Category Archives: Timespan

The Rare Grasp on Structure

“I get it,” I said. “Timespan helps us sort out the complexity of problems at hand with the selection of the right person to solve that problem. You say that is only the beginning, that timespan touches everything a manager does?”

“Let’s start at the top,” Pablo replied. “With the CEO. I rarely meet a CEO who has a firm grasp on the structure of their organization. And, by structure, I mean, the way we define the working relationships between people. Not only is it important to define the accountability inside a single role, it is also critical to define the way those roles work together.”

“I’m listening.”

“There are two types of working relationships, vertical and horizontal,” Pablo continued. “Vertical relationships, we understand more easily. Those are (vertical) managerial relationships. Every technician understands they have a supervisor, every supervisor understands they have a manager. If the organization is large enough, every manager understands they have an executive manager. Somewhere, hovering at the top is the CEO.”

“This is the CEO who rarely has a firm grasp on the structure?” I asked.

“Precisely,” Pablo smiled. “Most people get promoted in an organization because someone left the company, leaving in hole in the org chart. Or someone appears qualified for a promotion, requests a promotion, but there is no hole on the org chart, so we create a new role, with a new title. Or someone needs (deserves) a raise, but we cannot justify the increase in compensation without assigning a new title with a new role. Or someone needs leadership experience, so we make them a manager and assign a single person for them to manage. There are all kinds of wonky reasons that org charts get bloodied up.”

“We were talking about timespan?” I reminded.

“And, those bloodied org charts make no sense, they are bloated, accountability is vague, performance excuses abound. So we have communication seminars and do personality testing, AND nothing changes. That’s because we have a structural problem. Timespan creates the only framework where we can accurately define two things, accountability and authority.”

“Accountability and authority for what?”

“To make decisions and solve problems. Work is making decisions and solving problems. It’s all about the work. When we can measure the decision (with timespan) and measure the problem (with timespan), we can now structure the organization around something that makes sense. Supervisors have a larger (longer timespan) context than technicians. Managers have a larger (longer timespan) context than supervisors. Executive managers have a larger (longer timespan) context than managers. It’s all about the work, all based on goals and objectives.”

“And, the CEOs rare firm grasp on their structure?” I repeated.

“Understanding timespan, the CEO can overlay levels of work onto the org chart, and discrepancies leap off the page. The burning platforms inside the org chart now reveal themselves, not as communication breakdowns or personality conflicts, but as structural problems, where we have not accurately identified the complexity of problems at that level of work, or mismatched a team member to make those decisions or solve those problems.”

The Story of Our Intentions

“Once you understand this elegant simplicity, that timespan is nothing more complicated than the time measure of our intentions, the story of our intentions, the target completion time of our goals and objectives,” Pablo started, “you can begin to see that timespan is going to touch every aspect of a manager’s life.”

“Starting with?” I asked.

“You would agree with me that some problems are simple and most people can solve them?”

I nodded.

“You would also agree that as problems become more complex, some people struggle?”

I nodded again.

“And, while some struggle, others see the solution clearly. And, as those problems become more complex, more struggle. And, yet, there are still those who see solutions clearly.”

“I am still with you,” I confirmed.

“If we measure those problems in timespan, we get a clear demarcation of the problem’s complexity and those individuals who struggle and those who see clearly. For thousands of years, we have intuitively created organizations where we observe multiple levels of problem solving by different levels of people, but without a metric to measure that complexity. Timespan becomes the metric by which we can measure the complexity of problems and more accurately select people to clearly solve those problems.”

Second Dimension of Time

“Timespan of intention,” I repeated. “Timespan of effectiveness, timespan of discretion. A new understanding of time?”

“Not at all,” Pablo replied. “Elapsed time and timespan of intention are two measures of time. But, not at all new. Greek language has two words for time, chronos, for elapsed time. And, kairos. Kairos defines time, not as an elapsed measure, but as a story. What are the three elements of every story?”

It did not take me long. “The beginning, the middle and the end,” I replied.

Kairos. What is your story? What is your intention? What is the story of your intention? What is your goal? What is the story of your goal?” Pablo asked. “That is the second dimension of time. It has everything to do with goals and objectives, important measures for every manager.”

Size of Task, Size of Role

“This timespan of intention,” Pablo continued, “turns out to be the missing element in measuring the size of a task, the size of a role and thinking about the capability of those we have employed to complete those tasks and play those roles.”

