Tag Archives: level of work

How Big is Your Story?

Sitting across the table, I could tell Brett was thinking.

“Brett, let me ask you, how big is your story?”

“What?” he replied.

“How big is your story?” I repeated. “You are building a department inside this company. How big is your story?”

“Well, the company has been pretty successful, so far. We are holding our own against competitors. Lots of market opportunity.”

“So, how big is your story? You see, Brett, the bigger your story, the higher the level of work. The higher the level of work, the more you will depend on finding competent people. The most important decision you will make, as a manager, is who to hire. The people you hire will make you successful or will be the crucible of your downfall. The bigger your story, the more critical this decision.”

Brett continued to stare.

“As a manager in this organization, you are writing a story of the future. The people you cast into the roles of your story will determine its ending, intentional, or otherwise.”

Decoding the Level of Work in the Role

—We do most of our web testing in the background where you can’t see it, and, some of you received an errant message on Sat called Test Post Number Three. It was a mistake, a dangling participle in a test queue. We apologize for additional traffic in your INBOX, though we got some very creative responses.—

I am working with a company struggling with role descriptions related to defining the Level of Work in the role. The group is working with one of my templates (ask, and I will send it to you). Level of Work is calibrated by defining the Time Span of the work. Defining the Time Span of a project is pretty easy, just follow the timeline WHAT, by WHEN and you will have the Time Span.

Operational work is a bit more difficult, where the work continues and repeats. What is the Level of Work in operational work? The central question is – What is the time span of discretion on the part of the team member. In my book Hiring Talent, I compiled a list of ten questions to help answer that question. Each question reveals a clue. The source for these questions is Elliott Jaques’ Time Span Handbook, which Elliott wrote to answer this question.

Before you get to the questions, remember the answers are only clues to Time Span of discretion. The actual Time Span of discretion is left to the judgment of the manager. This means, the manager decides the Time Span in the role. The manager decides the Level of Work in the role.

  1. What is the role title?
  2. What are the general responsibilities in the role?
  3. How is work assigned to the team member?
  4. How often is work assigned to the team member?
  5. When a work assignment is completed, how does the manager know?
  6. When a work assignment is completed, how does the team member know what to work on next? (Time Span of discretion)
  7. Who reviews or inspects the work completed?
  8. How often is the work reviewed or inspected?
  9. Does the team member have the authority to do additional work, before the current completed work is inspected?
  10. Does the team member work on multiple work assignments at the same time?

In Hiring Talent, I prepared four interviews (S-I, S-II, S-III, S-IV) to illustrate responses which you might hear from each Level of Work.

Your thoughts?

Why Is Nancy So Slow?

“I knew this would happen,” Javier smiled from his chair in the conference room. “Not a big deal. Roger, when you came to me and said you needed five hours per week of accounting support, I knew you had no idea how much work it really was. You said, five hours, so I assigned Nancy, one of our staff accountants, to your project. She has a lot of other work to do in our accounting department, but I knew she would get a handle on things and report back to me on your project.”

“Yes, but, now, I need Nancy for ten hours,” Roger complained. “And, she said she couldn’t give me ten hours.”

“I know,” Javier calmly replied. “Nancy came back to me with a breakdown of the work. You need a couple of hours to code all your paperwork to the right expense accounts on your project, then some time to put that data into our computer accounting system, then about twenty minutes to proof and reconcile the output for the week. And, you are right, if Nancy was going to do all the work, it would likely take ten hours.”

“But, she said she couldn’t give me ten hours. If my project is getting a service from the accounting department, how is this going to work?”

“I talked to Nancy. She is going to do the up-front coding and she is going to proof the output, so she is only going to spend three hours on your project. And, we have a data entry clerk who can bang all those transactions into the computer system in another three hours. This data entry specialist is like lightening on a keyboard. We will still get all your work done, but it will probably only take six hours instead of ten.”

“Why is Nancy so slow on the data entry part?” Roger wanted to know.

“Nancy doesn’t practice on data entry. Her level of work requires judgment to connect the right expenses to the right account codes in our accounting system. It’s a different level of work than data entry. If your project was smaller, I would have Nancy do all the work including the data entry, but your project is bigger than you thought, so we are going to bring in a data entry clerk. That clerk just has to accurately get the data into the computer, there is very little judgment required.”

________S-II – Coding, proofing, reconciling. (Nancy)
____S-I – Data entry. (Data entry clerk)

It Doesn’t Matter What Department

From Outbound Air

“It doesn’t matter what department,” Frank added. “The level of work is that same whether it’s clerical, baggage handling or customer service work. They have different skills but the time span of their tasks is in the same range.”

