A Trellis is a Sturdy Framework for Growth

A Trellis is a Sturdy Framework for Growth

“A person must have something to cling to. Without that, they are like a pea vine sprawling in search of a trellis.”— E.B. White

What is a process? The answer is not always obvious.

Sometimes people find process to be a “heavy” concept. They may believe that process slows things down or that the only thing it does is generate more paperwork.

Other people may have the opposite belief. They might think that having a process means that everything will always go smoothly. They want to believe that a good process results in universal harmony and agreement between all people who use it.

So what is a process? 

One way to understand process is to think of a trellis. We have a wooden trellis outside of our living room window. Its framework lifts our trumpet vine and grape vines as they grow. The trellis supports the vines’ weight even though they have grown quite large.

A process is like this; it supports the work that needs to be done. It allows content to be collaborated on, enabling better communication. A good process will make roles and responsibilities clear. A great process will make decision-making clear.

However, a process will not automatically make all people happy. For example, decisions will always need to be made throughout development work. Making decisions means that some things get pruned back to allow other items to flourish. This is akin to the competition between our grapevines and our trumpet vine. We value the dense shade and flowers that the trumpet vine provides, but we need to keep it from overtaking the space that the grapes need to grow. There are times when not everyone will be happy, no matter how good the process is.

The best processes are owned by the people who need to use them. These process owners should strive to get agreements about the purpose of the process before work begins. They must detail the steps so that they understand how they intend to work together as a team.

And when the work begins, the team should follow the process they have developed. 

When the team finds they have issues with the content they are working on, they should be careful not to blame the process. We could blame the trellis for making the trumpet vine too successful, but that would be silly.

The team’s job is to use the process, improve the process, maintain the process, and mainly keep working with the process to accomplish good things.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Bailey Gullo on Unsplash

You may also like:

Endurance Is Not Always a Virtue

I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

The Reader’s Edge

The exceptional leaders are voracious consumers of information. They listen to audio books, they read books, they seek out others to hear their stories. The things they read spans multiple genres, time periods, and cultures.

ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

LEADERSHIP ON FATHER’S DAY

"Welcome to Sherwood!" — Robin Hood Father's Day was a delight for me. My family treated me a number of fun things. I was served breakfast in a hammock. I was treated to a delicious cold milkshake at a local ice-cream shop. My daughter and I have a plan to go buy some...

SUDS MAY SPILL, BEER SHOULD NOT

"I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with. " — Sonia Sotomayor One of my best clients and I were enjoying the start of our day at a local coffee cafe. We covered a range of topics and one...

PERSISTENCE, PREY, AND IDEAS

"Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery. " — Mark Amidon The Washington DC zoo has this very interesting roulette-style wheel located just past the cheetah exhibit. You spin the wheel to find out if you caught your prey, your...

ANTICIPATE INFLECTION POINTS

"A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. that change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end." — Andrew Grover There are a wave of...

PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

"Even though it is not always easy… being a planetary scientist is one of the coolest jobs on the planet!" — Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle   Imagine exploring Titan! And to be clear, I am not referring to the planet Titan of Thanos (Avengers), I am referring to a...

Making the Leap

Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.

That’s Not How We Do Things Here…

That’s Not How We Do Things Here…

“In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”— Albert Einstein

Do Your Written Practices Match How People Do the Work?

Sometimes I feel bad for the newest members of an organization. They keep bumping into the unwritten rules. They often feel flabbergasted because the written procedures do not match how things are actually done.

There can be procedures followed by the whole organization but which are unknowable to the new person until they run into an invisible wall. The other people in the organization say, “Oh, you didn’t know about that wall? It seems pretty obvious to the rest of us.”

I might feel bad for them, but I am always happy to see what they uncover. They are uncovering treasures for others in the organization to contemplate. Sometimes the new people point out that the organization is doing a thing out of habit that is no longer useful. Sometimes they point out obvious flaws in the written methods that must be updated. Sometimes it is discovered that what people are doing would be better done by following the documentation.

The new people will soon know where the invisible walls are, and the opportunity to learn will be lost.  So as new people navigate the organization, everyone should pay attention. Listen for toe-stubbing and running-into-walls and learn from what they see.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Mulyadi on Unsplash

You may also like:

Endurance Is Not Always a Virtue

I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

The Reader’s Edge

The exceptional leaders are voracious consumers of information. They listen to audio books, they read books, they seek out others to hear their stories. The things they read spans multiple genres, time periods, and cultures.

ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

LEADERSHIP ON FATHER’S DAY

"Welcome to Sherwood!" — Robin Hood Father's Day was a delight for me. My family treated me a number of fun things. I was served breakfast in a hammock. I was treated to a delicious cold milkshake at a local ice-cream shop. My daughter and I have a plan to go buy some...

SUDS MAY SPILL, BEER SHOULD NOT

"I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with. " — Sonia Sotomayor One of my best clients and I were enjoying the start of our day at a local coffee cafe. We covered a range of topics and one...

