Tag Archives: time span

Calibrating Time Span

“My team tells me that I don’t follow-up with them often enough, and that is why I am sometimes disappointed,” complained Sherry.

“How often is –not often enough-?” I asked.

“It seems to be different for different people.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know,” Sherry paused. “One person can just go longer than another person without me peeking over their shoulder.”

“Sherry, I want you to think in terms of Time Span. Time Span is the length of time that a person can work into the future without your direction, using their own discretionary judgment to achieve the goal. And each person on your team has a different time span.

“Here is your exercise. Make a list of your team and beside each name, I want you to guess the length of time that each one can work independently, based on the tasks you delegate. Your guess will be the first benchmark for how long you leave them to work without follow-up. Keep a log. Once each week, for a month, write down your observations of each team member’s time span.

“The data you get from this exercise will help you know better what you can delegate and the time interval for follow-up.”

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.”

Impact of Time on a Decision

If I make this decision, what will happen?

  • If I make this decision, what will happen immediately, what will be the initial response or change in circumstance?
  • If I make this decision today, what will be different in a day’s time, when the dust has settled?
  • If I make this decision today, what will change in a week’s time, a month’s time?
  • If I make this decision today, what will we have learned in the next year, how will our path be different?

If I make this decision, what if?

Can I Do This By Myself?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I attended your session last week on levels of work. I can see that my organization has a lot of work to do, but I am just a manager. I don’t have the authority to do some of the things you suggest. How can I, as a manager, implement some of these ideas with my own team. Where do I start?

Response:
Remember this phrase, “It’s all about the work.”

Work is solving problems and making decisions. That is where to start. As a manager, think about your team and its function inside your company. Is it marketing, sales, contracting, project management, operations, quality control, research and development, accounting, human resources, legal? What is the function of your team?

In that function, what are the problems that have to be solved? What are the decisions that have to be made? You don’t have to answer these questions by yourself, ask your team.

As you discuss this with your team, three distinct levels of work will likely emerge.

  • There is some direct activity, or production work that must be done.
  • There is some organizing work that schedules the production work, its people, materials and necessary equipment to make sure that the production gets done, on time.
  • There is system work that decides the most efficient sequence, time duration, quality standard and assesses the output to make improvements for a more consistent and predictable product or service.

You will notice that each level of work has its own problems to solve and decisions to make. You will also notice the time span of each level of work is different.

  • The direct activity, or production work may be observable in days or weeks.
  • The organizing work will anticipate the production schedules in weeks or months.
  • The system work will ensure that the product or service is consistent over a longer period of months and years.

You will notice, that to be effective, each level of work may carry its own skill set, engage in distinctly different activities and measure its outcomes in different ways.

Remember this phrase, “It’s all about the work.” As a manager, become an expert in the work. -Tom

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

Time Span of Express

Analogies can be useful teachers. Seth Godin published this about Express and Local trains, which creates a perfect analogy to understand time span.

Express trains run less often, make fewer stops, and if they’re going where you’re going, get you there faster.
The local train is, of course, the opposite.
Some people hop on the first train that comes. A local in the hand is worth the extra time, they say, because you’re never quite sure when the express is going to get there.
On the other hand, there’s a cost to investing in the thing that pays off in the long run.
Now that you see that, you’re probably going to notice it in 100 areas of your life.

One of those hundred areas is time span.

Local trains (short time span) require very little thought, not much of a plan. The train (bus) picks a route and stops every place (enough) people want to stop. It uses the same track day after day.

Express trains (longer time span) requires more thought and much more planning.

  • Which routes would benefit from express?
  • What is the threshold criteria for an express?
  • Which stops to skip? Which are served by a local?
  • Which tracks to use? Which tracks to skip?
  • How to evaluate the effectiveness of an express?
  • What if something changes and the express is no longer effective? How do we know?

Think about your projects, your customer service, your web portals, product delivery, warranty programs, quality programs, research and development. What is your express train? What is your local?

Anything That Can Go Wrong

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I am still struggling with the concept of time span. You say that time span indicates complexity. How?

Response:
Don’t overthink this fundamental concept. Life is about uncertainty. It is like the weather and the stock market. There is always uncertainty.

Combine this level of uncertainty with our intentions (goal directed behavior) and you observe the consternation of the ages. This is not a matter of going with the flow, but trying to get something done, achieve a goal, create an accomplishment. Elliott describes this as the “time span of intention.”

In spite of our best intentions, the longer it takes to achieve the goal, the more time life has to be unpredictable. The shorter time it takes to achieve the goal, the less time life has to happen, the less opportunity for some circumstance to come in sideways and blow everything up.

