Are you right for the job? Is your Job right for you?

By / January 22, 2016 /

In the managerial world Elliot Jaques is quite well known for this theory of Requisite Organization. His work Level of work concept has has a lot of benefit and merit. Jaques Levels of Work model has practical application for managers seeking to understand and work with organizational complexities, especially in organizations undergoing change. Though the theory is quite a complex one, but it can be put in simple terms in this manner. If you want to really put it in use you will have to do some more research and gain more knowledge. This theory is highly applicable for technical jobs to ascertain the right candidate for a technical task.

Back in the 1950’s, while searching for a reliable method for assigning differential pay to roles with varying degrees of responsibility, Jaques discovered the Time-Span of Discretion. In one of his latest books (A Theory on the Life and Behavior of Living) he called this “the greatest discovery in my life”. This method makes it possible to measure the level-of-work of any given work role with objective rigour.

In Jaques’s thinking, all work, even that which may appear at first sight as a fully prescribed routine, is constant exercise of decision. Discretion is the internal process of the individual at work that results in decision, an irrevocable modification of the external world.

Human ability to handle task complexity increases in step wise manner with each level which Jaques called “Level of work”. Each level can be defined as by it is maximum Time -Span of Discretion and also by the problem saving ability required to work at that level efficiently. Level of work are always discrete, the main crux of RO theory is that each level has to be filled appropriately within the organization so that the organization can operate efficiently. The term ‘Cognitive Capability’ is used by Jacques to explain the level of work that a person is able to do. This theory is highly applicable for technical jobs to ascertain the right candidate for a technical task.

In software development environment, Jaques theory provides a perfect way to determine the best person for a given technical task. By understanding a person’s Cognitive Capability, it is possible to assign them tasks that they are capable of.

Stratum 1 – Software Developers

In traditional environment Stratum 1 people follow procedures to create the product to specifications or to deliver the service as trained. Their time span is less than 3 months. They use trial and error methods to solve their problems.

Talking technically, a candidate capable of handling Stratum I level work should be able to fill some function definitions (already defined ones) or be able to install some operating systems as per given instructions.

There are things that a STR 1 person can’t do and that are where they become fabled. One person was asked to make the site live but forgot or was not bothered to take the backup of the database. Another person might be writing the repetitive code in the application giving absolutely perfect output but did not think to write a specific function once and call it multiple times in the application.

This doesn’t mean that they are incompetent or not capable of doing their work. They might know a lot but their limited time span will not allow them to think further or out of the box. Their focus is just on their immediate tasks and nothing else.

Stratum 2 – Senior software developers

In a traditional environment Stratum 2 people are concerned with day-to-day oversight of the production of goods and services, i.e. getting staff hired, trained, scheduled and producing to spec. They deal with exceptions to procedures. STR 2 employees also may be accountable to produce, but level two productions or service delivery requires the employee make judgements beyond those that can be fully specified in procedures. There time span is upper bound 1 year.

Technically these people are senior software developers and they are capable of working at higher levels but they have their own limitations.

A time span of 1 year is not that long but it is enough to write substantial amount of code but it is still not enough to design a complex piece of code that will underpin the entire software for many coming years. Though they can solve issues by gathering data from relevant sources, they still lack the skills of serial processing. This means that they have a handicap of anticipating the result of their work on a much larger scope.

Going back to our previous example of assigning a task of uploading the site on the live server to a Stratum 2 person will result in taking the backup of the existing populated database but would like to fail to anticipate the need of upgrading the new version of PHP or DB on the server where the site is running.

Stratum 3 – Technical Founders
In a traditional environment Stratum 3 managers are concerned with making day-to-day operations excellent, i.e.. creating and refining best practices. How do they use the current resources and infrastructure in the best way? How do they make them the fastest, cheapest, most efficient and effective?They create and continuously improve serial processes. They have a maximum time span of 2 years and they solve all problems using serial processing.

In technical environment these people are your Technical founders, tech leads, senior architects or VP of software development.

A time span of 2 years is a reasonable time to solve issues. Backed by serial processing these kinds of guys can make software development very efficient and create a system which will speed up things to a great extent. If your team doesn’t have tools like subversion, issue tracker, project management tools or change management, they will really work hard to get all the things in place as they see the bigger picture and the kind of benefit these tools can bring in the long run. They will also make sure that you are using the right techniques to develop software and will insist on following a Test driven software development approach.

The ability to see things in future is not always beneficial. If you task a STR 3 person to re-factor this class, it is very likely that they end up spending twice more time than you expected as he will create a perfect system that will not only solve small issues but a lot of other associated issues.

Stratum 4 – Integrators
Rationally STR 4 function heads are the translators between the conceptual strategy, “Tack On” and current operations. They will constantly ask a lot of questions. Does our current infrastructure (talent, equipment, budget, processes, technology, and product line) support your strategy? If not, they have to make decisions about how to change the current operations to align with the strategy – by adding or subtracting products, markets, equipment, etc.

Workers at Stratum IV integrators and have the positions of general managers or high level executives with technical, financial and operational responsibilities. Technically they are called CTOs with problem solving abilities with parallel reasoning. Workers at this level have a time span of 5 years. There are many senior software developers who operate at this level and above as well. They have the ability to follow multiple lines of serial reasoning concurrently.

Technical tasks that have to be handled by Stratum 4 employees include Enterprise Systems Architecture, Language Design, API decisions and other things.

Therefore in an organization, it is important to judge the working capability of an individual and assign task accordingly for maximum results.

For e.g. if a development platform has to be chosen for a complex project for a big company , a person of STR 4 capability would be required for sure. There would be many consequences of such a choice from the ability to hire people that know the development platform well, to ensure smooth and easy development, to automated deployment, to the platform security and finally to the usage of the final product. Each of the line or reasoning will go on for many years to come and the ability to focus on what is utmost important and ignoring the major irrelevant things is of vital importance.

A Final Wrap-up

In IT industry it is very important for everybody to recognize the work level capability of you team and the complexity of the tasks you assign to them. When people at each level are cognitively matched to the capabilities required at that level and focus on their roles at each level, clearly aware of the boundaries between levels, your organizations and your people both will achieve their full potential. This would give you great results.

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