Tag Archives: timespan

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.”

Longest Project

“Tell me, what is your longest Timespan goal?” I asked.

Taylor sat across the conference table. He was in charge of project scheduling. At any given time, his company has 30-35 projects in play. Some of the projects only last 4-5 weeks. Others last 12-15 months. Yet, every project is important. No details can be dropped, no matter how small.

“What do you mean?” Taylor asked. “I work with a Project Management software. I spend time meeting with all the Project Managers, looking at their contracts, their change orders, the deadlines in their project segments.”

“What is your longest project?”

“The longest one, is the Phoenix project. We got the contract last week. I have already been looking at it for a couple of months though, ever since it came through our estimating department. It’s a big project and we had to see if we could even mobilize to do it. Twenty two months is the schedule.”

“And what is the goal, what is your goal?” I asked.

“At the end of the project, all of the materials showed at the job site, all the crews showed up to do the production. The equipment required, whether we own it, or rented it, was on-site. All the trades that we had to coordinate, everything happened according to my schedule. That’s my goal.”

Cognitive Power

“Here’s a question for you,” Sam smiled. “We talk about potential, that is something we want in every candidate. You have also asked me to be specific in my language. You chided me about using analogies like – potential for growth, higher level thinking, more bandwidth, mental horsepower. Just exactly what are we talking about? And, why is this so important?”

My turn to smile. “Let me introduce a term – cognitive power. Cognitive power relates to the maximum number of variables a person can simultaneously deal with, in a given period of time. A manual task generally has a limited number of variables. Moving a pallet of ceramic tile in a warehouse requires a forklift, knowing which pallet, where is it located, where does it go, what’s in the way? There are a limited number of variables. And, those variables are physical and fixed.”

Sam nodded, so I continued. “Constructing a building is more complex. There are site considerations, zoning, platting, ingress, physical constraints, functional use, building codes, material availability, coordination of trades, availability of labor, influence of unions, finance logistics, even the weather. And some of the complexity arrives, not from the variables we know about, but, based on the timespan of the project (objective, goal), there will be variables we do not know about. The longer the project, the more uncertain the variables. Yet, to be effective, all the variables must be accounted for, including the ones we do not know about.”

“And so, a more complicated project will require more cognitive power,” Sam chimed in.

“We might try to count the number of variables to understand the complexity in a project, but the longer the project, the more some of those variable are unknowable. A better metric of complexity is to simply calculate the timespan of the project. We have to account for that uncertainty, ambiguity, in the decisions we have to make today.”

Context of Decision Making

“What is the difference between you and your team members, related to the role you play as their manager?” I asked.

“Well, I’m their boss. I provide direction, guidance, coaching. I delegate task activities,” Joan replied.

“Why you? Why doesn’t the team provide its own direction?”

“Well, they weren’t invited to the monthly meeting where the company sets that direction,” Joan smartly observed.

“But, this is the age of Zoom, why weren’t they invited to attend that meeting?” I pressed.

“But, it’s a highly interactive meeting. We can’t have ten more people asking questions. We would never get anything done in the meeting. Believe me, I know my team.”

“And, doesn’t the content of the meeting concern them? Are decisions made that will impact what they do day to day?”

“Yes, it impacts what they do, day to day, but in that company meeting we make adjustments to the overall goals and objectives for the year. It’s important to be flexible, agile. My team may have specific ideas (and questions) about technical issues day to day, but in that meeting, it’s not about technical issues, it’s about a new competitor that’s eating our market share, a new office across the state we are thinking about, a new product that our customers have been asking about.”

“So, the context discussion in that meeting is different than the context your team works in?”

“Yes, that’s it,” Joan agreed.

“So the difference between you and your team members, related to the role you play as their manager, is the context in which you work, meaning the context in which you make decisions and solve problems?” I prodded. “Your decisions impact their decisions, but the difference is the timespan of your decisions vs the timespan of their decisions.”

Joan continued to nod her head. “And, the difference between me and my manager is the same,” she replied. “My manager makes decisions that impact me, but the timespan of my manager’s context is even further in the future than mine.”

“And, so, we begin to see the structure of layers in an organization,” I said, “based on distinct levels of decision making, measured in timespan.”

Timespan of Intention

It’s January, with resolutions, goal setting, annual planning.

Most of our intentions are short-sighted. We focus on the what, not the by-when. Perhaps this year we examine the timespan of our intention as closely as the intention itself?

Instead of how many pounds can I lost by the end of Feb (when most resolutions are abandoned), we might ask what lifestyle changes we can make to add ten years to our life. What is the timespan of your intention?

Sometimes, the most important impact is not a major initiative. Sometimes, the major impact is shifting a small habit that is insidiously killing you. Or a small habit shift that will pay off in spades five years from now.

Think about your habits that support your success, habits that detract. What is the timespan of your intention?

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.”