PERSISTENCE, PREY, AND IDEAS

"Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery. " — Mark Amidon The Washington DC zoo has this very interesting roulette-style wheel located just past the cheetah exhibit. You spin the wheel to find out if you caught your prey, your...

ANTICIPATE INFLECTION POINTS

"A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. that change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end." — Andrew Grover There are a wave of...

PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

"Even though it is not always easy… being a planetary scientist is one of the coolest jobs on the planet!" — Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle   Imagine exploring Titan! And to be clear, I am not referring to the planet Titan of Thanos (Avengers), I am referring to a...

Making the Leap

Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.

If You Don’t Schedule Time for Maintenance, Downtime will be Scheduled for You

If You Don’t Schedule Time for Maintenance, Downtime will be Scheduled for You

“Entropy requires no maintenance.”— Robert Anton Wilson

 

I saw a sign that read, “if you don’t schedule time for maintenance, downtime will be scheduled for you.”

This phrase had such ancient wisdom it made me wonder if Socrates said it first. Here are some of the thoughts the sign brought up for me.

  • I had a relative who didn’t think to do oil changes in his car. His car scheduled the downtime for him.
  • I often see barns in disrepair, some leaning toward collapse. 
  • The more features you develop in a product, the more critical maintenance becomes.
  • If you don’t do maintenance on a product you are building, more and more technical debt will accumulate. The more crud accumulates, the slower the work will go until you are forced to do something.
  • It is so easy for a user of apps to see which ones are not maintained. We probably all have favorites that no longer work because they have succumbed to too much technical debt.  

Later that same day, I went outside, planning to run a couple of miles. However, by the time I got to the trail, it had started raining. I gave up the plan and quickly came back inside.

When I came back in, a family member said to me, “If you don’t take time for maintenance, it will be scheduled for you.”

I went back outside for a nice, albeit wet, run.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Marc St on Unsplash

You may also like:

Endurance Is Not Always a Virtue

I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

The Reader’s Edge

The exceptional leaders are voracious consumers of information. They listen to audio books, they read books, they seek out others to hear their stories. The things they read spans multiple genres, time periods, and cultures.

ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

LEADERSHIP ON FATHER’S DAY

"Welcome to Sherwood!" — Robin Hood Father's Day was a delight for me. My family treated me a number of fun things. I was served breakfast in a hammock. I was treated to a delicious cold milkshake at a local ice-cream shop. My daughter and I have a plan to go buy some...

SUDS MAY SPILL, BEER SHOULD NOT

"I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with. " — Sonia Sotomayor One of my best clients and I were enjoying the start of our day at a local coffee cafe. We covered a range of topics and one...

PERSISTENCE, PREY, AND IDEAS

"Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery. " — Mark Amidon The Washington DC zoo has this very interesting roulette-style wheel located just past the cheetah exhibit. You spin the wheel to find out if you caught your prey, your...

ANTICIPATE INFLECTION POINTS

"A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. that change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end." — Andrew Grover There are a wave of...

PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

"Even though it is not always easy… being a planetary scientist is one of the coolest jobs on the planet!" — Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle   Imagine exploring Titan! And to be clear, I am not referring to the planet Titan of Thanos (Avengers), I am referring to a...

Making the Leap

Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.

Look Under the Surface to Find Reality

Look Under the Surface to Find Reality

“If a battle can’t be won, don’t fight it. “— Sun Tzu

When I was growing up on my parent’s dairy farm, there was a story that I loved.  A farmer had one great field except for the big rock in the middle. For years the farmer plowed and planted and harvested around the rock. One year, the farmer finally decided to do something about the problem so the whole area could be more easily used.

The farmer brought all sorts of equipment to dig out and perhaps break apart the rock. The first tactic was to dig under one corner of the stone to see the full extent of the issue. The result was a shock. The rock was only about 1 inch thick. The problem rock was quickly removed.

However, that story has a counterpoint. In working in my garden, I have often found rocks whose visible area is small but when investigated, are much more extensive under the surface. Those rocks are icebergs! They require considerable time and effort to remove, and digging them out may impact the plantings around them.

When looking at new projects, I always like to look under the surface of the ideas from two angles.

Step one: Look at the value of the project being considered.
Would doing this project make a significant difference? How would it improve things for ourselves or our customers? For the farmer, the value of having that rock gone should have been a compelling enough reason to move to step two.

Step two: Look carefully at the project and determine how much work it will take to get it done.
Some high-value projects are more straightforward than anticipated. The trouble is that most projects are like those iceberg rocks. Taking them on will require time and effort and may have far-reaching repercussions. Look at how big of a rock you are trying to move. Take the time to consider how much these projects will really cost.

