Tag Archives: timespan

The Goal is Not the Next Project

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

How do you determine the time frame that a manager should be thinking into the future? Given your garden-variety project, do you figure “lead time” for the group? Example: team has to prepare documents for an audit in two weeks, we have an existing pool of docs to update. You’ve discussed this in the past, however your thoughts would be appreciated.

Response:

This question sets the perfect trap for the manager with short term thinking. Of course, this short term project has to be completed prior to the two week deadline. But here is what a manager needs to be thinking about.

What audit projects do I anticipate receiving during the next twelve months? What is the scope of those projects, how long will they take and what technical work is necessary? If I chart out a timeline of the number of projects over the next twelve months, how many overlap, or are there quiet periods in between?

Who will I need on my team to do the technical work, the research, the preparation and the review? Who will I need to perform the administrative work of tracking all of the elements and packaging the audit when the work is completed?

Who do I have on my staff now and who do I need to recruit? What impact will that have on my budget, in terms of expense to the anticipated revenue? When do I place the ads, when do I interview and when do I make the hires?

How long will training take to get these people up to speed to perform this audit work? Who will do the training?

All of these questions require way more than two weeks. These are the issues for the successful manager. The typical timespan (working into the future) for any working manager is 12-24 months.

The Future in Today

“But, what about today?” asked Kristen. “It’s great to think about the future, but I have to get stuff done today.”

“The anchor for the manager has to be some specific time point in the future. Every action we take only has meaning related to that future point in time. Call it planning, call it a milestone, call it a goal.

“You are right. You have to get stuff done today. Action occurs today. The role of the manager is to inspect that future time point and create today’s effective action. Here is the question. What is the destination, and what is the most effective action we can take, today, to get there?

The Difference From Team Leader to Supervisor

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I was just promoted from team leader to supervisor. My boss told me not to worry, things wouldn’t be that different. With all due respect, I think things will be different, I just don’t know in what way?

Response:
The biggest difference is the time span of your goals and objectives. As a supervisor, your focus will shift to the future.

As the team leader of your crew, you thought about what needed to be produced this week. As a new supervisor, you have to think about the schedule for two weeks, three weeks or more, depending on the variables in your system. It’s not just people, also, materials (with lead times), equipment, preventive maintenance, consumables, logistics, raw material specs, system constraints, first piece inspections. Your job will require more prep and staging time.

All of this requires you to think further into the future, using your own discretionary judgment to make decisions and solve problems.

Endorphins in the Brain

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Do you think the time span for an individual changes depending on their passion for the task they are working on? I observe some employees who seem to have a hard time effectively planning some specific shorter time span tasks (1-2 weeks out), while at the same time they are able to effectively plan out personal “work” over a year in advance. I have observed this with more than one employee and was curious if you had contemplated this or come across research related to this.

Response:
There is a distinct difference between maximum capability and applied capability. Maximum capability is the stuff that we, as managers, cannot see…but it’s there.

Applied capability is the stuff that we CAN see. Applied capability is observable, there is evidence of output. The longest time span tasks are most observable based on these conditions –

  • The team member has the necessary skills (technical knowledge and practiced performance).
  • The team member has interest or passion for the work.
  • The task or behavior is consistent within the context (culture) of the work environment.

So, it’s that second condition you are asking about. Interest or passion drives focus, attention and duration. Applied capability (what you see) gets pushed further out whenever there is interest around the work.

So, what you are seeing is an attitude (lack of interest) related to shorter term tasks. Your role, as a manager, is to tie things together, make the connection between interest and the task. Sometimes it is not intrinsic interest, but connected interest. I may not have interest in the project, but certainly have interest in the reward of the project that allows my to purchase the boat (home, car, lifestyle) of my dreams. Connect the work with interest, you will see higher applied capability.