Time span is about contingencies. Time span becomes a calibration tool that allows us to precisely measure the impact of uncertainty in our best laid plans.

Step back and remember Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. How long do we give Murphy to play?

Too Hot? Too Cold? Just Right?

“So, how do we measure Hector?” Eduardo asked. “I’m all ears. I understand how to measure the time span of the tasks that Hector is responsible for. And, the longest task is three months. But, how do we measure Hector?”

“It is really very simple. You now know the time span of the longest task in the role that Hector plays. Here is the question.

“Does Hector, in your judgment as his manager, have the capability to perform the tasks in his role as freight supervisor? Or does he fall short in his capability to perform those tasks? Or does he have the capability to perform tasks with a longer time span?

“It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Is the porridge too hot? Too cold? Or is it just right?”

Eduardo squinted, “That’s it? Too hot, too cold or just right?”

I nodded, “Which is it?”

“Well, Hector does most of the job okay, but when it comes to the more complicated stuff, he falls short.”

“So, to recap your judgment, as his manager, Hector falls short?” I repeated.

“But, I knew that already,” Eduardo complained.

“Yes, you did, but you did not have a way to measure what you already knew. Now, you know that Hector falls short in capability at three months. If you define the time span of the shorter tasks he completes, you will have a very precise measure of his capability.”

Eduardo was quiet, then spoke. “Hector handles the one month stuff well. But falls short on the three month stuff. Hector’s time span is on the up side of one month, but the short side of three months.”

“So, now, is the question. How is this helpful to you as his manager?”

What’s the Level of Work?

“Where do we start?” Eduardo asked.

“Where do you think we should start?” I replied.

“We are trying to measure Hector’s capability. Is he big enough for the role. That’s the goal of this session,” Eduardo established.

“So, what unit of measure have we talked about when it comes to defining the tasks involved in his job?”

“We talked about time span,” he said.

“And, what was the measure of the longest task in Hector’s job?”

“We said, one month. Hector is in charge of shipping, but it’s more than just getting freight out the door. He is responsible for proper crating, working with vendors to select the proper crating materials, collecting information about product damage in transit. It is really a big job. Some of the problems that have to be solved involve testing in-house, you know, crash testing and then field testing.

“So, I don’t think one month is accurate. I think, to be successful, the longest task is three months. It takes that long to solve some of the material damage issues in that department,” Eduardo concluded.

“Okay, three months is the longest task required. To be successful running the shipping area requires the ability to work three months into the future, without direction, using his own discretionary judgment?”

Eduardo nodded, “Yes, I need Hector to carry the ball the whole way. I may check up on him more frequently to see if he still has the ball, but I need him to supervise the resolution to some of these issues without me. If I really have to get involved, then Hector is not doing the necessary work.”

“So, success in the job requires a time span of three months?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“That is step one. Firmly establishing the time span of the longest task, establishing the required time span for the role.

“Are you ready for step two? The next part is to measure Hector.”

What Does It Take to Be President

I usually don’t talk about levels of work above S-VI, but today is inauguration day. A new president takes the oath of office and for the next four years, plays a role, making decisions and solving problems.

Levels of work were first explained to me in 2001. My teacher was Jerry Harvey, a colleague of Elliott’s. On this day, I imagine, Jerry is on some heavenly golf course, trying to make a side bet with Elliott about how things will turn out.

Jerry described the role of President of the United States (POTUS) as a Stratum VII role. We are talking about the role, not the person. Decisions made at this level of work will have 20-50 year impact, both good decisions and bad decisions.

The goals and objectives at this level of work have target completion times 20-50 years into the future. As Jerry put it, this is not a short game. Can you imagine putting the wheels in motion, to set out on a journey, the fruits of which we will not see for 20-50 years. And, yet the public expects the problems to be solved in the first 100 days.

The state of thinking required to be effective at S-VII is Serial (Conceptual). See the iterative chart below.

States of Thinking

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)
  • S-V (5 years to 10 years) Declarative (Conceptual)
  • S-VI (10 years to 20 years) Cumulative (Conceptual)
  • S-VII (20 years to 50 years) Serial (Conceptual)

Jerry described Bill Clinton as effective at S-VI for his first six years in office, effective at S-VII only during the last two years of his term. He joked about the year 2000 election, both Gore and Bush at S-V. That’s why we couldn’t tell the difference and the election ended in a stalemate, had to be decided by the Supreme Court.

I do not judge a person’s capability. I only judge the role. What is the work? What are the decisions to be made? What are the problems to be solved? Then, my question is simple, was the person effective? or not?

What is the level of work in your role? What are the decisions to be made? What are the problems to be solved? Are you effective in your role? -Tom Foster