Time Out

Time is used to measure a lot of things in my professional world. Many people bill by the hour or the day. I have a daily consulting rate but I prefer a fixed fee linked to deliverables. In the e-learning field there is always talk about an “hour of courseware”, though no one has ever figured out how to measure it. Instead, we just merrily go along in this fantasy time zone as if we knew what we were measuring. After all, most people have bought into the notion of the industrial “person day”.

Michele Martin thinks it’s time to move away from this focus on time, and I agree.

What I find really interesting is that we finally have technology that makes it possible for us to do most work anytime, anywhere, yet we continue to stick with our same old paradigms of working in a particular location during certain hours. We also stick by our belief that time is the best measure of what we do, rather than results.

Shifting away from time and focusing on results is relatively easy for a consultant. However, I still have clients who want work described in days of effort, not results. Making this change for salaried employees would be a major workplace cultural shift and I’m not sure that it will ever happen. Salaries, working hours, and time & motion studies are part of the industrial economy’s DNA. Trying to change this would be difficult, if not impossible.

I think that a Results Oriented Work Environment (ROWE) is not really possible in a workplace that is built on industrial management models. ROWE may be possible in pre-or post industrial work but not in hierarchical organisations. You can see it in a film production, with major actors getting paid by the film, not by the hour. You also have ROWE in piece work, reminiscent of pre-industrial cottage industries. I cannot see ROWE where you have more than one or two levels of management, but that is the structure in most medium and large businesses, bureaucracies and non-profits. On the other hand, I’m sure a change to ROWE will come to many more fields of work as generations shift and time on task is seen as largely irrelevant.

9 Responses to “Time Out”

  1. Gilbert

    Time oriented is simple. All you have to do is show up to work and punch in/out time cards. This system requires supervision and you have to be at work at the same time as your supervisors.

    ROWE is more complex and requires a well educated work force. It requires skills sets suited for results oriented work.

    I have seen first hand how difficult it is to implement result oriented approaches in the IT project management field. For results oriented to succeed you need a critical mass of team players that really understand the approach. You also need well educated managers and project managers that understand results oriented.

    Time,motion, and method studies are still required with results oriented. I would even say that they are more important with results oriented than with time oriented. Time is a scarce resource for any living being and proper use of time and energy will always be important.

    I think the problems with time based is more one of synchronous vs asynchronous. The industrial revolution create the synchronous man. (everyone eats at the same hour). Information technologies and transportation now makes it possible to return to asynchronous production modes.

    Note that Results oriented will also transform considerably over the next few years. That concept will adapt to a network/packet paradigm and we should see smaller and smaller parcels for delivery by one production unit. The baby boomers will soon be out of the production processes.

    In my opinion we will get better yield if we think in terms of synch/asynch rather that time vs results oriented. We will have to learn how to deliver in asynchronous manners.


  2. Jon Husband

    I agree with your perspective, Harold .. have thought the same many times.

    I generally agree with Gilbert’s points, but supposedly we have a well-educated work force, doncha know. I’d argue that we need kless “education” and more learning, one-mindedness and much better collaboration skills .. s different sort of “well-educated”, I suppose.

    Yes, we will have to learn to deliver in asynchoronous ways.

  3. Jon Husband

    Both the post and Gilbert’s comment fit with what I have called the “mass customization of work”, IMHO. Coming soon to a network near you.

  4. chris

    I recall in the mid-90s, people would ask “how many minutes” our courseware was. Such a simlistic question, as though we were stamping out widgets. Helps to sort the wheat from the chaff…

  5. Michele Martin

    Harold, I think you make a good point about the difficulty of making a ROWE approach work in a hierarchical organization, as well as the need for people to be well-educated on how it works. I would hope that this is the direction we’re moving in. Prior to Henry Ford, we didn’t have the organizational structures and focus on time that we do do today—that was an outgrowth of how the world changed with the advent of Ford’s manufacturing processes and management approach. Those ideas worked for the time and the type of work that was being done. I have to believe that we’re undergoing another metamorphosis now, although maybe it won’t happen as quickly as I’d hope.

  6. Harold

    For sure we’re seeing some changes, and as William Gibson said, “The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.”

  7. Dave Ferguson

    One paradox is that we can and do develop rules of thumb about the effort required to produce some result (product), yet each product’s context is unique.

    If we didn’t have those heuristics, it’d be hard to figure out whether undertaking project X for price Y is a good idea — either for the independent worker, or for the client.

    In the same way that people try to turn the 80/20 rule (which is more of an analogy) into a law of physics, people end up turning rules of thumb into micrometers.

    Years ago, with a group of my peers who headed computer-based training in their organizations (large companies like John Deere, Holiday Inn, USAir, Amtrak), we tried to dig up some benchmarks for the amount of time to produce courses — almost all of which were for training people to use the company’s main computer application.

    In other words, we roughly agreed on what activities would go into design and development, and used the system’s tracking to get some idea of average completion time.

    The end rations ran from 40:1 (development time to average completion time) to 400:1. The variables were pretty much what you’d expect: existing skill of the target audience, degree of simulation, complexity of the interaction, etc.

    I would say, though, that in my work — training people who used the Amtrak reservation system — it was through this kind of benchmarking that we got better at rough-estimating how long the next task might take. If you can’t estimate within an order of magnitude (is it four weeks, or forty?), you need a mighty confident client.

    Which is part of the point I see you making, Harold: the contractor and the client have to agree on the desired results, and neither can be too rigid about the path to achieving them.


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