levels. You also said that some organizations don’t need five levels. I am trying to figure out how many levels our company needs?

Response:
Your question is similar to the manager’s span of control issue. The consultant’s answer, “it depends.” The number of levels in an organization depends on the complexity of the decisions and problems faced by the company’s mission. That’s why it is important to occasionally sit down and revisit the mission. We think of mission as “what the company does,” but it also includes which markets, geography of those markets, market segments, governing rules and regulations, availability of labor, incorporation of technology, availability of capital. All of these elements play in to the complexity of the organization.

The initial mission always exists in the individual eyes of the founder. In the beginning, that mission may be modest, simply to prove the concept is viable (minimum viability). With early success, the mission can grow, be redefined as the organization learns more about the environment it created. And we think, with more levels, the more success we see. That is not altogether true. You can have a successful organization at any level, with an appropriate number of managerial levels, even an organization with just one.

S-I (One level of work) – This is the sole practitioner, an individual technical contributor, whose mission is to solve a narrow market problem requiring only one mind, usually supported by technology. Successful sole practitioners could be an artist, writer, even a computer coder developing a single application to solve a market problem. A good living can be had by the savvy sole practitioner, though it is rare to reach any large scale by yourself. (Timespan 1 day – 3 months).

S-II (Two levels of work) – This is the sole practitioner who gathers surrounding assistance. There is too much work for one and that additional work is necessary to solve the problem. At this organizational level that additional work requires coordination for quantity output, at a given quality spec, according to a deadline time schedule (QQT). There is no system yet, because the quantity or complexity of work does not require it. This could be a entrepreneur with a small team. It could also be that the organization requires a system, but does not possess the internal capacity to develop that system. Many successful S-II organizations simply purchase their system from someone else, as a franchise or a license from a larger organization (who has a system for sale). (Timespan 3 months – 12 months).

S-III (Three levels of work) – But even a small franchisee, with one or two stores, who wants to increase to three or four stores, eventually requires an internal system. At three to four stores, an additional level of work appears. It is interesting that one of the larger franchisors, Chick-fil-a only allows one store per franchise. This may be an unconscious realization that the capability of their franchisees is limited to S-II. The hallmark of an S-III organization is a single serial system (single critical path). This is often an artisan craftsman, a subcontractor on a larger project. (Timespan 1 – 2 years).

S-IV (Four levels of work) – Consists of multiple parallel systems that have to be integrated together. S-III as a single serial system is limited in its growth. For an S-III company to scale, it requires the coordination of multiple systems. From its core production system, the S-IV organization also has to coordinate material purchasing, equipment procurement and maintenance, personnel recruiting and training, marketing campaigns, sales efforts, legal review, project management, quality control, sustaining engineering, R&D, human resources and accounting.

S-V (Five levels of work) – This is the enterprise in the marketplace. And, the marketplace is not just about customers. Marketplace includes regulation, labor, finance, technology, competition, logistics, supply chain. This is still within the Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) but also extends to larger organizations.

An organization can be successful at any level, it is governed by the level of their mission.

Maximum Number of Team Members

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I read with interest your response on the number of levels in an organization. It sounds good, but as the organization grows, we need more and more managers. It is difficult for a single manager to handle more than 6-7 people on the team. With more managers, don’t we end up needing more layers.

Response:
I would first challenge your assumption on the maximum number of team members for whom a manager is accountable. Your number of 6-7 has no basis in theory or fact. Elliott was often asked this question, let me whisper his number, 70. It is likely that a single manager will begin to struggle when the number of team members reaches 70.

I know the blood just drained out of your face, so as your brain is restoring its circulation, let me explain. The maximum number of team members a manager can effectively be accountable for depends, not on an arbitrary number like 6 or 7, but, rather on the variability in the work.

Large call centers may easily have 70 people on the floor at any one time, with a single supervisor. How can a single supervisor be accountable for the output of 70 people? Look at what those people do. Most of the time, those call center team members do the same work day after day, there is little variability.

How many people on a Navy Seal Team? I would guess six. Why such a small team? The variability of the work is high. The number of people a single manager can be accountable for depends on the work.

Without a frame of reference, organizations do get bloated. I once worked with a company with 12 layers, but only needed 5. Levels of work creates the frame within which we can determine not only who should be whose manager, but how many managers are at the same level. The objective measurement of timespan takes out the guesswork and bias that inevitably creeps in. About once a year, you should round up your managers for a calibration meeting to make sure the bloat is not settling in.

Why Organizational Structure?

What is organizational structure? On a single piece of paper, it’s called an org chart.

Organizational structure is simply the way we define the working relationships between people with the organization. All social settings have a social structure. Parent-child, teacher-student, politician-constituent, minister-congregation, coach-player, manager-team member. The social structure helps us understand what is expected and what are the norms of behavior.

Organizational structure in a Management Accountability Hierarchy (MAH), helps us understand the working relationships between people in the company. It is important to know who has the authority to make decisions, the authority to solve problems (the way we would have them solved), but most importantly, who is accountable for output.

Managerial roles are stacked in levels of work so we can more quickly understand the context in which that role is working.