Look carefully at both the value and the total cost. For some rocks, continuing to plow around them might be the wiser choice.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Sunrise in a city very near Death Valley in California

You may also like:

Endurance Is Not Always a Virtue

I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

The Reader’s Edge

The exceptional leaders are voracious consumers of information. They listen to audio books, they read books, they seek out others to hear their stories. The things they read spans multiple genres, time periods, and cultures.

ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

LEADERSHIP ON FATHER’S DAY

"Welcome to Sherwood!" — Robin Hood Father's Day was a delight for me. My family treated me a number of fun things. I was served breakfast in a hammock. I was treated to a delicious cold milkshake at a local ice-cream shop. My daughter and I have a plan to go buy some...

SUDS MAY SPILL, BEER SHOULD NOT

"I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with. " — Sonia Sotomayor One of my best clients and I were enjoying the start of our day at a local coffee cafe. We covered a range of topics and one...

PERSISTENCE, PREY, AND IDEAS

"Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery. " — Mark Amidon The Washington DC zoo has this very interesting roulette-style wheel located just past the cheetah exhibit. You spin the wheel to find out if you caught your prey, your...

ANTICIPATE INFLECTION POINTS

"A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. that change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end." — Andrew Grover There are a wave of...

PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

"Even though it is not always easy… being a planetary scientist is one of the coolest jobs on the planet!" — Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle   Imagine exploring Titan! And to be clear, I am not referring to the planet Titan of Thanos (Avengers), I am referring to a...

Making the Leap

Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.

Create a Frame for People to be Heroes

Create a Frame for People to be Heroes

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”— Oprah Winfrey

Recently, I witnessed two different ways to handle the same challenge.

I attended two meetings. The goal of each meeting was to choose a way forward that would affect many people for a long time. In each meeting, there was a very difficult confrontation between competing ideas. In both cases, the desire was to reach the decision by consensus. The decision would not be made by a leader, or by a majority vote. Everyone at the meeting needed to be able to live with the decision.

Leading up to the meetings, people had not been kind to each other in working towards the required decision. This meant that the meeting was made worse because some of the discussion wasn’t about the merit of the ideas, but more about the hard feelings people were carrying about each other.

Leader #1 handled the meeting in this way. They made sure everyone had a chance to speak. They didn’t allow interruptions. They ensured the agenda was followed. They ensured that the minutes captured the logical arguments for and against each proposed way forward.

Leader #1 ended the meeting with an accurate description of what took place. “This meeting was extremely hard. I am recognizing how strong the emotions are. Although there were many parts we agreed on, for me, it is daunting how many points of disagreement there are. This is going to be extremely hard.”

The meeting ended in silence and frowns. People left feeling dejected.

Leader#2 handled the meeting quite differently. They also followed good meeting facilitation with a clear agenda, note-taking, and ensuring that people had a chance to speak. In addition to this, before someone could talk about their point of view, Leader #2 ensured they expressed what they heard from others first. This made a big change in the dynamic of the meeting.

Leader#2 also ended the meeting with an accurate description of what took place. However, the frame was very different. Leader#2 was smiling and said “The passion of this group is amazing. We all believe so strongly that we can achieve something great together. There are absolutely parts we disagreed on. However, there were even more points we agreed on. I am especially excited about what we are going to achieve next. Every time in the past when we have had this much passion, we have created something amazing. Let’s do some more listening and creating. I look forward to our next session.”

In this meeting, people left laughing and talking. People who had argued with each other during the meeting immediately got together and started brainstorming how to merge their ideas.

Both leaders reflected what was going on accurately. It was the frame that was different. How do you frame your day? How do you frame the challenges your teams are facing?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

You may also like:

Endurance Is Not Always a Virtue

I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

The Reader’s Edge

The exceptional leaders are voracious consumers of information. They listen to audio books, they read books, they seek out others to hear their stories. The things they read spans multiple genres, time periods, and cultures.

ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

LEADERSHIP ON FATHER’S DAY

"Welcome to Sherwood!" — Robin Hood Father's Day was a delight for me. My family treated me a number of fun things. I was served breakfast in a hammock. I was treated to a delicious cold milkshake at a local ice-cream shop. My daughter and I have a plan to go buy some...

SUDS MAY SPILL, BEER SHOULD NOT

"I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with. " — Sonia Sotomayor One of my best clients and I were enjoying the start of our day at a local coffee cafe. We covered a range of topics and one...

PERSISTENCE, PREY, AND IDEAS

"Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery. " — Mark Amidon The Washington DC zoo has this very interesting roulette-style wheel located just past the cheetah exhibit. You spin the wheel to find out if you caught your prey, your...

ANTICIPATE INFLECTION POINTS

"A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. that change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end." — Andrew Grover There are a wave of...

PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

"Even though it is not always easy… being a planetary scientist is one of the coolest jobs on the planet!" — Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle   Imagine exploring Titan! And to be clear, I am not referring to the planet Titan of Thanos (Avengers), I am referring to a...

Making the Leap

Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.

Pin It on Pinterest