Tag Archives: timespan

Time Compression?

“We have an ISO process audit coming up in two months and we have to get all the documentation updated before it starts. So, that makes it a two month Time Span goal,” Olivia described. “I am not sure I understand. This is a very complex project. The documentation is very detailed and technical. It will require someone at my level to supervise, to make sure it is correct. If we fail this audit, it puts several contracts in jeopardy. But a two month Time Span looks like Stratum I work.”

“There are two kinds of complexity. One type is created by the amount of technical detail. The other type of complexity is created by uncertainty,” I replied.

“Okay, I understand that if something has a lot of technical detail, it will take a long time just to parse through it. That might make a project’s Time Span longer. But I cannot get over the fact that this project has to be complete in two months, but the level of work is definitely higher than Stratum I.”

“Don’t be fooled. Because you only have two months, a great deal of uncertainty is gone. While you may think this is a tough project (detailed complexity), the limited Time Span forces this to be a simpler project.

“In two months,” I continued, “you don’t have time to start your documentation over from scratch. You don’t have time for massive overhaul, no in-depth analysis. You only have time to perform a quick review, observe a limited number of examples and make some relatively minor changes. Here’s the rub.

“The real Time Span of this project started the moment you finished version one of your current documentation. The true Time Span of the project is closer to one year than two months. Unfortunately, no manager took this assignment. No work was done. Procrastination killed its true purpose, and likely, the quality of the end product.”

Current Goal, Five Years Ago

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
It seems that long term goals are hard to articulate. In setting long term goals, would you agree that they are by nature more ambiguous? Should we worry less about being precise?

Response:
A long term goal, by its nature?

Five years ago, our one year goal was a five year goal. What has changed in the four years between?

The goal has taken shape, become clearer, better defined, more concrete. It has also taken turns and twists, met with contingency and unexpected, yes unintended consequences. It is now more certain, less left to chance. Murphy has less time to play.

It is the Time Span of Intention, the most important judgment for a Manager, to determine those things necessary in the future.

Ambiguous?

Precise?

Identifying Timespan

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Sometimes, identifying level of work seems elusive. I try to look at the timespan of the task, but sometimes, my intuition just seems off.

Response:
The biggest mistake most companies make is underestimating the timespan associated with a role. In addition to timespan, there are other clues that can help us with level of work.

Examine the task. The first clue to level of work is the timespan of the task. Here are the two questions. When does it start? When does it end? When we imagine a task, sometimes we focus on the middle without truly defining the start and end of the task.

While a craft trade (S-I) might look at a task as a one-day project, the supervisor (S-II) may be concerned about the permit inspection in two weeks. The manager (S-III) may be concerned with the system in which the project was completed, accountable for a one-year warranty that accompanies the work product. The VP of Quality Control (S-IV) may be accountable beyond the warranty to multi-year statutes related to defects. For the role, when does the project start, when does the project end?

Examine the tools. A craft trade (S-I) generally uses real tools, machinery, equipment. The supervisor (S-II) will use schedules, checklists and meetings. The manager (S-III) will use flowcharts, sequence and planning. The VP (S-IV) will use multi-project Gant charts.

Examine the problem solving. A craft trade (S-I) may make good use of trial and error problem solving. The supervisor (S-II) may rely on documented experience like SOPs and best practices. The manager (S-III) may employ root cause analysis. The VP (S-IV) has to look at multiple systems simultaneously, systems analysis.

All of these are clues. With the work defined, the next question, is the team member effective in the work?

When Does It Start?

“What’s the timespan of this task?” Reggie wanted to know.

“It depends,” I replied. “When does it start and when does it end?”

“It depends,” he smiled. “Depends on who you ask.”

“I’m asking you, you’re the manager. Timespan is a manager’s judgement. When does it start and when does it end?”

“Depends on the role I am thinking about.”

“Exactly, different roles at different levels of work see the timespan of the task differently, indeed, they see the starting point and the ending point at different places. The starting point and the ending point create the timespan of discretion, the point in the project where they have the authority to make decisions and solve problems. On the same project, we have different roles with different timespans of discretion.”

“So, right now, in my department, we have three projects under three different project managers,” Reggie mused out loud. “I have three project managers who have the authority to make decisions only within the scope of their one project. They are concerned about resources available to them, the project schedule they agreed to, the contingencies within that project when things goes sideways. They have a very sharp focus and don’t spend any time thinking about the other two projects assigned to other project managers. The project starts when the contract is signed and ends when the punch list is complete and accepted by the customer.”

“And you? When does the project start with you as the Senior Project Manager?” I pressed.

Reggie nodded. “For me, it starts way before the contract is signed. I have to work with our sales department to see what we have in our pipeline and what is likely to close. Based on our closing ratio, I have to decide if we have enough project managers with the capacity to handle all the projects that are likely to come under contract. I have to continuously monitor that pipeline to make sure we have enough work to keep everyone busy as project managers cycle off completed projects. I have to figure out what they are going to do next. So, the project timespan for me, over multiple projects, begins long before the contract is signed and I am accountable for the workforce long after specific projects are complete. It’s a different level of work.”

Measuring Complexity

Lester had just returned, “That’s it boss, all done, what’s next?”

And with those innocent words, Lester has just defined the time-span for that specific task. Why is the time-span of a task so critical to the definition of that task? It is an attribute often overlooked. Time, hey, it takes what it takes.

For simple tasks, that take less than a day, or even 2-3 days, the importance of time-span is not so critical, but extend the time-span of a task (or a role) out to a week, out to a month, out to three months, and the dynamics become interesting.

