The scope determines the level of detail

With increasing performance consolidation, managers and employees have to cover an ever larger range of tasks. The activities become thereby more and more concentrated on a subject, which requires more time-consuming preparations. The increasing digitalization does not offer any relief, but creates additional sensory overload, which has to be mastered. These trends lead to more stress and at the same time to more questions than we can coordinate in our minds. Although we know the limit of our processing capacity of 7plusminus2 chunks determined by G. A. Miller  (see also), we do not take care of this knowledge at work. We could, for example, use it to deal with only as many issues as we can handle without collateral damage, depending on the extent of our scope.

Thegroupingofsomethingintounderstandablepartsmakesprocessingeasierforus. Since we only overlook a certain number of characters at a time, we break a too large element down into manageable components. The grouping of something into understandable parts makes processing easier for us. In German we would improve the understanding further by using upper and lower case. The Grouping of Something into understandable parts makes Processing easier for us. As in this example, the right breakdown facilitates the mastering of the tasks in our daily work. The desired complexity should be based on the 7plusminus2 regularity and thus ensure the ability to act of those persons responsible, for example:

  • Number of strategical aspects
    Let’s imagine employees, who are given a forty-page outlook on tomorrow – clear announcements for the 15 product areas, the 12 customer segments and the 15 markets. 12 goals define the direction and each contains ten clear expectations. That seems unrealistic? A look into your own corporate agenda answers this question.
    The participants cannot memorize more than 7plusminus2 core statements. Only with the internalized statements the integrating purpose of the publication is achieved.
  • Size of the assigned scope
    The flattening of the organization has led to large manager-to-staff ratio. 7plusminus2 directly assigned employees are manageable. Lean management has not only increased the manager-to-staff ratio, but also brought managers closer to the operational units. This leads to increased involvement in operational decisions.
    A manager-to-staff ratio of five combined with rigorous delegation of tasks, authority and responsibility (TAR) to the place of action provides relief for the responsible person.
  • Size of organizational units
    In the course of agility, the ideal size of a team is once again discussed. The answer of Scrum is clear – a maximum of nine members. This is only possible, if the scope of the work packages (see below) is realizable, taking into account the time frame and the required resources. The assumption of responsibility by the employees requires from the bosses the consequent letting loose of operative decisions – in a sprint the team has the full control.
    The use of new management styles that is based on self-organization relieves the respective superordinate level through the increased commitment of the employees and their knowledge advantage at the place of the action.
  • Amount of initiatives
    Many people argue that the increasing number of projects and actions is not a matter of wanting to implement more and more initiatives, but results from the needs of the business – the customer, the technology, the staff, the suppliers, the market situation, etc. This is not the reality. The pressure to lead forces the leaders to create ever more tasks. It is forgotten that more projects mean less available time for the individual project that keeps on running besides the day-to-day business. The rule of thumb is:
    5 days a week divided by the number of initiatives = available attention per initiative.
    The number of initiatives should be based on available capacity. Neither the employees nor the management master more than 7plusminus2 projects – which means that one only has half a day per week for an initiative. The ignorance of this fact is certainly one reason why two thirds of projects fail to meet their targets.
  • Scope of the work packages
    Also the size of the work packages is determined by the availability of resources. An employee, who takes care of ten construction sites at the same time, will at least perform worse – if he will achieve this at all. Half a day to complete certain tasks does not only has to cover the task, but also the setup times for changing from one to the other. Like a juggler, the participants are overwhelmed by too many balls in the air.
    The size of the work packages overloads not only the employees, but also their managers. The scope of the work packages should adhere to the 7plusminus2 rule in order to deliver results reliably.
  • Number of indicators
    The management of projects is carried out with sophisticated key performance indicator systems designed by specialists, who do nothing else – and therefore too much. This results in structures that supply many parameters at the top level across several layers. Not only the choice of the right indicators is important, but also the number of parameters that have to be kept up to date. As soon as more than 7plusminus2 KPIs are used, the control becomes difficult, since even the interpretation of the numbers leads to different, often mutually interfering measures.
    The key performance indicator system should follow the 7plusminus2 rule and provide exactly those figures that are needed at the various levels for the respective units.

Bottom line: Even this brief look at the business, with 7minus1 aspects, conveys a feeling for the complexity at stake. Less is more! The first step is the question of the extent of the scope of responsibility. Based on this, the 7plusminus2 priorities have to be designed, which cover the field 100%. This then leads to the level of detail that the responsible persons still master. The challenges will still remain difficult, even with the corresponding limitation to manageable aspects, mainly due to the complex interactions – however, without the current overload. With the conscious design of your own scope at the appropriate level of detail, which does not consist of more than 7plusminus2 topics, it not only relieves the burden, but also promotes success. It is the scope that determines the level of detail.