“Wait, you are telling me that a baggage handler is the same level of work as customer service?” Catherine challenged.

“Within the range,” Johnny replied. “We talked all night about this one. At first blush, you might think that a baggage handler isn’t very high up on the food chain. But think about the discretionary judgment that team has to use. They have problems to solve and decisions to make as they maneuver portable conveyors in and around multi-million dollar aircraft. What happens if they misjudge and push a machine one inch into the skin of an airplane? Or if they fail to fasten a baggage door? Or if they are careless about the way cargo and equipment is secured inside the belly? Remember ValuJet?”

The somber reference to the 1996 airline disaster that killed 110 aboard fell over the group.

Who Appointed You to Make That Decision?

From Outbound Air

“It’s not their role to make a decision like that?” Javier replied.

“Says who?” Catherine baited.

An awkward twenty seconds ticked by on the clock. “Says me,” Javier finally relented. “That is not a decision that my shift supervisors are capable of making.”

“And, who appointed you to make that decision?” Catherine continued to press.

“You did,” Javier replied without hesitation. “My shift supervisors are perfectly capable of handling the day to day uncertainty of running an airline, but the problem of an unprofitable route likely has nothing to do with operations. It could be a marketing problem, a pricing problem. It could be a new competitor. It could be a spike in fuel costs. It could be the discovery of a new oil field in North Dakota, or government throttling of fracking activity. All of those issues could impact passenger load factors and are beyond the level of work of my shift supervisors.”

One Stratum Separation

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Thumbnail from yesterday’s post Which Manager is Accountable?

There are three roles in play.

  • Product Manager
  • Marketing Manager

and

  • Marketing Services

The question is, which, of the two managers listed, should be the manager of the Marketing Services role? There are four questions that must be answered before making this decision. Today, the first question –

  • What is the level of work in each role described?

To be an effective manager, there must be one stratum separation between the manager and the team member. So, a role at S-III can be an effective manager to a role at S-II. A role at S-IV may have difficulty being an effective manager for a role at S-II, because their goals and objectives look at dramatically different time frames. An S-II role cannot be an effective manager for another S-II role because, given a difficult problem to solve, they both solve problems the same way. Given a difficult decision to make, they both make decisions the same way.

And, role titles can often be misleading. While the word “manager” often points me to an S-III role, there are many S-II roles that also use the word “manager.” To design the appropriate managerial relationship or the appropriate cross-functional relationship, we first have to determine the level of work in each role.

Tomorrow, we will look at the second question. Which manager is in the best position to bring value to the decisions made and problems solved by the Marketing Services role?

What’s the Work of a System Architect at S-III

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
So, yes, we have an individual technical contributor, a system architect role, at S-III, with no reports. Does this then mean the system architect fulfills “production” and that a Stratum IV role would be the supervisor and a Stratum V role would create the system? Or, would you say that the system architect fulfills all three roles? Or something different altogether?

Response:
Again, this question reveals a couple of important issues.

  • What is production work at S-III?
  • What is the role of the manager at S-IV and the manager-once-removed at S-V?

In some business models, especially B2B, the product or service delivered to the customer might easily be a system which requires S-III capability to create.

For example, a customer might require a software system to automate a large work process. This customer might contract with a company to accomplish the following work.

  • Needs analysis
  • Workflow documentation
  • Automation system design
  • Software selection and procurement
  • Software installation and configuration
  • Workflow integration with the software
  • Role re-design to include software operation around the work process
  • Training of personnel
  • Testing of workflow for throughput
  • Evaluation of automated workflow related to the initial needs analysis

This is all clearly S-III system work and might easily take 12-24 months to accomplish. Remember, the goal is NOT to install an automated system, but to install an automated system that exceeds throughput of the original work process. The goal is to get the automated system up to a full working capacity.

Indeed, the production work is S-III system work, for the role of a system architect, with no direct reports.

Assuming the system architect has the capability to be effective at this level of work, it is likely that she will create her own progress metrics (making sure production gets done). In addition, she may also document the system for creating the system. So, much of the supervisory and managerial work related to the project might be accomplished by this same system architect.

But, every person performs at a higher level with a manager, so what is the role of the system architect’s manager (at S-IV). The function of a manager is to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team member. The system architect can handle the routine decisions and problems, but might require help with the tough problems and decisions.