What differences are there between a task that takes 3 days to complete and a task that takes 3 months to complete? In one word, predictability. Most of the elements required to complete a 3 day task are known, very specific, very concrete. Some of the elements required to complete a 3 month task may be unknown or may change prior to the completion of the task. This predictability (or unpredictability) is what makes one task more complex than another. “Yeah, so what’s the big deal about that?”

The “big deal” is that time-span, as an indicator for complexity, can become a discrete unit of measure for the complexity of any task. How complex is a task? If you can describe the time-span of the task, you have just described the complexity of the task. The importance of this measurement is that time-span can be described very specifically. I may not know how to specifically measure the “complexity” of a task or project, but using time-span, I can nail it to the wall: This project has a three-month time span with a deadline of February 15.

Questions:

  • If I can measure the complexity of a project using time-span, can I select a Project Manager using time-span?
  • If I can determine the maximum time-span of a person, can I determine suitability for a role in our company?
  • Can I test a person on the basis of time-span , as they grow and mature, to determine capability for more responsibility?

Hint: the answer is yes.

The Bigger Context

“But, what if my team has some bone-headed ideas?” Francis pushed back. “There are a couple of people on my team that think I’m an idiot, that they have a better way to do something.”

“Occasionally, we are all idiots,” I replied. “Perhaps, on occasion your team is accurate.”

“But they don’t see the big picture,” Francis described. “They think I delay part of a project because I don’t know what I am doing, when the fact is, we are waiting on parts with a six week lead time.”

“So, it’s context?” I asked. “And, you don’t think they will understand a six week delay in parts?”

“They have trouble just figuring out what materials we need for today’s production, much less a part that won’t be here for six weeks.”

“Francis, this is a struggle for all managers. Your team is working day-to-day or at best, week-to-week, but they are impacted by events that happen month-to-month, or quarter-to-quarter. Don’t sell your team short. They may not be able to manage long lead time issues, but they can certainly understand those issues, particularly if you make them visible. In what way could you communicate project scheduling to your team in a way they would understand?”

To the Next Level

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
As I talk with other CEO friends, they keep talking about taking their company to the next level or that they want to scale their companies larger. It sounds like they know what they are talking about. But do they? They are my friends, and I don’t want to disparage, but in many cases, I have my doubts.

Response:
No organization can ever grow larger than the CEO. If it does, the wheels will get wobbly and the organization will falter. The same is true as levels of work are built inside the organization. No level of work can exceed the capability of the manager. If it does, the wheels will get wobbly and the organization will falter. It doesn’t matter if the company is S-I, S-II, S-III, S-IV or S-V. Faltering can happen at any level.

Most who say they want to take their company, or department, or team to the next level has no clue what that means. Timespan and levels of work create the only framework that clearly identifies what that means.

Scalability doesn’t happen until S-IV, where multiple system integration occurs. Listen carefully to your friends, but judge not what they say, only judge what they do (or are capable of doing).

How Many Manager Levels?

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
The template you sent out looks like it only handles five levels of work. Our organization has seven manager layers, total headcount 62 people. How do we fit in the extra two layers?

Response:
The reason you have more than five manager layers in your company is that you use some other criteria to define a managerial layer. You decided someone in your company needed some manager experience, so you promoted them with a new title, and gave them someone to manage. Your criteria for creating a new manager level was that someone needed experience. Your criteria has nothing to do with the complexity of problem solving or decision making. You created a managerial layer as an accommodation to a single person. Don’t organize the work around the people, organize the people around the work.

With a headcount of 62 people, I can safely assume that your company should have no more than five layers and possibly needs even fewer. Stop looking at the people you have, and look at the work. What is the necessary work required to accomplish your organization’s mission? When you base your organizational structure on the complexity of decision making and problem solving, the work naturally falls into the levels described below. Using that framework, you can identify where your organization is bloated and where it is thin (too thin).

Levels of Work

  • S-V – Business Unit President or SME CEO. The focus is on the entire enterprise as it sits in its marketplace.
  • S-IV – Executive manager. The focus is on the integration of departmental workflow. Looks closely at work handoffs from one department to another and the output capacity of each department as it sits next to its neighboring departments.
  • S-III – Manager. The focus is typically on a single department, which contains a single serial system, or a single critical path.
  • S-II – Supervisor. This is a coordinating, implementing role, making sure production work is complete, within spec and on-time.
  • S-I – Production. The focus is on pace and quality, how many units at a specific spec.

Timespan of Uncertainty

“You know, that’s really the most difficult part,” Taylor explained. “I have to make decisions today that might not come into play for another year. I have to make decisions. I have to make commitments. Sometimes, I even have to gamble.”

“What makes it so difficult?” I asked.

“It’s the uncertainty of what might happen. It’s the uncertainty of the future. Our projects are complex, you know, detail complex. But the real complexity comes from the uncertainty.”

Timespan of Discretion

“Your goal is to make it all happen according to your schedule?” I continued. “Sounds easy. Can’t you just make up a schedule and tell everyone they have to follow it?”

Taylor chuckled and shook his head. “I wish. No, my schedule has to meet the Contractor’s schedule and it has to mesh with all the sub-trades on the job. And most importantly, my schedule has to be tight enough to match the budget and man-hours in our original estimate. There are a thousand things that have to go right. By the way, we have 30 other projects that will happen during this same twenty two months.”

“So, let’s talk about the decisions that go along with your goal. Every role has decisions that must be made. That’s the work that must be done. Your effectiveness in managing this schedule depends on the decisions that you make. When I look at the Timespan of your goals, I also look at the Timespan of your decisions, your Timespan of Discretion.”