Tag Archives: timespan

Accurate Measure of a Decision

“So you are suggesting that managerial layers in an organization rests on the two ideas of accountability and authority?” I restated as a question.

“I am not suggesting,” Pablo replied. “To do otherwise creates the organizational dysfunction we so often see.”

“And you are connecting timespan to those two ideas, accountability and authority?”

“Timespan is like the discovery of the thermometer. Our ability to accurately measure temperature led to the precision of melting points, the beginning of chemistry, as a science. Timespan is the beginning of management, as a science. Our ability to accurately measure accountability and authority provides us a precise method of organizing structure.”

“Structure being, the way we define the working relationships between people?” I added.

Pablo looked at me carefully, then clarified. “Structure being the way we define accountability and authority, the working relationships between roles. Timespan works to define those two things.

  • A supervisor (S-II) is accountable for the output of the team for timespans ranging from one day to three months, with the longest authority for decision making at 12 months.
  • A manager (S-III) is accountable for the output of the supervisory team for timespans up to 12 months, with the longest authority for decision making at 24 months or two years.
  • An executive manager (S-IV) is accountable for the output of the managerial team for timespans up to 2 years, with the longest authority for decision making at 5 years.
  • The CEO (S-V) of a single business unit is accountable for the output of the executive management team up to 5 years, with the longest authority for decision making at 10 years.

“Ten years?” I wondered.

“Unless it is a larger organization,” Pablo continued.

  • The CEO (S-VI) of a multiple business unit (holding) company is accountable for the output of the single business unit CEO up to ten years, with the longest authority for decision making at 20 years.

“And?” I nodded.

Pablo smiled. “You’re playing in the major league, my friend?”

  • The CEO (S-VII) of a multiple business unit conglomerate is accountable for the output of the holding company CEO up to 20 years, with the longest authority for decision making at 50 years.

“And, what kind of company might that be?” I wanted to know.

“Those would be the largest of global companies, Apple, Halliburton, Microsoft and government entities, US, China, Russia.” Pablo sighed. “Those are the organizations whose decisions will impact lives for the next 50 years, maybe more.”

The Story of Our Intentions

“Once you understand this elegant simplicity, that timespan is nothing more complicated than the time measure of our intentions, the story of our intentions, the target completion time of our goals and objectives,” Pablo started, “you can begin to see that timespan is going to touch every aspect of a manager’s life.”

“Starting with?” I asked.

“You would agree with me that some problems are simple and most people can solve them?”

I nodded.

“You would also agree that as problems become more complex, some people struggle?”

I nodded again.

“And, while some struggle, others see the solution clearly. And, as those problems become more complex, more struggle. And, yet, there are still those who see solutions clearly.”

“I am still with you,” I confirmed.

“If we measure those problems in timespan, we get a clear demarcation of the problem’s complexity and those individuals who struggle and those who see clearly. For thousands of years, we have intuitively created organizations where we observe multiple levels of problem solving by different levels of people, but without a metric to measure that complexity. Timespan becomes the metric by which we can measure the complexity of problems and more accurately select people to clearly solve those problems.”

Accuracy of Timespan

“You see,” Pablo continued, “it’s the ‘by when’ that creates the complexity of any problem.”

“I’m listening,” I said.

“The further our intention is into the future, the more uncertainty, the more ambiguity creeps in. In spite of our best intentions, the future is without precision. My friend Murphy* has a law, with which, I am sure you are familiar. From one day to one week, one month, three months, a year, two years, five years, the longer the timespan, the more uncertain those future events. And, yet, in the face of that uncertainty, we have to make a decision today.”

“We were talking about the size of a role,” I tried to bring this discussion back on point.

“Indeed, some roles, production roles focus on today, tomorrow, this week. Supervisory, coordination roles focus on this week, this month, this quarter. Managerial roles focus on this quarter, this year into next year. Executive management roles focus on this year through five years. The CEO role looks out 5 years and beyond. Using timespan, we can accurately measure the size of the role.”

“And, we were talking about the size of a person,” I prompted.

“Most people are capable today, this week, maybe a month into the future. Meaning, they can perceive things around them and are competent at making near term decisions. As the timespan of the decision increases, some struggle. There is a big drop off at one year. Thinking out, and making effective decisions beyond one year into the future, well, far fewer people have capability at that level.”
—–

*Murphy’s law – anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Attributed to Capt. Edward A. Murphy, US Air Force, 1949.

The Timespan of Dry

“Most people are comfortable with short timespan decisions,” Pablo continued. “Most elements are tangible, known. We can observe, inspect, feel, touch each of the elements. The level of uncertainty, the level of ambiguity is low. And most people are comfortable.”

“I can see that,” I said.

“And, as the level of ambiguity grows, the timespan of the decision gets longer, some people struggle. Some people struggle to the point of paralysis.”

“I have seen that as well,” I replied.

“Look closely,” Pablo lowered his voice. “We can measure the ambiguity, measure the uncertainty of the decision by looking at timespan.”

“How so?” I asked. “How do we calibrate the timespan of a decision?”

“All we have to do is inspect the timespan of intention, it will tell us.”

“Timespan of intention? I am not sure I understand,” I said.

“What is our intention? What is our expectation? What do we want to happen? What is the goal? It is our intention that defines the timespan of the decision. It is our expectation. It is what we want to happen. It is the goal. Very simply, a goal is a ‘what’ by ‘when?’ Built into our intention is timespan.”

“Your example about the cloudy day and the umbrella?” I wanted to see the connection.

