Organizing Time into Three Frames for Better Planning Results

The week turned

out reasonably well from a process and project standpoint. We got a

number of things done which will make things easier in the next work

cycle. The team handled another week involving major outages

reasonably well. I pondered a lot of things which probably don't

matter much, but also helped clarify a few things. We also worked to

correct a badly broken support process and extended the scope of our

short-term alerting efforts.

I also started,

very slowly, to move my team though the gap between the now and my

long-term vision for their activity. I mentioned in my blog this

Monday about the difficulties I saw integrating the creative and

reactive work types and some thoughts on using teams to help

reinforce behavior patterns. I've decided to alter my long-term

plans to include the paired structure. Which raises the question:

what do I mean by long-term?

Many people think

and plan in only one time frame, usually called “now”. What

cannot be done immediately falls to the wayside, eventually vanishing

entirely. This actually makes things like project planning a great

deal of fun, since people don't really have any fundamental belief in

what they put on the plans.

In my world,

though, every solution and plan involves three distinct time frames.

The first frame deals with immediate actions taken to work around an

issue. The second builds upon those solutions while bringing in

additional analysis and design elements. The third encompasses the

desired end results, which oddly enough rarely take on a truly

technical form.

The first, or

short-term, time frame usually extends from the immediate moment to

roughly one month out. This is what most people consider the now;

what they can do immediately or in the very near future to resolve a

problem or complete a project. It's an easy time frame to work with.

We can step up, do something, and see an immediate result. These

results, though, generally don't last for very long unless we expend

effort to sustain them. More importantly, its hard to build up

successful iterative change when working exclusively in the

short-term time frame. Planning exclusively in the now leaves you

skipping around, depositing work here and there.

The second, or

medium-term, time frame usually extends from one month to roughly six

months or 2 business quarters. Medium term planning is, really, what

most people consider “long-term” when they really sit down and

plan. It's about the maximum distance at which most people can plan

out a concrete set of steps to reach specific goals The longer time

period means you can spend more time working on things, creating

changes, and driving forward initiatives requiring more than just the

buy-in of a small group. It also gives the team more time to analyze

a situation before acting, always a plus when dealing with problems

rather than issues. Under most circumstances, though, it also leaves

you kind of confused about what you need to do right now. The

“medium-term” window also slides quite easily, leaving the team

in a state where they don't know what to do next.

The third, or

long-term, time frame extends a over a year or more. The long-term

frame is the realm of vision and priority, where the leader

establishes what he thinks the environment should look like. It's

easy to get lost here, though. One can spend endless hours writing

vision documents or analyzing to determine exactly the right

“long-term strategy”. This time doesn't exactly go to waste but

without solid short and medium term plans it's not entirely useful


The trick seems to

be to “peel” your short-term plans out of the medium-term plans,

while making sure the medium-term plan's goals stay in sync with the

long-term plan. Easy to say, hard to do. I've personally found

writing it down in circles helps though...I have this vision of three

balls (one small, one medium, one large) with the small one pushing

the other two along.

My concrete

example for this week involved bringing people together to solve a

service outage. The plan served my short-term goal of getting the

system back up. It served my medium-term goals of building

competence within my team and creating additional systemic knowledge

regarding one of my core systems. It also played into my long-term

goal of slowly, carefully, rebuilding the social fabric of the larger

team I work in. Fortunately it also played into one of the resources

medium-term personal plans; the other one I'm not so sure about.

The question for

me, now, involves translating these ideas into a more effective

solution for my major conundrum. I have a long-term goal (and plan)

to restart the operational life-cycle at my current employer. Doing

so will meet up with a lot of resistance; I have to find a way around


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