“Okay, but I intend to do a lot of things,” I countered. “Climb Mount Everest before I die, run a 4-minute mile. Just because I intend to do something does not define my capability to do it.”

“Indeed,” Pablo replied. “In addition to your imagination, you also have to observe your effectiveness in doing so. A manager can easily create a piece of paper that says 12 month goal calendar, with 12 months bolded at the top, but it does not make her effective in completing those goals. She also has to effectively execute.”

“So, we have the timespan of intention, and the timespan of effectiveness?” I asked.

“And, in management, we also have the timespan of discretion. Discretion is our authority to make a decision. Given a delegated task to complete, have we also been granted the authority to make necessary decisions? Within that delegated task, what is our timespan of discretion? Timespan is the metric for measuring accountability and authority and a team member’s effectiveness. Size of task, size of role, size of team member.”

Two Dimensions of Time

“Exactly what is timespan, and why does it have a bearing on human endeavor?” I asked.

“Not just human behavior, but all living things, though right now we are focused on humans, the humans that inhabit our companies,” Pablo started. “Think about this. We plan a project and imagine, using our best judgement that the project will be complete within a specified, reasonable amount of time. When the project is finally complete, we now have the actual time elapsed. You must admit, these are concerns for every manager – How long did we intend the project to take, how long did it actually take? Time takes on two dimensions – intentions and actual elapsed time.”

“Okay,” I responded. “So far, I am still you.”

“Most often, when we think about time, we only think about elapsed time. We think about chronos, the measure of elapsed time.”

“A chronometer, like a stopwatch,” I connected.

“A river flows from its source to the sea, governed by gravity, volume, physical obstructions, and the water traveled can be measured in time. Does the river have intentions?”

I took a breath. “No,” I said, wondering if this was a trick question.

“Of course not,” Pablo replied. “Inanimate objects have no intentions, they only have elapsed time, from the source to the sea. We can describe inanimate processes easily within four dimensions, three dimensions of space and one dimension of time, elapsed time. But humans, human behavior, human endeavors require five dimensions, three dimensions of space and two dimensions of time. Elapsed time and the time span of intention.”

The Best Measure of Performance

“We started this conversation trying to figure out the size of the role and the size of the person,” I clarified. “I think we have established that we can measure size of role with timespan. So how do we measure the size of person?”

“It’s a trick question,” Pablo immediately responded. “I don’t judge people, I only judge the work.”

“But, if we are trying to match the size of the role with the size of the person?”

My question was cut short. “We are misled when we try to judge the size of a person. People are too complicated, and besides, at the end of the day, does it matter? The only thing that matters, is the person effective in the work of the role? Think about it. We come up with all kinds of descriptors like foresight, agility, conscientiousness, tenacity, initiative, motivation, flexibility. We give these things a score. As if we can measure the absolute score of a human being? We say a person needs more of this and less of that. What does that have to do with work?”

“Let me change my question,” I recalibrated. “Instead of measuring the size of the person, how do we match the person with the complexity, with the level of work in the role?”

“Now, you have a case. In this discussion, the central question is, compared to what?” Pablo asserted.

“Okay, compared to what?” I parroted.

“You cannot measure the qualities of a person with some absolute number, because people change inside the context of the moment. Compared to what? Compared to the work in the role? I only care, can they do the work?” Pablo stopped, then picked up again. “The best measure of performance is performance.”

Complexity of the Problem

“I understand there is a difference in thinking-near-term vs thinking-long-term. Conceptually, I understand. How does that help us, as managers inside a company?” I asked.

“You are familiar with delegation?” Pablo asked, knowing the answer.

“Of course,” I replied.

“You say that so fast, I assume you do NOT understand delegation, except at its surface level,” Pablo stopped. “You understand delegation as a task assignment. What you delegate is not just the task, but the decision making and problem solving that goes with it. Inside any task assignment, as a manager, you must also understand the level of problem solving that goes with it.”

“Near-term vs long-term?” I confirmed.

“Yes, the timespan of the decision will accurately determine the level of problem solving required. If I delegate a step in a process that is due tomorrow, there are decisions that go with it, AND most of the variables are known. To meet a special order for a customer tomorrow, the team can work a little overtime with the materials at hand and we can meet the order. If we have another special order, how do we do that second order?” Pablo asked.

“The same way we did the first special order. Work a little more overtime,” I replied.

“But, what if we get 50 special orders?” Pablo challenged.

“Well, there isn’t enough overtime for 50 special orders, and if we focus on those, what happens to the regular orders that were already in process, it would play hell with our schedule,” I replied.