But, here is the hat trick (three goals in a single game). Intrinsic reward comes from challenging work. Any work. Successful completion of challenging work creates endorphins in the brain. There is some work that is simply not challenging, yet has to be done. It is likely that work is a candidate for delegation. You are the manager. What is your role in accurately assigning challenging work and coaching people through work they should delegate to other team members?

What is VUCA?

There is term used in the vernacular of Agile that describes the challenge of every organization.

VUCA

It’s an acronym for the world in which we live. Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. VUCA. Without any further definition, Agile offers many good ideas in dealing with that world.

Acknowledging that we live in this VUCA world, can we do more than spitball solutions?

And, that is where Timespan comes in. Most people clearly understand there are some problems more complex than others, some decisions more complex than others. There are different levels of VUCA. Timespan gives us insight into those levels.
S-I – (0-3 months) – trial and error problem solving
S-II – (3-12 months) – best practice and SOP problem solving
S-III – (12-24 months) – root cause analysis
S-IV – (24-60 months) – systems (multi-system) analysis

When the Deepwater Horizon blew up in 2010, the world looked, aghast, at a terrible environmental accident. I watched the coverage, the cameras on the ocean floor in real time and the engineers struggling with the problem. They tried this, they tried that. They tried the blowout preventer, that didn’t work. They tried the blind shear ram, that didn’t work. They were in a mode of trial and error problem solving. Why?

The engineers were not trying to solve a three year problem. No one said, “guys, let’s go back to the drawing board and over the next three years, let’s develop a better oil well so this never happens again.”

They said, “guys, we have to solve the problem today. We don’t have time to design the real solution. Figure out a way to cap it!”

Our understanding of timespan gives us insight in the levels of VUCA, and the level of problem solving required to make sure Deepwater Horizon doesn’t happen again.

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.

Incompetence

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
When I read this article, I think about Timespan and you. I hope this quote is not accurate.

“In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence. Work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence. In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.”

Response:
Sadly, this is true. We tend to promote people to a level of incompetence, and then hope and pray. This understanding was popularized in a book by Lawrence J. Peter published in 1969, called the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle is alive and well.

The solution to this dilemma is easy. From now on, no one in your organization gets a promotion. They earn promotions (or even lateral moves) by demonstrating competence in the task assignments contained in the new role. You test people with project work. And, in that project, you must embed decision making and problem at that next higher level. The same goes for a lateral move where there is a new skill set.

Any Decision, Any Problem

Think about any decision. You have to think about, not only the consequences of that decision immediately, but also the consequences in a month, three months or a year. An immediate positive consequence may create the circumstance for a negative consequence in three months time.

Same thing goes for a problem to be solved. You have to think about, not only the consequences of that solution in the near term, but the consequences in a month, three months or a year. An immediate solution may create the circumstances for a larger problem in three months time.

Take a high mileage vehicle and extend its preventive maintenance cycle by 30 days. You will save the cost of a maintenance cycle. In three months time, you will not likely notice any difference, but over two years time, you may experience catastrophic vehicle failure. And, it may not just be the cost of the repair, but the delay in the critical path of a project (just to save an oil change).

Land of Tangible, Land of Conceptual

Time frame sets the context. Near term target completion time requires the elements of the project to be concrete, tangible and known. The project due tomorrow afternoon has a team and we can call each member by name. The materials are quantified, we know how much. We know the vendor, we know the price point. We know the delivery time, we know the schedule. Every element is concrete, tangible and known. Why?

Because the project is due tomorrow afternoon.

A long term target completion is more conceptual. If the project will not be complete for five years, we know we will have a project team, but over the term of the project, some may quit, retire, get picked off by a competitor. We have an idea about materials, but over the term of the project, a new material might become available (better, faster, stronger) and we might have to adapt. Our supplier may not be in business in five years’ time or may no longer be serving our needs. We might need an alternate vendor.

We need both tactical thinking and strategic thinking. Our five year conceptual plan, in four years, must transform into a one year tactical plan.

Some people think short term. Some think long term. Some think both.