Category Archives: Timespan

It’s Not Communication

“I don’t think you have a communication problem,” I said.

Sarah was quiet.  “But, it looks like a communication problem.  The sales manager is having trouble communicating with the operations manager.”

“I don’t think you have a communication problem,” I repeated.  “I think you have an accountability and authority problem.”

“What do you mean?” Sarah asked.

“Is the sales manager the manager of the operations manager?”

“No,” Sarah replied.

“Is the operations manager the manager of the sales manager?”

“No,” she repeated.

“So, when they are required to coordinate together, who is accountable for what, and who has the authority to make what decisions?”

“What do you mean?” Sarah, always with the same question.

“If the operations manager has a backlog of eighteen weeks, does he have the authority to tell sales to stop selling?”

“Of course not,” Sarah looked a bit shocked.  “That decision is the sales manager’s decision.”

“So, if the output of sales outstrips the output capacity of operations, who decides to stop?” I asked, politely. 

“What do you mean?”  Sarah asked, once again.

“You see, I don’t think you have a communication issue.  I think you have an accountability and authority issue.”

Three Weeks Early

“Okay, you want your project managers to show up early, so they can fix stuff they forgot to coordinate yesterday, but that’s not what you want?” I asked.

“No,” Saul pushed back.  “I want my project managers to show up a week early and figure out what they forgot to coordinate yesterday.  In fact, I want them to show up three weeks early and figure out what they forgot to coordinate.”

Saul stopped.  “I did have one project manager, I gotta tell you.  All my other project managers would have the excuse that we couldn’t start the job today, because the permit didn’t get approved yesterday.  This one project manager, though, would say the same thing, but that we couldn’t start the job three weeks from now because the permit wasn’t approved yesterday.  Three weeks notice for a permit gives us plenty of time to reallocate resources appropriately.”

So, you want your project managers thinking three weeks into the future?” I nodded.

“No, I want my best project managers to think three months into the future,” Saul smiled.  “Now, that would be a schedule I could work with.”

Your Assumption Might Be Wrong

“I am pretty sure that Isaac is a Stratum I and that’s why he is having difficulty with his new responsibilities,” Nelson explained.

“Isaac’s not doing well?” I asked.

“No, I swear, I have explained things to him a dozen times. He always says that he understands, but when I look at the work, he is like a deer in the headlights. Definitely Stratum I.”

“And if you are wrong?”

“I might be wrong?” Nelson tilted.

“What if he is just not interested in the work he is assigned?”

“But that’s the work I gave him to do,” Nelson replied.

“Just because you gave it to him, doesn’t mean he places value on that work. And just because he underperforms, doesn’t mean he is a Stratum I. Your assumption may lead you down the wrong road. Here are some better questions that are more helpful.

  1. Does Isaac have the right skills for the assigned task? Is there some technical knowledge that he needs to know and has he practiced enough to gain the required skill?
  2. Is Isaac interested in the work? Does he place a high value on its completion?
  3. Has Isaac been effective in completing tasks with a similar Time Span?


“I thought we already dealt with my inner critic,” Dalton complained.

“Oh, we did,” I replied. “But, do you think your inner critic is going to go away quietly? Your inner critic is already miffed that you allowed yourself permission to fail. You even went so far to explore alternative solutions.”

“And, the team came up with an idea that might work, but it’s a step that we don’t do, don’t have the resources to do and don’t know how to do. At least not easily.”

“Look, you beat your inner critic once. When your manager got on your case, your critic told you to blame it on late materials, a machine breakdown and finally, to blame it on Fred. How did you beat your inner critic?”

“I took responsibility. I gave myself permission to fail. Instead of blaming, I started to explore alternatives with my team.”

“And, you came up with a solution that you don’t do, don’t have resources for, nor the understanding to pull it off,” I nodded.

Dalton stared.

“So, figure it out,” I said. “Get your team together and figure it out. Innovate, man.”

The Source of Our Trouble

“Did you hear the one about the horse that walked into a bar?” I asked. “The bartender walked up and said – why the long face?”

Dalton looked up and a grin flashed across his face. “You’re talking about me, aren’t you?” he said.

I nodded. “Why the long face?”

Dalton sat up. “I just had a talk with my manager about my team’s performance, or should I say lack of performance. I tried to tell him the reasons why, materials late, a machine that broke down, Fred didn’t show up for work and didn’t even call in.” Dalton stopped. “My manager didn’t want to hear the reasons. He just told me to get out there and fix it.”

“And?” I prodded.

“And, I’m not sure what to do. I am almost in shock that my manager didn’t want to hear my story. My stomach is upside down. I feel guilty, like it’s all my fault. I know I will figure it out, but right now, it doesn’t feel very good.”

“May I share something with you?” I asked. “It’s not going to make your long face go away, but it will give you a place to start.”

Dalton’s eyes widened. He leaned forward.

I continued. “Whenever I am in distress, I realize that all of my discomfort is self-generated. All of my emotions like disappointment, resentment, anger, stress, guilt all comes from inside me. I may want to place that feeling on something outside of me, like my manager, but until I acknowledge that it is me, creating those emotions, I will stay stuck in that emotion.”

“Yeah, but this is different,” Dalton protested.

“I said ALL my distress. If you allow even one exception, you start down a slippery slope of placing all blame on things around you, instead of looking inside. So, why the long face?”

