Tag Archives: levels of work

Networks and Level of Work

In my last post, we started to look at the hallmarks of Agile through the lens of Levels of Work. We looked at North Star through three organizing documents, vision, mission and business model. Today, we move down the list.

  1. North star embodied across the organization.
  2. Network of empowered teams.
  3. Rapid decision making and learning cycles.
  4. Dynamic people model that ignites passion.
  5. Next generation enabling technology.

Network of empowered teams
In a short post by Seth Godin, he chronicled the history of networks from crude computers, each requiring its own building, to those as big as refrigerators, then small enough to sit on a table, now carried in your pocket. Something else happened.

Godin says the first computers were good at two things, arithmetic and storing data. Then, computers got connected so they could share arithmetic and data. Godin described this as the computer meets the telephone, meets the fax machine, and the more people with fax machines, the more valuable the network. The third iteration included the disintermediation of both space and time. This was the death of geography. The current iteration, Godin calls the hive mind, the intersection of technology and agile networks (some of which may contain people).

The transparency afforded in current state technology distributes data and analysis to everyone who can understand it. Distance is dead. Real-time erases delay.

What impact does this have on decision making and problem solving? What decisions are now calculations (no longer a decision)? Who, in the organization, works on those problems and the new decisions we could not see before? How do we measure the size of those decisions? In the end, who is accountable for the output of those decisions?

Godin’s insight on the state of technology provides some clarity on our understanding of the state of the organization. Four issues, problem-solving, decision-making, accountability, authority. It depends on the Level of Work.

Bringing Value as a Manager

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You described one role of a manager is to bring value to the decision making and problem solving of the team, collectively and individually. Let’s say I buy that. How does a manager do that? How does a manager bring that value?

Response:
The role of the manager is to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team. Easy to say, more difficult to do.

How does a manager bring that value?

I spend hundreds of hours each year coaching CEOs. You are not privileged to those 1-1 conversations, but can you imagine that I tell each of my clients how to run their business?

The answer is no, they wouldn’t listen to me anyway. So, how do I, or how does any manager bring value to that 1-1 conversation? When the level of work creeps up and there is uncertainty in decision making and problem solving, how does the manager bring value?

The most effective managers are not those who tell people what to do, but those who ask the most effective questions.

If There Were No Managers?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You talked about the Peter Principle, how at some point everyone in a hierarchy gets promoted to their level of incompetence. I see this as a problem with hierarchy. Get rid of the hierarchy and let people settle in roles where they feel comfortable.

Response:
One reason you think the problem is hierarchy, you think it exists to create a reporting protocol. Here’s the bad news. You think you are a manager so people can report to you. Not true.

You are a manager to bring value to the decision making and problem solving of your team, collectively and individually. If there were no managers, there would be no one with the accountability to bring that value.

I hear people rail against hierarchy with tomes about self directed work groups and holocracy. Hierarchy exists for a very specific reason. When the level of work creeps up, hierarchy provides the structure to create that value stream, where managers bring value to the decision making and problem solving of the team.

Your Only Hope

“But how do you get out of the weeds?” Lawrence complained. “So much stuff hits my desk. I am constantly walking the floor. Everybody seems to have a problem for me to solve. All of a sudden, the day is over and I have done nothing. The next day, it starts all over.”

“Dig a little, beat back the alligators, dig a little more,” I said. “Understand that this is not a time-management problem. You cannot organize your way to greatness.

“This is the secret, the keys to the kingdom. Your only hope (in this case, hope is a strategy) is to improve your delegation skills. Delegation and training. The only thing that will keep a manager out of the weeds is to build a team to support the position. When a company gets big enough, it is called infrastructure. Without that support, there is no hope.

“Nothing great was ever created by individual achievement. You have to build a team to solve the problems you used to solve. You have to build a team to make the decisions you used to make.”

You Won’t See It Coming

His brow furrowed. Lawrence had to concentrate to understand. “But I thought a manager was supposed to manage. I thought I was supposed to manage everything on the floor.”

“You’re not a supervisor anymore,” I said. “Your new focus, as the manager, is on the system. Your role is to create the system and make the system better. When you became the manager, you promoted Nicole to be the supervisor. Whenever you do Nicole’s job, you are not paying attention to the system.”

