Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule; Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command

Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule

Paul Graham

July 2009
One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they’re on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more.

There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour. When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.

I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there’s sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.

Each type of schedule works fine by itself. Problems arise when they meet. Since most powerful people operate on the manager’s schedule, they’re in a position to make everyone resonate at their frequency if they want to. But the smarter ones restrain themselves, if they know that some of the people working for them need long chunks of time to work in.

Our case is an unusual one. Nearly all investors, including all VCs I know, operate on the manager’s schedule. But Y Combinator runs on the maker’s schedule. Rtm and Trevor and I do because we always have, and Jessica does too, mostly, because she’s gotten into sync with us.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there start to be more companies like us. I suspect founders may increasingly be able to resist, or at least postpone, turning into managers, just as a few decades ago they started to be able to resist switching from jeans to suits.

How do we manage to advise so many startups on the maker’s schedule? By using the classic device for simulating the manager’s schedule within the maker’s: office hours. Several times a week I set aside a chunk of time to meet founders we’ve funded. These chunks of time are at the end of my working day, and I wrote a signup program that ensures all the appointments within a given set of office hours are clustered at the end. Because they come at the end of my day these meetings are never an interruption. (Unless their working day ends at the same time as mine, the meeting presumably interrupts theirs, but since they made the appointment it must be worth it to them.) During busy periods, office hours sometimes get long enough that they compress the day, but they never interrupt it.

When we were working on our own startup, back in the 90s, I evolved another trick for partitioning the day. I used to program from dinner till about 3 am every day, because at night no one could interrupt me. Then I’d sleep till about 11 am, and come in and work until dinner on what I called “business stuff.” I never thought of it in these terms, but in effect I had two workdays each day, one on the manager’s schedule and one on the maker’s.

When you’re operating on the manager’s schedule you can do something you’d never want to do on the maker’s: you can have speculative meetings. You can meet someone just to get to know one another. If you have an empty slot in your schedule, why not? Maybe it will turn out you can help one another in some way.

Business people in Silicon Valley (and the whole world, for that matter) have speculative meetings all the time. They’re effectively free if you’re on the manager’s schedule. They’re so common that there’s distinctive language for proposing them: saying that you want to “grab coffee,” for example.

Speculative meetings are terribly costly if you’re on the maker’s schedule, though. Which puts us in something of a bind. Everyone assumes that, like other investors, we run on the manager’s schedule. So they introduce us to someone they think we ought to meet, or send us an email proposing we grab coffee. At this point we have two options, neither of them good: we can meet with them, and lose half a day’s work; or we can try to avoid meeting them, and probably offend them.

Till recently we weren’t clear in our own minds about the source of the problem. We just took it for granted that we had to either blow our schedules or offend people. But now that I’ve realized what’s going on, perhaps there’s a third option: to write something explaining the two types of schedule. Maybe eventually, if the conflict between the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule starts to be more widely understood, it will become less of a problem.

Those of us on the maker’s schedule are willing to compromise. We know we have to have some number of meetings. All we ask from those on the manager’s schedule is that they understand the cost.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2013

Manager OKRs, Maker OKRs: How I’d Change Google’s Goal Setting Process

Google’s internal management approach has sustained and scaled pretty impressively. Transparency, quantitative goalsetting, setting stretch targets — these principles are as evident in 2013 as they were when I arrived in 2003. Underpinning it all are OKRs – Objectives and Key Results – the framework by which individuals, teams and the entire company is managed. Googler Don Dodge does a comprehensive job of documenting OKRs in an earlier blog post, but the basics are this: Each quarter individuals and teams document their objectives for the next 90 days and grade the goals they set 90 days earlier. In Q4 teams also set metagoals for the next year.

Nine years at Google meant 36 Quarterly OKRs and the correlating number of annual planning exercises. My role at YouTube had me often working through our OKRs with Larry and Sergey (one of those stressful exercises that in hindsight was amazing). I believe OKRs were originally recommended to L&S by Andy Grove of Intel John Doerr of KPCB, and I know OKRs have spread through tech companies, sometimes carried by Google alumnus themselves. OKRs are sensible, straight forward and on a planning cycle managers understand. And that’s the problem.

In 2009 Y Combinator founder Paul Graham wrote an essay called Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.  The post discusses how engineers need long periods of dedicated time to build and managers (or people whose work generally involves lots of meetings) can honor this by not scheduling interruptions in the middle of these periods. It’s great – you should read it.

Manager time vs Maker time gave me a lens to not just evaluate day to day schedules, but the general cadence of how we plan and build at Google. We consider ourselves a company founded and driven by Makers (our engineers), but somehow we settled into a Manager planning rhythm, one which mimicked accounting cycles rather than how things actually get built.

“Quarterly goals?” Why are three months the right duration for building features, why not two months or four months? And there was the amusing “last week of quarter” push to try and ship all the features you’d committed to ~90 days earlier.

Even more confusing were annual goals. By Q4, it’s pretty clear whether you’re going to hit the annual goals, the high level targets meant to inspire a year of work, but because you haven’t started next year’s planning cycle, the team has no documented targets for what the next 12 months look like. (Obviously the best managers start with an evergreen vision and then break into planning cycles – this isn’t about roadmapping within teams – but the Quarterly + Annual segmenting is still derived from financial planning, not hacking).

What would I recommend for tech companies instead of Quarterly + Calendar Year Annual? These three:

  • One Month – “What are we building this month” is the key question. Team leads get together the morning of the Monday prior to month’s end and document the next month’s feature releases. This is a bottom up process which includes items shipped completely intra-month and component work of projects which are greater than 30 days long (if you can’t break a complex project into at least 30 days goals, then it’s too big). Four weeks, a few weekends. Enough time to get a lot done. You don’t need to micromanage – for example, if the team spends two days per month bug fixing, just hold that time aside in your calculations, don’t document the bugs you intend to fix.
  • “N+12 Months” – “What will our product and business look like a year from now?” I like the idea of a rolling “one year out” vision, processing new learnings and opportunities. At any given time the entire organization can have a true north for where we want to be a year from now. It evolves, it learns, it doesn’t tick down to zero but rather always looks out over the horizon.
  • Minimal Quarterly/Annual KPIs – Recognizing that quarterly and annual goals are important for financial reporting, you should keep a very narrow grasp on what you actually want to measure – just key drivers of business – and set quarterly targets. There can be a reality check – do these quarterly targets get achieved given what we’re building?

For me, Monthly Goals combined with N+12 Goals create the right short-term Maker cadence with longer term vision. I never got the chance to try it at Google, but hope to find companies using this sort of planning cycle to see how it works for them.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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