“You see, that is not such a simple problem. And, you immediately began to think about the impact in the future. Processing 50 special orders, with special setups, depleting our materials on hand, some of which have lead times, delaying our current scheduled commitments to customers with whom we have contracts, the timespan impact of the problem grows. I would submit to you, the complexity of the problem is not just more moving parts.”

“But this is not an unusual problem, companies face this all the time,” I said.

“And, companies figure out the solution all the time. We can accurately measure the complexity of the problem by identifying the timespan impacts of each of the elements of the problem. The timespan impact of each element leads us to the complexity of the solution. Lead times of depleted materials is a clue. If the lead time is six weeks, we don’t have an immediate impact of one delayed order, we have a six week impact on all orders. We cannot solve this problem by working overtime.”

Accuracy of Timespan

“You see,” Pablo continued, “it’s the ‘by when’ that creates the complexity of any problem.”

“I’m listening,” I said.

“The further our intention is into the future, the more uncertainty, the more ambiguity creeps in. In spite of our best intentions, the future is without precision. My friend Murphy* has a law, with which, I am sure you are familiar. From one day to one week, one month, three months, a year, two years, five years, the longer the timespan, the more uncertain those future events. And, yet, in the face of that uncertainty, we have to make a decision today.”

“We were talking about the size of a role,” I tried to bring this discussion back on point.

“Indeed, some roles, production roles focus on today, tomorrow, this week. Supervisory, coordination roles focus on this week, this month, this quarter. Managerial roles focus on this quarter, this year into next year. Executive management roles focus on this year through five years. The CEO role looks out 5 years and beyond. Using timespan, we can accurately measure the size of the role.”

“And, we were talking about the size of a person,” I prompted.

“Most people are capable today, this week, maybe a month into the future. Meaning, they can perceive things around them and are competent at making near term decisions. As the timespan of the decision increases, some struggle. There is a big drop off at one year. Thinking out, and making effective decisions beyond one year into the future, well, far fewer people have capability at that level.”
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*Murphy’s law – anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Attributed to Capt. Edward A. Murphy, US Air Force, 1949.

The Timespan of Dry

“Most people are comfortable with short timespan decisions,” Pablo continued. “Most elements are tangible, known. We can observe, inspect, feel, touch each of the elements. The level of uncertainty, the level of ambiguity is low. And most people are comfortable.”

“I can see that,” I said.

“And, as the level of ambiguity grows, the timespan of the decision gets longer, some people struggle. Some people struggle to the point of paralysis.”

“I have seen that as well,” I replied.

“Look closely,” Pablo lowered his voice. “We can measure the ambiguity, measure the uncertainty of the decision by looking at timespan.”

“How so?” I asked. “How do we calibrate the timespan of a decision?”

“All we have to do is inspect the timespan of intention, it will tell us.”

“Timespan of intention? I am not sure I understand,” I said.

“What is our intention? What is our expectation? What do we want to happen? What is the goal? It is our intention that defines the timespan of the decision. It is our expectation. It is what we want to happen. It is the goal. Very simply, a goal is a ‘what’ by ‘when?’ Built into our intention is timespan.”

“Your example about the cloudy day and the umbrella?” I wanted to see the connection.

“If we want to avoid the possibility of rain today, we might carry an umbrella,” Pablo explained. “If we want to stay dry next week, we might acquire the habit of carrying an umbrella all the time. And, if we want to stay dry next month, while we sleep, we might build a house. And, if we want to stay dry next year, in the face of a hurricane, we better make a decision today to construct a building to withstand a windstorm. And, if we want to stay dry for the next five years in the face of multiple storms that might occur, we better create an enforceable building code rated for Cat 5. The timespan of our decision provides us with a calibrated measurement to indicate the complexity of that decision, in the face of uncertainty, in the face of ambiguity.”

Changing Behavior

“The manager may be accountable for output, but, what if the behavior of the team member is not productive and needs to be changed?” I asked.

“It often happens,” Pablo replied. “The path is not to change the behavior of the team member, but to build the system that creates the behavior necessary for productivity.”

“So, you are implying that you can change a person’s behavior?”

“Absolutely, change the context, change the system and behavior follows.”

“If we subscribe to this thinking, what should we expect?” I wanted to know.

“This understanding breathes life into the organization. Managers are now expected to anticipate, have alternate plans, in short, be prepared to respond to variable conditions. This, instead of watching over shoulders, micro-managing and blaming the team.”