“I thought I was just trying to help,” defended Lawrence.

“And if you continue to help by doing Nicole’s job, you will continue to ignore the system, and you will fail as a manager.”

“Not sure I know what you mean,” challenged Lawrence.

“Nicole is busy scheduling her team around vacations, people calling in sick, having doctor’s appointments and such. That’s her job.

“As the Manager, you just received a revised a production forecast from sales. Three weeks from now, you historically ramp up into your busy season. I looked at your headcount from last year. You are down three people and Charlie just gave notice, his last day is Friday. Everything looks fine, now, but four weeks from now, your production is going to get slammed and Nicole won’t have enough people to schedule from. As the Manager, you have to look ahead and build your labor pool. Now.

“If you are too busy scheduling this week’s production, you will be so far in the weeds, you won’t see what’s coming down the road in four weeks.”

What Changes About the Work?

What will be the nature of work?

As we adopt technology into the enterprise, what will change about the work? Those who sit in my workshops know that I define work as – decision making and problem solving? What will be the nature of decision making and problem solving as we embed technology into our internal production systems?

Production Work (S-I)
Physical robotics are already creeping in to production work (S-I). Robots are most often adopted into physical work that is repetitive, requiring precision cuts, punctures, bends, dipping, pouring, lifting. Robots are also useful in production environments where human involvement is uncomfortable (cold, heat) or dangerous (hazardous exposure). As companies adopt robotics and other technology, what changes about production work? What decisions are left for humans?

Supervisory Work (S-II)
And, what of supervisory work (S-II)? Typical (S-II) tools are schedules and checklists, the role is accountable for making sure production gets done, on pace and at standard spec. If we can sense most critical items in a production environment, with precision, in real time, what decisions are left for humans? As companies adopt technology, what changes about supervisory and coordinating work?

Managerial Work (S-III)
And, what of managerial work (S-III)? Typical (S-III) tools are work flow charts, time and motion, sequence and planning. The role is to create the system that houses the production environment. Most sub-enterprise software (as opposed to full enterprise software) is simply a transaction system that records transaction activity through a series of defined steps. Most computer software contains embedded rules that enforce a specific sequence of task activity. If most systems are designed around software systems, what decisions are left for humans? What changes about system work?

Executive Management Work (S-IV)
With a concentration in Ops (COO), Finance (CFO), Technology (CTO), the essence of executive management is functional integration. Most enterprise (full enterprise) software is designed to integrate end to end functionality across the organization. It contains hooks that communicate from one function to the next, with a plethora of configurations possible depending on the desired integration. If functional integration is controlled by enterprise software, what decisions are left for humans? What changes about functional integration work?

These are not idle questions.

Whose Problem Is It?

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“I cannot believe my technicians are running into the same problem, again,” Roger complained.

“Again?” I asked.

“Yes, and they keep coming back to me, thinking I will solve it for them.”

“Whose problem is it?” I pressed.

“It’s their problem,” Roger insisted.

“Their problem?” I repeated. “Sounds like it is your problem. Tell me, if it was your problem, would your problem be the same as their problem?”

Roger stopped. “I am not sure where you are going with this.”

“Look, if your technicians have a problem, it is likely to be a technical problem, and yes, they can handle the technical problems. What impact does that have on you? What are you accountable for?”

Roger took a deep breath. “You are right. I am accountable for the overall output for the day, the week, so if there is a technical problem, it is going to impact the overall output. I guess it is my problem.”

“Not so fast,” I smiled. “You are not the only one affected. What about your manager?”

“What about him? I just hope I can get this solved before he finds out,” Roger replied.

“Oh, really. What if the problem is really your manager’s problem?”

Roger did not respond, so I continued.

“The problem your technicians have, if it is a technical problem, they can fix it. If it takes a while to fix it, you have an output problem. You are going to fall short by the end of the week. You might have to call a customer about a late order. But, you said this is the same problem over and over. This might be a system problem. Something in the system might need some attention. If we fix the problem now, for this one customer, and we don’t fix the system, do you think the problem might happen again?”