Output Capacity

“Is is possible for sales to sell so much stuff that operations struggles to fulfill?” I asked.

“Yes, it happens,” Hector replied.

“So, what’s the problem?” I added.

Hector scratched the back of his neck. “Well, I would say that we have a communication problem. Sales isn’t communicating effectively with operations. Or, it could be a personality conflict that the sales manager doesn’t like the operations manager.”

“It always looks like a communication problem,” I replied. “But, more likely it is a structural problem, looking at output capacity. The output capacity of sales has outstripped the output capacity of operations. You can have all the communication seminars you want or conduct personality testing, but you will still not fix the problem until you understand the output capacity of each function. The solution is optimizing the output of each function so that it doesn’t outstrip the capacity of its neighboring functions. That’s integration.”

Not a Communication Breakdown

“I think we are having a communication breakdown,” James shook his head.

“How, so?” I asked.

“My Sales Manager says the Operations Manager told him to stop selling, that Operatons was having trouble keeping up with the orders already in backlog.”

“That communication sounds pretty clear to me,” I replied.

“But, it’s creating friction between the two departments,” James said.

“I don’t think you have a communication problem. I think you have an accountability and authority problem.”

“What do you mean?” James wanted to know.

“Is the Sales Manager the manager of the Operations Manager?”


“Is the Operations Manager the manager of the Sales Manager?”


“So, you have two people who have to work together, but neither is each other’s manager. And, you failed to define, in that working relationship, what is the accountability and who has the authority to make which decisions. It looks like a communication breakdown, but it’s an accountability and authority problem.”

What’s the Level of Work?

“But, we need to ramp up quickly,” Bruce explained. “We have a lot riding on this project.”

“What’s the rush,” I asked.

“We didn’t know if we were going to get the project, it was a very competitive bid process. But we pulled it off, at least the contract. It’s fast track, four months to complete with liquidated damages on the back end if we miss the deadline.”

“When you say ramp up, what do you mean?” I wanted to know.

“We have the production crew to do the work, they’re coming off of another project. But, the project manager is moving to Seattle to start another job. He was good, and a great opportunity for him. Unfortunately, that leaves us in the lurch. I need a project manager and I need one, now!”

“What’s the level of work on this project?”

Bruce stopped to think. “It’s only a four month project, so that’s S-II. I am hoping there will be a decent candidate pool. Sometimes, we post for a job and no one shows up.”

“How does risk play into understanding the level of work in this project?” I pressed.

“There are lots of moving parts, lots of detail, and if we miss the deadline, our profit could be wiped out pretty quick,” he replied.

“But, we have computer software to handle the detail,” I nodded. “What about the risk embedded in the uncertainty of the project?”

“What do you mean?” Bruce furrowed his brow.

“Will you need to trust your suppliers to deliver on time? Hold their pricing? Are the materials in the spec even available? What’s the lead time on materials? Will you depend on your client for approvals? What could hold up the permits for approval? I know you will have subs on the job. Are they dependable and available in each phase schedule? What if there are change orders? How quickly can you identify something out of scope and its impact on the contract? Is the client litigious? To keep the project on track, how will you schedule quality inspections to make sure each phase meets spec before you can move to the next phase?”

I saw the blood begin to drain from Bruce’s face. I continued. “I think this project has more to it than the 4 months timespan after mobilization. The relationships and synchronicity required have to be developed way before mobilization. The trust in your subcontractors needs to already be in place now. This is more likely an S-III project that started before you even got the contract. The biggest mistake most companies make is underestimating the level of work in the project.”

Uncertainty in the Project

“Let’s look at some of the specific decisions that you have to make today that will have impact later in the project?” I said.

Taylor sat back. “Okay. Let’s just look at the buy out,” he started. “In the buy out, I have to purchase some large pieces of equipment that will be installed. I have to work with our project managers and also with our purchasing guy. Here are some of my decisions that I have to make today, but it may be months before we find out if it was the right decision.

“Will the price of this equipment (to be installed) go up or go down. If I make a commitment now and the price goes up, I am a hero. If I wait to make the purchase and the price goes up, I am a goat.

“Will the vendor that supplies the equipment still be in business a year from now. I may have to put down some deposit money. But even if we lose the deposit money, the real risk is trying to scramble at the last minute to find an alternate supplier. The costs may have changed and some of this stuff has lead times. If the project gets delayed because we don’t have the equipment on-site to be installed, we may be liable for a delay claim.”

Taylor stopped.

The Third Part of the Story

“I don’t understand,” Roger shook his head. “If Brad would just start earlier on these longer projects, things would be under control, and he wouldn’t be cutting unnecessary corners which compromise project quality.”

“Why do you think he procrastinates until the end?” I asked.

Roger shook his head.

“Because,” I continued, “he cannot see the end until he is two months away. On a project with a nine month deadline, Brad cannot see the end. It is too far away. There is so much uncertainty between now and nine months from now, that he cannot see it.

“So he takes no action.

“Of course, the pressure of the project builds, because now things are getting late, but even that is not what finally kicks Brad into action. With sixty days to go, Brad can now see the end. And when Brad can see the end, he starts to act. It is frustrating for us, because we saw this nine months ago.

“Everyone has a story. And every story has a beginning, middle and an end. When you listen to someone’s story, you will hear the Time Span of their story. They cannot take action in their story until they see the end of their story.”