Levels of Work

  • S-V – Business Unit President or SME CEO. The context is on the entire enterprise as it sits in its marketplace.
    Timespan 5-10 years.
  • S-IV – Executive manager. The context is the many parallel systems that have to work together. Timespan 2-5 years.
  • S-III – Manager. The context is on a single serial system, or a single critical path. Timespan 1-2 years.
  • S-II – Supervisor. The context is on the work in hand in the near term. Timespan 3-12 months.
  • S-I – Production. The context is on the work in hand today, tomorrow and next week. Timespan 1 day to 3 months.

How Many Manager Levels?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
The template you sent out looks like it only handles five levels of work. Our organization has seven manager layers, total headcount 62 people. How do we fit in the extra two layers?

Response:
The reason you have more than five manager layers in your company is that you use some other criteria to define a managerial layer. You decided someone in your company needed some manager experience, so you promoted them with a new title, and gave them someone to manage. Your criteria for creating a new manager level was that someone needed experience. Your criteria has nothing to do with the complexity of problem solving or decision making. You created a managerial layer as an accommodation to a single person. Don’t organize the work around the people, organize the people around the work.

With a headcount of 62 people, I can safely assume that your company should have no more than five layers and possibly needs even fewer. Stop looking at the people you have, and look at the work. What is the necessary work required to accomplish your organization’s mission? When you base your organizational structure on the complexity of decision making and problem solving, the work naturally falls into the levels described below. Using that framework, you can identify where your organization is bloated and where it is thin (too thin).

Levels of Work

  • S-V – Business Unit President or SME CEO. The focus is on the entire enterprise as it sits in its marketplace.
  • S-IV – Executive manager. The focus is on the integration of departmental workflow. Looks closely at work handoffs from one department to another and the output capacity of each department as it sits next to its neighboring departments.
  • S-III – Manager. The focus is typically on a single department, which contains a single serial system, or a single critical path.
  • S-II – Supervisor. This is a coordinating, implementing role, making sure production work is complete, within spec and on-time.
  • S-I – Production. The focus is on pace and quality, how many units at a specific spec.

Art Form or Detective Work?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Love it – the four levels of thinking directly related to the flow of inputs, manner and tempo. This helps so much in understanding an additional vector of complexity, in addition to future ambiguity (as measured by timespan).

Is there a measure that is commonly used and can be attributed to positions in a Requisite Organization design? Can we measure the amount of activity needed in each/any of the four levels to know what type of sophistication a) the org needs at that level and b) that a candidate has? Or is it intuitive only (we sense it and we know it when we see it)?

Can you use this to help bring clarity to the org chart?

Response:
Some would say that identifying capability is an art form, know it when we see it. My take is that it’s more detective work, assembling clues within a framework. The brilliant insight in the question is the focus. Typically, in an attempt to identify capability, we focus on the person. More brilliant, in the question, the focus is on the work, flow of inputs, manner and tempo.

I don’t judge people, I’m not very good at it. But, I DO judge the work. My calibration of level of work always ends with timespan, but at first blush, timespan might mislead, I need other clues, and then timespan falls in place. If all projects are one-week projects and we have twenty of them, it might seem the timespan is one week. But, to handle twenty simultaneous projects, the start time and the stop time begins much earlier and ends much later than the one-week project.

Before the projects start, we have to examine, in all the projects, what is the same? Can we apply the same solution to identical problems? In all the projects, what is different that requires a unique solution? What is our capacity to handle twenty simultaneous projects? Do we need two project managers or four project managers? If we only have two PMs and need four, where will we find two more? What steps in the project can be started immediately? What steps can be done at the same time? What steps must be done sequentially? When we start to answer those questions, we find the timespan is much more than one week?

Laying out the org chart, I generally use a pre-cursor document (spreadsheet) that has columns for each function on a team, or columns for each team in a department, or columns for each department in the organization. The rows in the spreadsheet designate level of work. If you would like a copy, just drop me an email. I use this spreadsheet to clearly identify the level of work before I translate the structure into an org chart.

Assessing Capability

“Your turn,” I said. “Step me through these four levels of work and tell me where you think Jason is struggling.”

Elisa started slowly.

  • Direct action – Jason began as a project manager. We started him on simple projects, things (variables) came at him slowly enough where he had the time to immediately respond, and in that, he was very effective.”
  • Diagnostic Accumulation – Jason did so well on a single project, that we gave him two simultaneous projects. The just reward for hard work is more hard work. With two projects, he did the second project the way he did the first project. He was able to effectively put things together, recognize similarities, connect the dots.
  • Serial Thinking – is where Jason begins to struggle. We asked him to work over the shoulder of junior project managers, up to twenty simultaneous projects. We thought the project management software would handle all the detail, but the sheer volume of decisions and problem solving required Jason to think ahead, anticipate. He had to play “What if?” He had to look at twenty projects and see all the things that were the same, simultaneously understanding the nuanced differences between each project. He had to put a system together and that’s where he struggled.
  • Interactive Systems Thinking – is way beyond Jason. Project management sits inside our organization next to estimating, procurement, logistics, workforce and finance. Most of that is outside of Jason’s scope.

“And, so, where would you peg Jason’s level of capability?” I asked.

“Now, it’s very easy,” Elisa nodded her head. “Jason is on the upper end of Diagnostic Accumulation, but struggles with Serial Thinking.”

“Understanding this framework, can you now, as Jason’s manager, more accurately determine what project assignments, how many, how complex that Jason can effectively handle?”