Now Roger was engaged. “So, my technicians have a problem today. I have a problem for the end of the week. But my manager might have a problem forever, until he fixes the system?”

“Yes, this is not one problem, this is three problems, each at its own level of work. Requires a cooperative effort to identify the problem, gather the data and execute the solution at each level of work.”

The Glory of Chaos

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From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
You said a growing company has to slow down and describe the work. You nailed our company – we miss deadlines, too much rework, a warranty claim, turnover, morale is tense, managers are nervous. Yet, we have more incoming work than we can handle. And all you can say is – we need to slow down and describe the work?

Response:
Or you can stay in the chaos. Somehow, you will manage to get through the day. You will settle your warranty claim, but the tension will remain.

You cannot work faster, harder or longer to solve this problem. You have to re-trench. This is fundamental blocking and tackling. It starts with describing the work in the role, documented in a role description (fundamental blocking and tackling).

A project manager with three projects is level (II) work. The work is coordinating and scheduling all the elements of the project. There is level (II) decision making and problem solving.

A project manager with 50 projects is level (III) work. It requires a system and a team. The decision making is not about project management. There are too many projects. The decision making is about the system of project management. The problem-solving is not about project management. The problem-solving is about the system of project management.

Or, you can stay in the chaos.

Clues to Levels of Work

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am working on our role descriptions around time span. Do you have a set of definitions that would communicate levels of work that would be user friendly?

Response:
Great question. Levels of work is only valuable if we can easily recognize it in work behavior. It’s not only what we can observe, as managers, but how we describe the work, our expectations and written role descriptions. Here are some clues.

S-I is typically a production role of some sort. Often, what our customer experiences is a direct result of this level of work.

  • The carpet that gets cleaned.
  • The car that gets washed.
  • The product assembled.
  • The package delivered.

This role typically uses real tools, machinery, equipment as part of that service delivery or production. If it is a clerical position, probably a computer.

S-II is typically an implementation role, coordinating role, scheduling role, using checklists, schedules and short huddle meetings. The purpose of this role is to make sure production gets done, according to standards and deadlines.

S-III is typically a system role, to design work flow, inputs and outputs for consistency. This role would use flow diagrams, schematics, sequence and planning tools.

S-IV is typically an integration role, observing and facilitating system integration, the way in which one system in the organization interacts with other systems. This level of work specifically focuses on two things –

  • Optimizing output from each system to balance total throughput from the whole organization. This balances the volume of marketing leads assigned to sales follow-up against operations capacity to fulfill. We can write too many contracts that outstrips our capacity to fulfill.
  • Manicuring the work output or handoff from one system to another. This is to ensure the work output from one system meets the input spec for the next system.

S-IV looks at total organization throughput for all the systems working in concert.

As you write the role description, using these descriptions will provide insight on how decisions are made and problems solved in the role. BTW, that’s work, making decisions, solving problems.

Gain More Control

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
You say, your challenge, as a manager, is to work less and gain more control. Easy to say. Hard to do.

Response:
Management is a mindset. Levels of work help us understand that management is not about working more, or working harder, it is about working differently. Delegation is all about working differently.

In every role, there is a level of problem solving and a level of decision making. When Marshall Goldsmith says “What got you here, won’t get you there,” he is talking about a different level of work.

When Albert Einstein says “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” he is talking about a different level of work.

Elliott Jaques‘ research on levels of work makes this management advice concrete. Intuitively, we understand levels of work, but only when Jaques defined levels of work related to time span, did we get some useful direct insight.

The time span of the goal defines the level of work. In a technician’s world, goals range from a day to three months. In your role as a supervisor, or first line manager, your longest time span objectives range from 3-12 months. Any task that is shorter is a candidate to be delegated.

In your role as a manager, your longest time span objectives range from 12-24 months. Any task that is shorter is a candidate to be delegated.

What is left? It is those longer time span tasks that make up your role as a manager. It is only when you have effectively delegated shorter time span task assignments that you will get more throughput and more control over the quality of the output. -Tom

Level of Work – Time Span Objectives
S-I – 1 day to 3 months
S-II – 3 months to 12 months
S-III – 12-24 months
S-IV – 2-5 years