“If we want to avoid the possibility of rain today, we might carry an umbrella,” Pablo explained. “If we want to stay dry next week, we might acquire the habit of carrying an umbrella all the time. And, if we want to stay dry next month, while we sleep, we might build a house. And, if we want to stay dry next year, in the face of a hurricane, we better make a decision today to construct a building to withstand a windstorm. And, if we want to stay dry for the next five years in the face of multiple storms that might occur, we better create an enforceable building code rated for Cat 5. The timespan of our decision provides us with a calibrated measurement to indicate the complexity of that decision, in the face of uncertainty, in the face of ambiguity.”

System Solution

“So, the Supervisor’s solution to fuel pricing cost more money in overtime and extra travel distance to the cheapest pump?” I nodded. “What would have been a Manager’s solution? You’re a Manager, what would you have done?”

“I actually did step in. It took us three months to figure out the problem was getting worse. The solution wasn’t in finding the lowest pump price for the day. We had to look at our system and think in a longer time frame. The Time Span for this task wasn’t a day, or even a week, it was 12 months.”

“What was the long term solution?”

“I got a fuel price, not the cheapest one, but one I could lock in on a 3 month contract for a tanker to be parked in our truck yard. I got three options going forward that capped a price escalation. That sets us for the year.

“We have a night security employee in the yard who now has something to do at night. He drives the tanker around and fills the trucks with fuel. The drivers come in at their regular time and the truck is all ready to go.

“The Supervisor’s solution about find the cheapest fuel price wasn’t the answer. It was looking at our system of fueling trucks.”

Big Picture as Context

“My project managers have to be focused on the individual project, and I have to be focused on the future,” Andrew repeated, looking more intense.

“Is that where it stops?” I asked.

Andrew thought for a moment. “No. When I focus on the future, I see what I see. But, if I imagine further into the future than that, play more what ifs, I get a sense of where the company is going. I sense an even larger context. Maybe I don’t understand it, maybe I cannot talk about it, but I get this sense. It’s my manager’s context. My manager has goals and objectives, decisions and problems that are different than mine. While I have a different level of work from my junior project managers, my manager has a different level of work than me. I may not know what that means, but I know it exists.”

“How important is it to know, to understand your manager’s context, or your CEO’s context?”

“On a daily basis, I am not sure I need to be reminded. Where my decisions and problems are clear, it may not be necessary. But things change. When there is uncertainty or ambiguity, I need to know the bigger picture.”

“You just slipped into an analogy, the bigger picture. What do you specifically mean?” I pressed.

Andrew chuckled, nodded. “The bigger picture might actually be that, a visual picture on the wall of something that does not exist now, but will exist in the future. But, to be more specific, big picture, as a context, would be a future point in time, a longer timespan. When bigger picture can be seen as longer timespan, it becomes measurable, and I know more clearly what I am accountable for and what my manager is accountable for.”

A Different Way to Think (About Projects)

“So, what’s your observation,” I asked. “Moving from a project manager in charge of three projects to a senior project manager in charge of 20 current projects, plus all the projects in the pipeline?”

Andrew looked down, studied the table. “Every single project has a beginning, middle and end. Each project has defined edges to it, resources are specific, and at the end, there is a finished project, very tangible.”

“And?”

“Twenty projects are all in different stages, it’s fluid, the boundaries move. Sure, we create artificial borders and artificial time frames to measure things, compare statistics. But, there is a difference in how you play one, two or three projects and how you play a portfolio of 20. In a portfolio, we may play for a high profile project with slim margins to raise the company’s visibility. We might attempt a new technology, in which we are currently clumsy, to practice, get better. A single project game might fail its gross margin, where a portfolio game might propel the company in a direction without competitors (at least for a while).”

“So, is this just about having more projects in a portfolio?”

“Not at all,” Andrew replied. “Having 20 projects pushed me to think differently, but, thinking differently is more about the timespan of decisions. And we have to do both. My project managers have to be focused on the individual project, and I have to be focused on the future.”

Assessing Capability

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
It was a pleasure working with you last summer. I’ve been introducing the concept of Time Span to my colleagues and its been helping us lead tough HR conversations. Some were wondering if you had an assessment to help determine someone’s time span capacity.

Response:
This is a very popular question.  The answer is completely counter-intuitive.  Elliott’s caution was clear. Don’t go around judging people.  Do NOT play amateur psychologist.  You didn’t go to school for it, you don’t have a degree in it, your chances of being wrong are about 50/50, same as flipping a coin.

HOWEVER, most hiring managers are expert at the work.  Most hiring managers understand effective behavior and ineffective behavior.  Stick where you are an expert.  It’s all about the work.  I do not judge people, but, boy, do I judge the work.  By careful examination of the problem-solving and decision-making in a role, most hiring managers can easily pinpoint the level of work in the role.  If we can understand the level of work in the role, then the selection decision is easy.  “Is this person effective in the task assignments at this level of work, or not?”

Don’t play amateur psychologist, stick where you are an expert.  It’s all about the work.

Double Edge of Knowing

Habits are routine, grooved behaviors based on what-we-know. What-we-know is always based on the past.

Habits are a two-edged sword. Habits help us understand the world quickly. What-we-know creates patterns we can use to solve problems efficiently using a minimum of brain power.

Habits can prevent us from clearly seeing the present. What-we-know may not be accurate or lead us to mistake reality as a previous pattern (with a mistake).

Habits are part of who we are and resistant to change, because they are based on what-we-know. Habits are more powerful than reality, because reality is always new. Knowing prevents learning.

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.