For example. The system architect might be able to automate this work process, but struggle with how this automated system might integrate with other systems in the customer’s company. It is one thing to automate manufacturing planning and procurement, stock and inventory of raw materials used in a manufacturing process, but how might that integrate with research and development? This is where the system architect’s manager might bring value.

Tomorrow, we will talk about the role of the system architect’s manager-once-removed.

What About in Individual Technical Contributor?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
In the levels of work definition, from Elliott Jaques, you have highlighted that

  • Strata III – creates the system for production (typically a managerial role).
  • Strata II – makes sure production gets done (typically a supervisor role).
  • Strata I – production (typically a technician role).

Assuming one is working in a highly technical field, one might have a Systems Architect role at Stratum III, with no reports. Does this then mean that they fulfill ‘
“production” and that a Strata IV role would be the supervisor and a Strata V role creates the system? Or, would you say that the Systems Architect fulfills all three roles? Or something different altogether?

Response:
Thanks for the question. You have tipped off a number issues. The example I use most often in my Time Span workshop is a manufacturing or direct service model. These models are easy to understand, both in level of work and managerial relationships.

But there are hundreds (thousands) of business models that are not so straightforward in level of work. The calibration to determine level of work hinges on the length of the longest time span task in the role. As you suggest, in a technical industry, you may have “production” work at S-III, meaning the longest time span task would take longer than 12 months and shorter than 24 months to accomplish. This is quite typical in professional service firms (accounting, legal, financial advisory, engineering, architecture).

Your illustration also reveals the role of an individual technical contributor. An individual technical contributor is not necessarily a managerial role, but likely requires level of work at S-II, S-III or S-IV. Again, this is typical in technical business models.

If you have interest, I describe more details related to level of work, in the book Hiring Talent, for the following business models.

  • Managerial roles
  • Accounting roles
  • Engineering roles
  • Computer programming roles
  • Sales roles
  • Restaurant roles
  • Fleet service roles
  • Creative agency roles
  • Financial planning roles
  • Insurance agency roles
  • Construction trades roles
  • Legal firm roles
  • Public accounting roles
  • Medical roles
  • Educational institution roles (K-12)

Your question also asks about the nature of the managerial relationship for an individual technical contributor where the level of work is S-II, S-III or S-IV. I will save that for tomorrow.

Does Increasing the Number of Projects Impact Level of Work?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You seem to base level of work on time span. But can’t the level of work also be defined by the number of simultaneous projects? It seems odd that doing (1) six month project is the same level of work as doing (3) six-month projects, at the same time. The time span is still six months, but juggling three projects seems more complex than executing one project?

Response:
Yes, the number of simultaneous projects does impact the level of work, but not in the way you might think. In your example of the project manager, who effectively executes (1) six month project, what is the level of work? The time span of the project would indicate that this would be S-II level of work.

And so, her manager assigns (2) simultaneous six-month projects. What is the level of work? Though the project manager may spend more hours during those six months, the level of work is still S-II.

And so, her manager assigns (3) simultaneous six-month projects. What is the level of work? Though the project manager may spend even more hours during those six months, the level of work is still S-II.

At some point, however, the project manager simply runs out of hours. The level of work doesn’t change, but the project manager passes out from exhaustion.

And so, her manager assigns (4) simultaneous six-month projects. In fact, to make the point clearer, her manager assigns (50) simultaneous six-month projects.

If the project manager is out of hours, (50) simultaneous projects cannot be done at the same level of work. To effectively execute (50) simultaneous projects, the project manager will have to delegate the direct work and create specific systems for monitoring progress and gauging quality control. The work creating the systems to monitor progress and check for quality is solid S-III.

And while the projects themselves may be completed in six months, the planning, recruiting, system design, and system testing will easily add months prior to project mobilization. Add the audit work to ensure project accuracy, phase completion and quality standards at the end of the project, and you are well over twelve months time span for these (50) projects.

So, you are correct that increasing the number of simultaneous projects impacts the level of work, but only when you run out of hours.

Sort of Restless

“I have been sort of restless,” Miguel started.

“Drop the sort of,” I clarified. “You are either restless or not restless, which is it?”

“I am restless.”

“About what?” I probed.

“I have been a supervisor, here, for three years, now. Things are running pretty smooth. At times, I am a little bored. Ready to tackle something bigger,” Miguel thought out loud.

“So, why haven’t you done anything about it?”

“Well, that would be, like asking for more work to do, a complicated project. Right now, I have it pretty easy, not a lot of risk.”

“Some people are satisfied, living with a problem,” I stared at Miguel, “rather than creating a solution that would require them to change.”